How to Not Let Work Get in the Way of Being a Dad

Last month, my oldest daughter turned seven. We had a bunch of her friends over to the house the Saturday before her birthday and threw her a big party with crafts, a Darth Vader pinata, Ninja Turtles cake, and more presents than we knew what to do with.

My plan was to go have lunch with her at school on her birthday, which was on a Monday. I’d stop by our favorite pizza shop and get us each a mini pizza, then sit at her lunch table with her while her friends looked longingly at her pizza, while I spent most of the lunch just mesmerized by the enormous smile on her face.

By Sunday morning, my plans had unraveled.

I work full time in the IT department for a large company here in Portland. My job is always busy, but usually doesn’t occupy much time outside of the usual business hours. That’s one of the reasons why I love it as much as I do.

This particular weekend however, there was a project that we were working on that was needing a lot of work done outside of the standard work week.  Every few minutes, my phone would chirp, letting me know that there was another email that needed my attention. All of this back and forth resulted in a full day of meetings on Monday to finalize the project, which meant that I’d be at the office all day long.

Which meant no birthday lunch. No huge smile. No pizza.

I know that I have it pretty good. I know there are a ton of other dads out there who work way more demanding jobs than I do, are away from their kids all the time, and don’t have the flexibility that I do, but every dad feels that pressure.

How do you balance the tasks of providing for your family financially, and being a present and engaged dad?

Schedule Spontaneity

This seems odd, I understand, but hear me out. Our lives are hectic, and we don’t always have the time to whisk our kids off to fun family outings. We can’t spend all day at museums and parks and those massive indoor bouncy house places. We have lives to live, which is why it’s so important to schedule spontaneous time with your kids, even in the mundane, everyday tasks.

Typically, I go grocery shopping on the weekends so that my wife doesn’t have to try and schedule grocery shopping around school drop offs and pick ups during the week. More often than not, when I go get groceries, I’ll take one of the older two kids with me. It’s not a terribly exciting errand, but I usually try and include a trip to Starbucks for a hot chocolate and a treat of some kind. It’s not much, but it helps to build those little moments with them.

Be Realistic

Not every outing with my kids is going to be magical. There will be times when I head out to spend time together and things just don’t click. They’re not listening, they spill something, trip and get hurt, or get tired and cranky.  

The important thing is that I’m spending time with them, not that the time is perfect. Maybe a vital work email comes through and I have to answer it. Maybe a call comes through that I have to take. I’m not perfect and that’s okay.


More important than anything, as much as I can, I put my phone away. If I have to turn it off, that’s what I do. My kids see enough of the back of my phone as it is. My email will always be there. Twitter will always be there. If I need to, I’ll get my phone out, snap a picture or two, then put it back away and get back to what’s most important.

Maybe, like me, you’re the only source of income in your house. Maybe you and your spouse share that responsibility, or maybe you stay home. Whatever the case may be, I think all dads deal with this at some point. How do you balance your everyday responsibilities with the joys of being a dad?

There’s no right answer. There’s no magic formula. Every dad is going to have to figure out what works best for them and their unique situation.

My kids aren’t going to remember how much I spent answering emails. They’re going to remember going to get hot chocolate and donuts with dad. They’re not going to remember that I stayed at the office late every day for six months, or great a job I did on that project. They’re going to remember playing in the snow and sitting by the fireplace and all those times I treated them like the most important things in my life.