t’s Friday. This Summer that means Daddy gets to go with the rest of the family to swim lessons, dance class, and whatever else we decide to do as a family unit. Sometimes that means a hike on a trail we’ve never been to, sometimes it’s a trip to a local amusement park, sometimes we go to a kid-friendly museum/aquarium/zoo… whatever. Today it means Daddy hangs with the kids while Mommy runs frantically all around town getting prepared for the big birthday party tomorrow. The kids decided to invest some quality swing-time in the backyard, so for the better part of the hour I played the dutiful-daddy and pushed when needed, did “underdoggies” when demanded, and generally goofed around, Pandora playing over the iPhone the whole time (Michael Giacchino channel, check it out).
I stood there pushing my kids, listening to their happy conversation weave in and out and move from one topic to another the way it naturally does between two young, well-adjusted kids. There’s something about rhythmically, gently making contact with each of them at the same time, keeping their swings moving with a gentle touch to the small of the back, listening to and watching their sweet back and forth like I wasn’t there at all. I always have the same thought in moments like those. I always think to myself just how lucky I am to be standing there right at that moment.
I mean honestly, rarely is there another dad around the pool or at dance class when I’m there on Fridays. I hear it often enough from my friends, “Don’t you ever work?” Of course I work. I work very hard; just not on Firdays… (/sheepish) or Wednesdays. It’s an incredible luxury to have that sort of free time. Believe me, I know that – and I don’t take it for granted. In fact, in those moments where I’m just occupying the same space as my two small children, when it’s just me and them in the big wide world, I’m supremely aware of what a luxury that time is. This particular Friday my mind drifted off thinking about just HOW I came to be this lucky:
When I was young, dreaming about what I wanted to be when I grew up, there were a few things I knew. I knew myself well enough to know that I would probably have to be my own boss. Indeed, in my adult experience that notion was proven correct dozens of times. I also knew that whatever I did, I wanted to be the sort of dad my father was for me. I wanted to coach soccer and video-tape ballet recitals. I knew that I needed to make enough money so that my wife could stay home if she wanted to. I’d also watched my Dad (as a sole-proprietor of a small business) struggle through the painful recession of 1987. Whatever I did, I wanted it to be recession-proof, which is to say I wanted people to need my services no matter what the stock market was doing. Then, the summer between 9th and 10th grade, while working one of those mundane summer jobs we all do when we’re 15, it struck me like a bolt of lightning. When you put all those puzzle pieces together it meant healthcare. That was the summer I decided I was going to be a physician.
I held on to that notion all the way through college. As I was preparing and submitting my applications to medical school I met an amazing woman who would later become my wife. As any good woman will do she changed the way I looked at the world. Suddenly I wanted to get on with my life, and the notion of another 10 years of school didn’t seem quite as appealing as it did just a year earlier. When it became clear that she was going to be a permanent fixture in my life, she and I sat down and reassessed the strategy. When we went down the list of all the things that originally attracted me to medicine we quickly realized that none of those things were there anymore (I can just imagine my physician friends laughing as they read the previous paragraph). But you know what? All those things were still there in dentistry. It took about a week to get my head around the idea but eventually I came around. With a deep breath I withdrew all my (completed and submitted) med-school applications and began the year long process of getting into dental school.
11 years later, here in the backyard with my kids, I can say with complete conviction that next to marrying my wife, going to dental school was the smartest thing I ever did. No, I’m not ridiculously wealthy (I’m not a specialist after all). But I am ridiculously fortunate. I don’t have a Porsche, but my wife doesn’t have to work. We don’t have a ski-lodge in Tahoe, but I’m not missing my children’s childhood either. I have enough control over my own schedule that I can work extended hours on the days that I do work to make 3-day-weekends a lifestyle.
Being a dentist may not be as glamorous as being a physician (after all, they never make prime-time dramas about dental offices staring sexy, big-name Hollywood luminaries). But next week my daughter starts kindergarten, and I cleared my morning schedule so I could walk her to school for the first few days. THAT is what I knew I wanted all those years ago, and I am thankful every day of my life that I managed to find it.