No, really. I really had this friend.
This is a shout to not just the Baba’s out there but to the mom’s (or the aunt or uncle or grandmother who is taking care of a child at home).
I was going through some of my stories today and I came across something about a good friend of mine who I had known for a long time. Our oldest was now about 2 years old and I was full head-on into stay-at-home-baba mode. My wife had a lot going on and I was really putting in the time trying to still figure things out with the change in traditional roles that had taken over this ArabBaba. She had started nursery and even when she wasn’t with me, I was still running errands, scheduling stuff, getting the car serviced, fixing stuff around the apartment, you name it (or I should say, whatever the wife named it).
So, yes, I had a good friend. And, he gave me a call and invited me for lunch and it was the one day that schedules and stars seemed to align and I could actually hang out until nursery pickup.
We met up at this amazing little Lebanese restaurant in Doha that I hadn’t been to in far too long and played a game of catchup as he had just had his third kid and wanted to chat.
My first and foremost question was, “3 kids! How do you handle this?!” (here I am having panic attacks with just one). He then goes on to tell me a very sad tale and one that I will not forget.
“How do I do it? I don’t. I’m at the breaking point. I’m tired. I’m exhausted. I need a break. Khallas (Arabic for ‘enough’ ‘ finished’)!”
He starts telling me that he and his wife have really been fighting a lot the last few months. She needs to get a job. He can’t continue to handle being the only one contributing to the family (exact words). He’s tired all of the time. He doesn’t get to see his friends anymore. He doesn’t have money to do much of anything like he used to and he feels like he’s aged 20 years and everything hurts. His wife doesn’t understand what he is going through during the day and the stress of the job and how worried he is about everything. The kids get sick and then he can’t get any sleep. The car is in a mess all of the time. The kids are always running around the house making noise when he wants to take a nap. And, his oldest isn’t getting his homework done on time so now he has to take off of work that afternoon to take his wife to visit the teacher.
He then tells me “She needs to get a job. All of this is killing me and we need the money to get a tutor or put him in a better school. Because everytime that I help help him with his maths, he does great. What is she doing? How difficult is it to help him with his maths?”
I had to sit back. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I felt like I had been hit by a bus. I felt like I wanted to hit him with a bus. I felt like he had boarded some bus somewhere with no idea where he was going and it clearly was not on the same bus his family was on.
I told him that it really must suck. Wow. Tough stuff to deal with. So I asked what she does if the kids are sick during the day or if they are at school and get sick (since he is working all day and obviously has the car and she doesn’t drive).
“That happened last week. She had to pick up one of them from school taking a taxi and then take the kid to the doctor. She was there for 4 hours. My sister had to come and watch the baby and oldest until she came home because I had too much going on at work. And by the time I came home, she wasn’t home yet, everything was a mess, everyone was hungry and there is no food. It’s frustrating! I need a holiday.”
He proceeds to tell me that she doesn’t work, she’s at home all day and what does she expect? He just needs to come home and relax after what is going on at work. She isn’t understanding any of this and he doesn’t know what else to do.
“What time does she wake up in the morning?” I ask
“5a.m. because of the kids lunches and getting the kids ready” he says
“What about you?”
“7a.m. and it’s tough because the kids are fighting in the bathroom. She tries to keep them quiet but man, its so early”
So we talk about what she is doing at 5 a.m. Breakfast for the kids, wake up the kids, do the lunches, put in laundry (which is really loud, apparently), do the girls hair, get the uniforms on and gets them walked out to the bus to wait for it to arrive. And now, I’m pushing this conversation really hard because I want to see if he is even hearing himself talk.
“Then I wake up at 7, have coffee a shower and she sends me off with breakfast (she does a good breakfast though) and I leave”.
“So what else is she doing during the day then?” I am holding myself back from kicking him quite severely under the table as I realise what I’m getting myself into with this conversation.
“I don’t know. Clean I guess, laundry, get stuff ready for dinner. With the baby she and and the baby walk to the shop and get some food stuff and come back and go about their day, I guess. Why?” shrugging his shoulders.
“What about the kids homework and stuff in the afternoon?” I ask
He tells me she waits for them at the bus and brings them in, changes them, gives them something to eat and they start on homework. With the baby starting to be more active its getting harder and that is where he thinks the oldest is suffering in his maths is because she can’t spend the time with him. And, by the time he comes home, he really needs to have a quick nap for an hour or two until dinner and then spend a bit of time with the kids, eat and then start all over.
“What is your wife doing?”
“She eats, feeds the baby, cleans up. She’s cool about it all. She likes doing it and when her mom is here, it’s amazing because she gets so much more done and fixes stuff up, does nice food and spends time with the kids. By the time I go to bed she finishes ironing the kids uniforms for the next day and gets to bed after I’m asleep and it just keeps going over and over again. I’m exhausted, man, I need a holiday or I don’t know what will happen with this family. And, if she doesn’t get a job – ” I stop him.
“Doesn’t get a job? First off, if she gets a job who is going to do all of this stuff you just said? Secondly, You work 9 hours right? She’s up at 5a.m. and goes to bed at 11. That’s 18 hours!”
“Look I understand that. But she’s at home. She can relax when she wants” he continues as I start boiling.
I start going in on him about the fact that she’s got a little baby to take care of. IF she is lucky and the baby sleeps, she can clean. She is taking a taxi to get a sick child and wait at the doctor and take a taxi back. She is walking, on the road with a stroller and baby to the shop down the street to get food. She is doing laundry and folding and ironing clothes for everyone. She’s trying to help 2 kids with homework and a baby. Where is he in helping with the maths? Where is he in helping with dinner or cleaning up? He doesn’t need a nap – she needs a nap in the evening. The fact he is going to the school to meet the teacher is because of HIM – not her and then I punch in that he’s an Accountant for his company so maths should not even be part of this discussion.
I tell him that I also know her and she never once complains and always is happy (atleast on the outside) and here he is talking about what she ISN’T doing. What about all of the stuff she gets done to make things all nice and happy for him?
I left him with one thing “Friend, she has a job, she has 2 full time jobs right now – she is contributing more to your family than you do. Man up and take responsibility for your kids and family and work as a team.”
I got up and left. And, unfortunately, I haven’t talked to this guy in 4 years. Not because I didn’t want to and I did try but because I put out there what I had been feeling at times too and that what I was doing and what she was doing was just as important as anything else. And if something is failing, it’s because we need help and can’t do it on our own. Clearly those things were not what he wanted to hear and felt like that was not how he was raised as an Arab man. Well, I wasn’t raised that way either, entirely, but I became a parent and it’s a 50/50 thing. My wife and I overcame a lot to get to the point where we realized we needed each other to make it work and give our daughter that fighting chance to be the best and it certainly wasn’t about hierarchy.
We get one shot at this – that’s it. There is no do-overs. When you commit to raising a family you commit to doing it together and part of that means sacrifices in a lot of areas but atleast you can look at each other, exhausted, frustrated but under a clear understanding that you both did the best to help each other and your family in the only ways that you can and you did it as a team.
There is absolutely no parent better or more privileged than the other. There is no parent out there that is not walking through their own battles. There is no parent out there that hasn’t wondered how they will survive another day, wish their partner did something differently to help, where their partner even was or wondered why their kid couldn’t be in the genius class. And there is certainly no parent out there that doesn’t wish their partner would just spend time together as a family and not head out for shisha for 3 hours or hanging out in some majlis at some buddy’s house (Yes, Arab men, I’m talking to you).
It’s one shot to communicate and understand that no matter how tired we are, it’s a different tired than the other parent. It’s a different frustrating day that we had than the other parent. And, we have very different emotions at the end of the day.
All of those things represent who we are to our kids. They represent what defines us, in their eyes, as parents and who they will, undoubtedly, become when they have kids.
Don’t walk in the door tonight and think that the other parent has a great life of lounging around eating juicy mangoes all day and watching Al Khabir. Take a second to look around and understand what they have overcome that day to get where they are – you don’t know what kind of war they fought today. Then, share yours together for a bit and focus on dividing and conquering the night ahead.
Because at one time, I ‘had’ a friend and that was never, never, ever going to happen to my life.
Shout out to all of the ‘contributors’ out there – no matter what way you are contributing – it matters!