How Often Do You See Your Family?

I made a choice 12 years ago to leave the state I was raised in and haven’t looked back since. I’ve lived in three different cities across the country and settled clear across the country.

If you’ve read my blog in the past you know my parents are a bit on the nutty side (dad has serious anger management issues with inability to accept that he’s wrong in any situation and my mother acts like a ten year old most of the time, throwing temper tantrums and demanding to be the center of attention when she’s not bragging about her children’s latest “accomplishments.”) So I got the heck out of dodge, spent many-a-year (and paycheck) in therapy, and have finally started to accept that what my parents thought was right for me isn’t at all what is right for me.

That’s what makes it hard for me to figure out how many times per year I should visit them. What complicates matters is that my father has late-stage prostate cancer. He was given two years to live about six years ago, but the prognosis is terminal nonetheless. As an overweight, angry man I always expected to hear a call from the east coast that he had a heart attack, but instead, it was cancer. The disease that slowly eats you alive from the inside.

When he was first diagnosed, there was a brief period where he grew softer. It may have been the hormones the doctors put him on to stop the growth of the tumors. I thought maybe in the last years of his life he would realize that he doesn’t always need to be right. That it’s not appropriate to loudly call my mother stupid when we’re out at a nice restaurant and physically threaten her. But, no, he hasn’t changed. He’s still the same person. He always will be.

But – he’s still my dad. And despite his surviving longer than the doctor’s expected – I know my time left with him is limited. Thus, I try to visit a few times a year. He doesn’t travel out here to see me (he could for a short visit as he only needs to go to the cancer doctor’s once per month, but his weight is the real issue for airplane travel.) I do try to visit 3-4 times per year. It’s good to see the rest of my family as well. No complaints there.

One of the great benefits of my current job has been that early on I unofficially negotiated working from the east coast about once per quarter, mostly so I could see my dad. This isn’t exactly still a benefit but my boss tends to be flexible and should my father’s disease take a turn for the worse I’m sure my boss would be supportive of my spending more time with him and working remotely. I’m not so sure this would be available to me in another job. I’m worried about trying to negotiate remote work into any future contract, but it’s also important to me to be able to spend time with him and my family now, before it’s too late.

It’s not just my father I’m worried about. My grandmother is in her late 80s and is looking more and more frail every time I see her. Yes, grandparents do – at some point – pass away, and it’s not as terrible as my 62-year-old father looking at the last year’s of his life. But I love my grandma especially and it makes me sad to only see her a few times per year, each time seeing her aging, almost more quickly than the last time apart. I’m afraid I’ll get the call about her or my father any day. Life ends up running away from you and you just block out the realities of the world around you moving forward and the clock of death ticking onward for everyone you care about in some way. I mean, anyone could get hit by a car, every second is sacred, but knowing that the end is near for close relatives is an especially difficult challenge. I don’t want to look back on life later and regret not spending more time with my family. Even if they do drive me crazy.

I’d like a job where I’m able to work from anywhere as long as the work gets done. I want an office with my colleagues where I can be most of the time, but if I want to go to the east coast so I can spend the evenings and weekends with my family for a week or two, a few times a year, then I would like that to be ok. This is more important to me than salary, though the salary helps me afford the trips.

One other piece of the story is that I had always planned to spend two weeks or so in between jobs on the east coast, whenever I was to move to another position. But I’m likely going to have to jump right into this new role should I decide to take it, and there will be no down time. The company is likely going to launch very soon and It just wouldn’t make sense to take the time off, unless I get an offer really soon and put in my two weeks notice sooner than I want to at my current company. There are so many moving parts.

I’d like more time to pause between jobs but unfortunately (or fortunately) once you get going with your career it’s better to keep going. You’re more valuable when you’re gainfully employed, so you keep going and going and going… no wonder women who have kids use it as an excuse to leave the workforce for a while – it’s finally an excuse to just stop that won’t necessarily hurt your career (as long as you go back fairly soon after having a kid.) Not that having a kid is a break! But it’s at least a time when you can focus on what really means anything in life — what we’re naturally designed to do — create life and nurture that life so we can pass on our genes.

I mean, not everyone is going to have kids, but spending our days selling, marketing, typing up memos, building, etc, in a way not tied directly to putting food on the table and a basic roof over our head isn’t necessary. It’s just extra. It’s this charade we’re all caught up in because we think that’s what makes us happy. But the more our peers make the more we have to make. Eventually we’re just working harder and longer to afford the same stuff. And most of it we don’t really need anyway. I try to tell myself that everytime I find myself inside of a mall.

I’m realizing that I’ve been chasing after some vague concept of success when all I really want is to be able to love and nurture people in my family. I could get a promotion to VP and I wouldn’t be happy. I’d enjoy the salary that came with it, but I’m not drawn to the power or pressure of such a role. I understand what my good friend and colleague means when she says she’s not ready to be VP even though she’s ready. She’ll make a great VP one day, but I’m not sure I will. To be a great leader, you have to want it.

It’s really not just about the money either — it’s the power, the game, the opportunity to get many people to do what you want them to — to motivate, to lead, and ultimately to win. I hate to discuss qualities of men versus women because everyone’s different, but as an INFP and, possibly as a female, I’m less attracted to competition. Then again, I’m way more competitive than my boyfriend is (he dislikes board games because he has no desire to win, he prefers games with a story) so it might not be gender, just personality.

I do want money, so success comes with the territory, but I also want time. I’m not complaining (money is great on it’s own) but time is just as valuable of an asset, but one that is often undervalued in our lives until it’s too late.

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