About ten years ago when I first started my career as a commercial truck driver my life was in a much different place than it is now. Just over the age of 21, my wife and I had little responsibility outside of ourselves. Of course there were bills to be paid, rent that needed to be collected and the odd repair/medical bill, but outside of that, we were both able to live (for lack of a better word) rather selfish lives. However, all that changes the moment you bring a child into the world. Suddenly, our small, self-contained bubble was burst and where there was once trips to the movies, nights out with friends and sporadic adventures there was instead diaper changing, frantic trips to the hospital and surprise bills. While these changes are lifestyle adjustments every set of new parents adapt to, what made our situation unique was my profession.
I am often away from home for several weeks at a time, sometimes upwards to six depending on which trucking job I am on at the time. While we do have a small amount of income coming in from other sources, we largely rely on the salary I make to support our family. Because of this, it was unfathomable to even entertain the idea of taking more than a few weeks off to be at home with my family, but of course, we knew this going in so, off I went and life continued.
What I didn’t know and what I wasn’t prepared for was the intense amount of separation anxiety I was faced with each time I would leave home for a gig. Time and time again those first few days away came at me like a ton of bricks. What if he forgets me when I’m gone? Did I spend enough time with him when I was home? Was I burdening my wife too much by leaving her at home alone with a newborn? The what if’s of any parent who has to spend time away from a newborn are monumental and I found myself being no exception.
So, instead of wallowing in regret and focusing on the guilt, my wife and I decided to sit down and seriously evaluate our situation. Coming at our unique position pragmatically rather than privately was key in helping not only myself deal with my feelings about being away but also for my wife’s. Below are some of the ways we navigated the roads of parenthood. If you’re in the same situation perhaps some of these might work for you too.
Coming back from weeks on the road I often felt that I had to make up for lost time and nine times out of ten this translated to me showering our son in attention, toting him around with me throughout the house and on small errands. What I failed to realize in those first few months was that my son was still my wife’s son. Simply being home did not make the time my wife spent with him any less important or meaningful. Simply being aware of this was often enough of a prompt to break any future notion that our child would associate my time on the road as exclusive “mommy time” and my time back at home as “daddy time”.
Shatter the “Super-Dad” Image
The first two or three times I came back from being on the road I made sure I had planned elaborate activities for our family. I would bring back toys and plan surprises. My eagerness to be reunited with both my son and my wife quickly got out of hand and consequently became a little exhausting. How could I one-up what I did last time? How will I continue to make each return home just as special, memorable and important as the last?
What my wife eventually told me, and what has stuck with me over the years is that I didn’t have to be super Dad every time I came back home. Not only was I putting stress on our finances, it was hyper-inflating the image my son would grow to expect from me. When Dad comes home, I get things, it’s exciting. When he isn’t home, I don’t get presents. Instead of focusing on the next best thing I could do, I instead funneled that excitement and eagerness into a something that was feasible and consistent across all my returns home.
Don’t Focus on Lost Time
Possibly the hardest part of being away from my son and wife was the notion that I was missing out on the important moments and the milestones. What if I wasn’t there for his first steps? Would my absence make his first words “ma-ma”? These two sentences kept me awake at night more often that I would like to admit. Eventually, I simply had to come to terms with the possibility that these concerns could become a reality. Obsessing over each one was not going to somehow remedy the situation.
Ultimately, my sons first steps did come at a time when I was away, but thanks to modern technology and the quick wits of one of my wife’s close friends we were able to capture that moment in a video. To say that I didn’t feel an ounce of guilt from how that situation played out would be a lie. It was what I chose to do after that shaped how this would impact the relationship I had with my wife and son. Harboring that guilt could eventually impact the way I viewed my job and perhaps even my wife. Instead of letting this grow into something else, I cut it short. I took an objective look at my career and simply acknowledged that this comes with the territory. Sure, I missed this step, but my wife was able to experience it and in the end, that was simply enough for the both of us.
This is by no means an exhaustive list and the way my wife and now two sons adapt to my periodic absence goes well beyond the scope of what I talked about here. Each year our sons grow older presents a new set of challenges that my wife and I must rise to meet. At the end of the day, I’d like to think that my career has not detracted from my family’s growth and development but instead supplemented it and made it something completely unique.
If you have any other great tips or suggestions I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
Gus Wright has been active in the truck driving community for more than ten years. When not on the road, Gus is knee-deep in family life as he and his wife navigate the tumultuous roads of bringing up two rambunctious boys. Gus currently lends his industry knowledge and truck driving experiences to Trucker Classifieds.