A virtual father, not an absentee father

virtual-father

I travel for work. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be there for my children, whether I’m home or away.

I was in Germany briefly last week – travelling out Tuesday night and back Wednesday – as a result of which I missed seeing the kids for two consecutive evenings. But such is modern technology that I can still be there for them virtually in either audio or video form.

I’m old enough to remember the days when calling home from overseas meant finding a landline, waiting for a human operator to manually connect you to a UK exchange and then paying a king’s ransom for the privilege of talking over a barely audible line crackling with white noise. Nowadays, of course, I can speed-dial home on my mobile and have a conversation so clear it sounds as if the kids are only in the next room. Or with a decent internet connection I can see them on Facetime and show them the view from my hotel window.

Thankfully I’m not away with work too often – 10-12 nights a year, maybe – but it’s reassuring to know I can chat with the kids while I’m waiting to board a flight or eating dinner at my table for one. (Oh, the glamour of business travel …)

It feels particularly good talking to the kids when they have something meaningful to tell me that can’t wait a night or two for me to return. If nothing else, it makes me feel useful and offers a brief antidote to the loneliness of being away.

Anyhow, on this occasion I phoned from the departure lounge at Heathrow on my way out to discover that Isaac had had a bad day at school and was feeling morose. Being able to talk to him one-to-one while Heather bustled around the house corralling the other two gave him the chance to unload his concerns privately. A virtual cuddle, as it were.

Sometimes a small, two-minute chat is all one of the kids needs to feel reassured and loved, and it felt good to be able to offer that over the phone rather than leaving him to compete with his siblings for inadequate airtime from a harassed mother. Later, while I was waiting to board my plane, he and I had a conversation by text message that reinforced the value of being able to communicate, even remotely. It wasn’t as good as me being there, of course, but it was a lot better than nothing.

sms-conversation-with-isaac

The following evening, I was back in the car and heading for home as the kids were preparing for bed. Thanks to the wonders of Bluetooth I was able to chat with Kara, who was desperate to share the news that she had hurt her neck – it’s funny the things kids get excited about, isn’t it? – and, by the way, could we have a cat, please?

At that point, I mysteriously lost signal … Ahem.

It’s not much. But it’s enough to remind the children that, while I may not be there in body, I am in spirit. I can be there for them as a virtual father and not have them feel that I’m absent, especially when I am away for several days at a time.

It made me think, though. When I’m phoning the kids from some distant location, they have my 100% attention and I have theirs (well, as close to 100% as you ever get with them). If I’m sitting at home with them, all of us are easily distracted by other things: toys, the TV, whoever happens to be shouting the loudest at a given moment.

Certainly my attention is too often on my phone when it doesn’t need to be. (It’s the blogger’s curse – there’s always something to check/update/take a photo of.) Sometimes I am less present when I’m actually in the house than when I’m not. (That sounds terrible, doesn’t it? I suppose it is, really.) It’s a bad habit, and one Heather is (rightly) constantly reminding me of.

Even if it is something that happens so easily in our modern connected lives, it’s not a good thing. Speaking for me personally, things need to change and I need to get my priorities straight.

If I can be there for the kids when I’m several hundred miles away, I can be there for them when I’m in the same room. For all the distractions and the multi-tasking nature of modern life, sometimes we just need to be there and listen. If I can be present as a dad when I’m only there virtually, I can make more of an effort to be present when I’m there physically too.

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