Greta came into the world three days ahead of schedule; strangely on-brand for such a newbie. March 14, 2020; three days after the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic and a day after Trump declared COVID-19 a national emergency, my daughter was born. The first month was, as expected, not especially fun; colic, crying, panic, and a constant stream of misinformation coming from a psychotic hack of a president who assured the country this killer virus was two weeks away from… mysteriously disappearing somehow?
One could easily surmise this was the polar opposite of what my wife and I had planned for our inaugural run as parents. There were no sunny walks to the park. No playdates, no daycare, no quality time with the grandparents. Nothing, just the three of us in a dark apartment in a country plagued by disease. Over the next few months, things marginally improved and life — as they say — found a way. We hauled ass out of Brooklyn to an apartment for half the price in Portland, Maine; things seemed like they were en route to normalcy. I couldn’t help but feel hope; for my country, for the world, for my new family, and for my career as a writer.
I hadn’t ever given too much thought about the way I worked. I’d go into the office, chat, work, drink my expensive cold brew, eat my expensive salad, work some more, chat some more, and head home devoid of energy. I’d spend my days off and nights thinking about work, allowing the stresses of the day to consume me until the following morning.
I knew such a superfluous lifestyle couldn’t be continued if I wanted a meaningful life with my family. All I’d heard working in New York was story after story about the fearless brand manager or creative director who spent his or her honeymoon on the phone with clients. People wooed by the siren call of capitalism would gush about how little sleep they’d gotten toiling over a project.
“Oh, I forgot to eat lunch again,” they’d say, or “I haven’t taken a sick day in years,” exacerbating their exploitation with their own ego. How did we get tricked into this? Prioritizing the office over our lives? The moment I looked into Greta’s deep hazel eyes, I knew things were irrevocably changed for the better.
For me, routine triggers tranquility; I can relax my hectic mind knowing I’ll have time to myself after the baby goes to bed. Since juggling working and fatherhood, I’ve had to make a few amendments to that particular thought process; babies don’t inherit their parents’ time management skills at birth. I found I had the capacity to work, but lacked the time to get things done by the previously agreed upon deadline. My work days stopped following a linear 10 – 6 pattern, opting for odd half-hour increments here and there as my daughter saw fit.
Coronavirus changed the way people worked, sending millions to work from home. People baked bread, turned their closets into offices, and spent a hell of a lot of time with their families.
Father’s Day fell on Sunday last year — a hair over Greta’s three-month mark. It was cloudy and warm; the air smelled like the ocean and we got lobster rolls. I remember feeling then what I feel now: a bond. Father’s Day was never a holiday I thought about before Greta; even while my wife was pregnant, it just never entered my mind. But I felt it back then. I felt it, because I had spent every day of my daughter’s life next to her… an unintended side effect of an unintended cultural shift spurred on by a hideous disease. Before COVID hit, there were somewhere around seven million people working remotely in the U.S. — about 3.4 percent of the population. Now, that number hovers around 42 percent… that’s almost 138 million members of the labor force now working from home full-time.
Truly, I don’t know what I would have done had things been “normal” when my daughter was born. The darker corners of my mind envisions a mental breakdown at a midtown office followed by a very uncomfortable train ride home. I feel survivor’s guilt knowing I was able to comfortably work from home while thousands of people making up the BIPOC workforce were forced to choose between unemployment or death.
This Father’s Day, I feel the same; profoundly thankful of my time with Greta, profoundly thankful of the companies who adhered to the CDC guidelines and allowed their employees to work from wherever, and profoundly thankful that the toxic office culture of the past might finally stay in the past.