Thursday, March 31, 2011

Life at 35,000 feet

One of the perks of my job is I get to go interesting places. Part of my job as a young professor is networking in different spheres of similar interest. Last month I was with my tribe of interactive media nerds at SXSW, and earlier in that week I was at the United Nations for a day to talk about our @DarfurConflict Twitter project. Just in the past year I've been to Austin, New York City, Washington DC, Los Angeles, Denver, Toronto, and Singapore. All for work and, to be honest, all pretty awesome.

I'm definitely not complaining. I get to see interesting places and meet interesting people everywhere I go, and I don't have to pay for the experience. But it's getting harder to leave my wife at home as the pregnancy goes along; it never was easy, mind you, but knowing there's a baby on the way has made it harder. I'm writing this post on my iPad at 35,000 feet thanks to in-flight wi-fi; technology opens doors for me and gives me lots of ways to keep up with family on the road, but it's still not the ideal obviously.

I plan to cut back on travel next year after the baby is born, but one thing I'm starting to think about is the tension between family and job and how to be my best at both. This is not unique to me, of course, it's just that I'm having to sort through this for the first time. The tenure process means I need to be on peoples' radar as a scholar and educator, and as great as Twitter can be for meeting and keeping up with folks even Professor Twitter knows face-to-face contact just works better.

So there probably are some hard choices coming up. Nobody in my department is telling me I need to be at much of anything, but the driven young academic in me feels the pressure anyway. Or maybe I'm putting it on myself. It's not that I'm putting work before family per se, but we did come here with the notion that me getting tenure was the key to our plans. So I'm trying to be responsible to our long-term plans while doing my best to be a dad that is there everyday. My dad worked graveyard a lot when I was young and I know firsthand it's hard on a kid (and the mom).

How to strike that balance is going to be the thing I think about a lot.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

New paradigms

It's a question I'd never even considered before.

"Do you know if you plan on taking paternity leave?"

We're at 18-plus weeks now, and while I know I'm entitled to leave by Lehigh policy I had never actually thought about it. The context was pretty good in that nobody in my department is freaking out about how my life is about to get rearranged. It was just curiosity, but I had no answer.

Work and life have a loose confederation for me, probably because I've always been fortunate to work in careers I found enjoyable. I loved being in the newsroom (and still miss it) and loved the job of journalism as a whole. My teaching is the same; just love being around students and brilliant colleagues.

I'm not sure if I'm bad for not thinking of stepping away here. I mean, I plan to be around the house a lot, and that was always the plan: less office hours and more work done in advance so I can help out around the house. I grade and do research at home, my students call me when needed, and I hear from them all the time on Twitter. So I've never really had a line between work and home such that I thought to consider leave.

Taking leave almost feels like throwing up an artificial wall of separation between work and home. I realize there are more reasons for that and that it probably makes good head sense, but I've realized after hearing the question that I've never thought about life in those terms. This isn't some macho male thing either - I realize there was stigma attached to dads who did leave and I don't really care about those social attitudes. You do what's best for you and the family; in my case I'm just not used to thinking about work and family in those terms.

Maybe I will and just need to think about it more. All this stuff is just so new to me that I sometimes think I don't even have a good framework for making a good decision. So maybe I need to see what I need after the baby comes and go from there.

I have to say, one thing I love about Lehigh is my department has been really good to us. Not only has this life change not been a cause for alarm, but they are asking me questions like the one above to help me think about things now. I'm really grateful for that, because while I might be a professor my education on being a parent is just starting.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Time to join the conversation

What's this blog about? Good question.

Short answer is I don't know.

I've been mulling doing something about being a new dad for a while, mostly since I found out my wife was pregnant. What I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it was always the question, and it still is. So consider this an evolving work.

I was inspired this past March at South By Southwest as I sat in on a great session with dad bloggers called "Are We Not Men? Reaching New American Dads." Craig Heimbuch of Man Of The House and Jason Avant of DadCentric led a core conversation session about the need for authentic dad voices in the blogosphere - we have lots of mom bloggers, but dads blogging realistically about their experiences are too rare and don't do much to dispel the false image of the ideal male that gets created in our media and advertising.

Consider me inspired. It's a niche that needs to be filled. The question is how I help fill it.

So here's the tough part. I struggle a lot with authenticity in non-professional spots mostly because I've felt the shame of being honest in the blogosphere. I've learned to watch what I say, and that has never felt right to me because I believe in being authentic in these spaces. I started an off-the-record blog a couple months ago on Tumblr and it fell apart almost immediately because we soon afterward found out we were having a kid and I couldn't blog about the one thing burning a hole in my mind.

I don't do the creative process well when I feel muzzled. I think this is going to be the particular challenge of this space for me.

So I'm looking for inspiration and role models. My friend Jen Reeves remains one of my main sources of inspiration as I think about what I'm doing here. I'm looking for others, so suggest away if you have them.

What I think I know: This space is going to be about my learning to balance work and home life now that we have a baby on the way. With myself and a career-minded wife, it has been easier than I expect it to be. And I often think about how I can maintain the same level of energy and be the best professor I can be while being the best dad I can be.

Up front, I expect to fail at this and learn. I don't think it'll be perfect. This blog will be about the good stuff and the stuff I'm learning. Maybe some other things too. I'm making it up as I go. Hopefully it'll be interesting enough for you to check in from time to time.