Updated: Jan 18
After finishing a long day of work or returning from an important business trip, where do you go? Maybe you stop for a drink with your coworkers, run some errands, or stop to pick up some dinner. But after all of that, what's the place you return to? Do you go home?
"Yes, of course I do," you might say. "Where else would I go? I leave home for work in the morning. I go home in the late afternoon. Sometimes I don't go home until the evening if I have a deadline to complete or errands to run, but I do go home eventually."
Do you really?
We all go back to our house at the end of the day, but home? I'm not convinced.
A house can be a home, but a home isn't always a house.
A house is a physical place, a shelter that gives us a safe and comfortable place to take care of our physical needs. To me, a home is much more than that.
A home is where our loved ones are. It's where we talk and laugh and play. It's where we build our family. It's the place where we feel the safest and the most comfortable. It's where we find solace when we're feeling lost or disappointed. It's the place where we can recuperate and find our drive and our courage when we feel like we've failed. It's where we experience real and natural happiness. It's where we want to breathe our last breath.
At home, we hold, cultivate, and nurture our hearts and soul.
You don't need a big fancy house to build a home. What do you need, then?
Back then, I didn't know the answer to that question. I didn't know what you needed to build a home. All I was concerned with was making money. And all I knew was after a long day of work, I wasn't going to my home. I was just going to my house.
My physical body was in my house, but I wasn't there. Not really. Even while having dinner with my family, my mind was still at the office, still working. While my family was talking, all I could hear were my coworkers and supervisors:
"Hey man, your project timeline is unreasonable. Go fix it and send it back to me. I need it in exactly 45 minutes."
"Why did you do this, bro? Your code is prone to crashing. Fix it, please."
"Hey lady, we need this design tomorrow."
"I need --"
"Blah blah blah blah blah..."
My mind was full of meetings I needed to prepare for, tasks I needed to finish, and documents I needed to sign. I worried about deadlines and project timelines. I worried about things I wasn't even sure I needed to worry about. But I worried about them all the same.
My mind never shut down, not even in my sleep. It gave me insomnia, which in turn made me develop an anxiety disorder.
I didn't have the time or energy to play with my daughter. I could barely give her any attention at all. I barely heard my wife telling me about her day. It was as though I was disconnected from their lives.
What did my wife spend her days doing? What milestones was my daughter passing? I didn't know. I didn't even know what I was missing out on. But all I was really worried about was work. I didn't wonder: what did my daughter do at school today? I wondered: will I be able to make my next deadline?
Some days it felt like, outside of money, I barely contributed anything to the family at all.
It was ironic. I'd been working so hard to take care of my family, to make sure they were fed and secure. But it was like I was taking care of someone else's life. I was ignoring my family. Really, it felt like I was abandoning them completely.
Sometimes my wife would tell me, "You're working too hard. You have no time for the family. Is it worth it?"
Or maybe she'd say, "You're working too hard. I'm worried about your health. Is it worth it?"
Or maybe she'd say, "You're working too hard. You need to spend more time with your daughter. She needs your guidance. Is it worth it?"
I would always respond the same way: "Honey, I need to work. We need money to secure our life. We need money to be able to send our daughter to the best school."
We had some version of this conversation over and over again. It repeated countless times.
Sometimes I wondered: did I really have selfless reasons for working this hard? Was I doing all this for my family? Was it really to make sure we were secure, to make sure we could send our daughter to the best schools? Was financial security really the best thing for my family if it meant I couldn't be there for them? Was it really worth it?
Deep down inside, I knew my wife was right. It was difficult to face, but I was using my family as a shield to cover my insecurities and my arrogance. At the time, I just didn't know how to stop. Maybe I was too afraid to lose my benefits. Maybe I was holding onto all the nice things my job allowed me to afford. Maybe it went deeper than that.
From the outside, it looked like I was the perfect family man. The picture of responsibility, working diligently to feed his family. But I wasn't.
The truth was, I was selfish.
It wasn't just the benefits and the pay that kept me attached to my job; I was using it as an excuse to avoid the responsibilities of truly caring for my wife and my daughter. Maybe I was scared I would mess things up. Maybe I was scared that without financial freedom our lives would be too hard for us to feel like a family. Maybe I was scared of being judged for putting my career aside to be with my family. Whatever the reason, the conclusion was clear:
My family didn't need extra money. They needed me.
Money can't buy the best school for my daughter, because the best school for her is right here within her family. The best way for her to learn and grow into a good person is to have the guidance and support of both of her parents. My daughter doesn't need the best school money can buy. She needs me to be there for her, to play with her, to help her with her homework, and to go to her school events. My wife doesn't need any fancy shiny things, she needs my support.
As long as I was working so much, how could I be there for them? If I kept letting my health suffer, how could I be there for them? How could I provide for them in the ways that really mattered?
My wife once told me, "Your daughter only gets one childhood. There are a lot of different places you can work. You have many other choices and many other opportunities. Please think about it."
She was definitely right.
Fortunately, it isn't too late. My daughter is still a kid. She's still playing with dolls, still at an age where she'll seek out affection and advice from her parents. I still have time to play with her and guide her the way I should have been doing from the start.
I can't go back in time and change the decisions I made. I can't undo the toll that working the way I was working took on my body and on my family. I can't go back and recover experiences I missed out on with my family. I can't change any of that. But I can still make sure the future looks different.
What do you need to build a home? For me, it starts with being there for my family. That's more than just providing for their basic needs. I need to tend to everyone's emotional needs as well. Mine included.
Think about it:
How can my family feel safe if I am never there? How can my wife and I build our family if I am too exhausted to communicate? How can we feel comfortable if we are neglecting our emotional needs? How can we feel happy there if we can't laugh and play together? How can we find solace there if we aren't happy?
When I was working so long and hard, when I was suffering, my family was suffering too. When it wasn't a home for me, how could it be a home for them?
From now on, I will be there. I will be there to play with my daughter and build my family together with my wife. I will be part of cultivating the hearts and souls of my whole family.
It's time. I'm going back home.