Every day that doesn’t start with “s,” I commute to work—75 minutes each way. Luckily, it’s not a bumper-to-bumper-palooza where speeds go up and down and fingers go up (and stay up). I can’t listen to music because my son Jackson stuck two CDs and a handful of coins in the CD player (a hard right turn makes the car sound like a lucky slot machine). So it’s a peaceful drive.
What do I do during the commute? Nothing. Sweet, silent, Zen-riffic nothing. My Hyundai is a loose change-riddled, Starbucks-stained monastery. Those 150 minutes are about thinking and decompressing, and little else. Me Time is critical to a parent’s sanity. It’s funny: everyone always talks about how moms need mom time, but no one talks about whether dads need dad time. But we’ll take it where we can. Sadly, there are frazzled fathers right now leaving their baby at home, relieved to be heading to a 12-hour shift that’s 67 traffic lights away.
Interestingly, my commute really should be in black and white. I’m doing exactly what my father did, and his father before him. The traditional American household used to be Dad kissing the wife and baby and heading off to work. For decades, Dad got Me Time in the Studebaker, while Mom got Pee Time in the nursery.
But like the Studebaker, I’m an antique. Only 17 percent of households in 2010 qualify as “traditional” (employed male husband, female homemaker, and children), according to MRI Research. It’s a change brought about in part by more women in the workforce, telecommuting, the increased demand for two-income households, and a growing stay-at-home dad population. So for every relic like me, there’s a work-at-home dad juggling day care drop-off with his commuting wife. Because of the times, Dad is losing a traditional outlet for Me Time.
So what’s the answer? Find your own commute. The post office, the grocery store, even the mailbox are opportunities to step away from your responsibilities if only for a moment. Hey, Hawaii would be great, but when you’re desperate, Three Mile Island will do. But a commute doesn’t have to be literal—it can be anything that provides a physical and mental retreat. I’ve found chores to be a great escape. Take folding the laundry as an example. It’s largely a one-person operation, so you can be left alone. The monotony of the activity allows your brain to drift. (Insider tip: fold slowly.) And you earn extra points with Mom. An overnight getaway is a Me Time cram session: a month’s worth of solitude packed into 24 hours. If you’re considering one, don’t let your college roommate or work buddy be the beneficiary. Find a way to include Mom because when she’s happy, everyone’s happy.
My commute isn’t all peachy. Good night kisses are missed. Many Kodak moments aren’t experienced first-hand, but arrive as pixilated images on the BlackBerry. But the commute does allow me to be something other than a worker, a husband and a father. It allows me to be a monk with a Venti caramel macchiato.