one family's yearlong dare to live their dreams

A Welcome Burden

This I Believe: essays on loveIn the essayDuck Blind Lessons,” James Johnson talks of his dad gladly shouldering Johnson’s full 195 pounds plus hunting gear so that his leg cast won’t get wet. At the age of nearly 70. Johnson’s dad was a real man.

Says Johnson, “I learned that I was a welcome burden to my dad, that life without burden is a life without weight, a shallow life.” He parents his own kids with the same attitude. “Their weight is never too heavy. It is welcome. Sometimes I stumble, make mistakes, but I never fall.”

I try to hold myself to the same ideal. I’m a man, I think. I should be able to pay the bills, pursue my passions, make time for my wife and friends and parent my kids. I don’t always succeed. I stumble plenty, and, yes, often fall. Sure, I get up and try again, but people like Johnson and his dad make me feel like a wimp. They make it look easy.

And yet. I’m willing to bet that Johnson and his dad are/were real men in the traditional sense, that their women stayed home with the kids when they were too young to go to school. I’m willing to bet that they didn’t do equal childcare and housekeeping duty with their women, because most men don’t, even today. I bet they stayed focused on doing the manly lifting—leaving most of the womanly duties back at the ranch while they did their hunting or bread-winning.

Wendy and I do a 50-50 split. We both want to experience all the joy of raising kids and maintain successful, fulfilling careers at the same time. So, in essence, we’re each attempting to do two fulltime jobs at once on half-time schedules. It’s crazy-making, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. We’re greedy. Greedy for experience, greedy for the love that only kids can bring into your life, greedy for all that life has to offer.

And still we want more. We want to get equal time with our kids and to pursue successful satisfying careers and live for our dreams. Okay, well, the kids and the careers are part of the dream. But now we’re talking all the other things—satisfying relationships outside the house, a rich love life, travel, spiritual journeys, and more. No doubt about it, we’re greedy bastards. We want it all.

Part of shouldering a welcome burden is ditching what isn’t so welcome, letting go of what you don’t need so that you can carry more of the good stuff. Letting go is the first step in our year-long adventure. Like a lot of households these days, we’re challenging our assumptions about what’s essential, paring back, streamlining, lightening the financial load, and, in our case, getting ready to take flight.

Letting go is a journey in itself, and we’ll take it up in upcoming posts.

5 Responses to “A Welcome Burden”

  1. Wendy says:

    I’m so moved by the James Johnson story, and I love the notion of parenting as a welcome burden. I just want to add that after Michael first told me about this story (which he heard on NPR), we wrote “a welcome burden” on a little blackboard in our kitchen. It’s still there, reminding us of the positive spirit of parenting that we wish to cultivate.

  2. Kelly says:

    I am very inspired by your blog. I think your your dreams and goals for the year are totally reachable because you have each other for support and to push one another when needed. What a wonderful adventure you have planned this year. Looking foreward to reading more.

    • Wendy says:

      Thanks so much, Kelly. It’s great to hear that you believe we can do this. And even better to hear that we’re inspiring you! We want this project to be contagious. xo Wendy

  3. Peter J. B. says:

    Hi: Just a few impromptu thoughts. Letting go and simplifying seem thus far to be careering into yet further complexity. Love is mentioned, but mainly as a burden. Where are the children? They are, after all, also on a journey, indeed, on a journey they are sharing with you. What is important and what isn’t? There are many dreams. (Just a few things to possibly keep in mind as the exciting year progresses.) All good fortune.

    • Betty says:

      I think you misinterpret, Peter. it’s a “welcome” burden, and there is a lot in the blog about love and joy, and how important it is to try to drop unwelcome burdens in order to be able to carry that “welcome burden” of childcare. It is work, “a burden,” but one that brings joy and fulfillment, not just drudgery.

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