My superhero father and why we need to work for ourselves

Today was my father’s first day at his part time job in Pakistan. It felt surreal when I saw him this morning with a collar shirt, tie and his brown leather briefcase. The memories of our 25 years in Riyadh were flashing through my mind as I watched him cutting walnuts into his cereal bowl this morning.

My father had spent almost 40 years of his life working. 40 years! It made me think of how most of our lives are spent working in different jobs. We are constantly on a race for productivity and learning since we are 4 years old (or actually, 2 or 3 years old in Pakistan).

On average, we are full time students for 16 years. Then almost our entire lives after that are spent at a desk in an office, facing a computer screen in an uncomfortable chair with a cup of tasteless instant coffee to keep ourselves going.

When I saw my father tying his shoelaces, I noticed a different kind of radiance on his face again. Moving back to Pakistan after the 1970s, he hadn’t complained even once about adjusting to the different lifestyle here.

The only hint that made me realize this was a difficult time for him was the frustration. He was edgy sometimes and paid close attention to details that he never did before. What was stored in the fridge, the odd black button on my shirt, or why the leftover daal chawal still hadn’t been given to chawkidaar for dinner. 

It was unusual to see him this way. He was withdrawn a lot of times and normally in his home office in the basement throughout the day. Our voices would hardly reach him when we called him for lunch everyday.

But this is the life he knew for 40 something years. He had to be at a desk and sit on a chair and do something that made him feel he had accomplished something.

Our fathers sacrificed so much by doing these jobs to make our lives better. Most of the time, they weren’t appreciated for it by their companies. What felt impossible with the little money given in the early years of their careers to support us and their families back home passed by in stress while they were constantly on the edge of their seats.

The reassurance and support at home was what kept most of our superhero fathers going. The 25 years in Riyadh and then almost 20 years of working in Canada were an integral part of my father’s life, even though he hardly talked about it.

Sitting idle and not working hard or putting any effort on a daily basis wasn’t in his genes. This is the reason why I would constantly advise him to get out of the house and start putting in his expertise to use somewhere because he had so much potential.

A part of me wanted to see my father completely back to his old self again. I wanted to see the peace and positive attitude replace the frustration he was going through. Although he never complained, retirement wasn’t easy nor was it meant to be. I was praying for his happiness, which is my happiness.

Throughout my life, I had seen him working to make our lives easier and provide everything for us. But what I didn’t realize is that it was also about him as a person. We also work for ourselves because it makes us feel satisfied, too.

Apart from the usual staple that men are given of the sole reasoning behind their jobs is to support their families – what we forget is that they do this for themselves, too. It is a sense of self satisfaction and validity that you are doing something productive.

Even if the work is sometimes menial (which always will be, no matter if you are in the most exciting job), you need this kick in your life to stay fully functional.

The few months I didn’t have a job, I was searching for my sanity. It just didn’t feel natural that I was sitting at home the whole day.

Don’t hate me housewives, but to me as an individual it doesn’t feel normal. Even if I am not doing much at work, it is the feeling of being in a different environment and simply interacting with people that makes me feel sane.

Currently, I am teaching English and I am a college counsellor which is a major change in my career path. It has been challenging and I have been learning something new every single day. Through my experience of working in a full time desk job from 9-5, I realized it wasn’t my cup of tea.

A large portion of our day is spent not being productive because let’s face it, working constantly for 8 hours is impossible without a few coffee breaks and lunch hour combined. It’s no wonder that Nordic countries, such as Denmark, with significantly shorter working hours are so much more productive and generally happier with their lives due to the good work-life balance.

I think many of us TCKs and fellow millennials also feel that we need to be multi-tasking throughout our day. We get bored easily due to our insanely short attention spans and want things to be fun, exciting and different. Working in the same desk job for 30 years like our parents is the last thing we would do.

Since we are so accustomed to the transient nature of our lives, a typical routine doesn’t last very long. Truth be told, I am already feeling that itch to travel although I just came back from Turkey around 3 months ago.

Finding what we are passionate about and what makes us happy in terms of the jobs we are working at is definitely the priority. But what most of us overlook is that sometimes, you just need that desk and chair to stay sane.

Sometimes, we can spin around in it and enjoy the selfish satisfaction or we can choose to stay firmly planted in it to reassure ourselves that this is worth it because it’s for our families. In the end, we smile to ourselves because we know both things go hand in hand.

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