I’m a husband and father who has an outlandish dream: I want to spend the vast majority of my time with my wife and children.
Why can’t I do so now? Because I have to work at a job. Commute to and from a big city each day to get there. I have to do this to earn a wage, so I can provide the necessities (and amenities) of life to my family. But paradoxically this causes me to spend ten waking hours per day away from my family.
I want to be around to see my children’s first steps, to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner with them, if not every day, then most days. I want to build things with my son and show him how to take care of animals. I want to take my wife for a leisurely walk around the woods, then go home and milk the cow and make mozzarella cheese together as a family. This desire to spend time with my family has a natural dimension, but also a supernatural one, as Blessed John Paul II described in Familiaris Consortio:
And since in God’s plan it has been established as an “intimate community of life and love,” the family has the mission to become more and more what it is, that is to say, a community of life and love… (FC, 17)
He goes on to explain the irreplaceable role that fathers have in helping their family for this community of love:
Above all where social and cultural conditions so easily encourage a father to be less concerned with his family or at any rate less involved in the work of education, efforts must be made to restore socially the conviction that the place and task of the father in and for the family is of unique and irreplaceable importance. As experience teaches, the absence of a father causes psychological and moral imbalance and notable difficulties in family relationships… (FC, 25)
I want my family to be a community of love that images the Holy Trinity. To do so, I must find a way to spend more time at home than I do in the office. And I think that I have discovered a way to make this all happen: technology.
A Brief History of Labor
For most of history, before the advent of automobiles and high speed trains and aeroplanes, men worked close to where they lived. Within walking distance. Most worked on the land in some way, raising animals or growing crops. Many worked in small shops, often attached to their homes, working as bakers, butchers, candle-stick makers, coopers, cobblers, and general store owners. Sons worked with their fathers and they got to earn their livelihood while staying close to their family.
But the labor could be back-breaking. So men thought of ingenious devices to make work easier. The Industrial Revolution came and morphed into the Second Industrial Revolution–please forgive the ten thousand foot view here but I want to get to the part where I share my secret with you–which eventually morphed into the Information Revolution. The result of these revolutions was the separation of the husband and father from the family.
The father makes a daily trek to the office or factory or firm. He’s works there for eight hours minimum, then treks back home. Total time gone if he is lucky is nine hours. Often he is gone for longer, and this of course excludes the inevitable business trips and late-night strategy sessions that senior management insists upon. Meanwhile wife and children are home making do.
Our technology saved us physical effort but alienated us from our families. The result has been predictably disastrous: the widespread disintegration of the family.
Coming Full Circle
There is good news though. Technology has come so far as to open up a new-old possibility: working from home.
Many men are knowledge workers: their labor can be done almost anywhere and the results of it sent via electronic delivery to where it needs to go. Lawyers can read and write documents from anywhere. Software developers can write and submit code from anywhere. Writers can write books and articles for publication from anywhere.
I’m a writer and a software developer, so I have figured out ways of doing my work right here at home, where I am close by my family. My friend is a patent lawyer and works from home We collaborate with our coworkers via video conferencing, phone calls, email, and chat programs.
Amazon gives you the tools to self-publish books. Blogging and writing for online magazines offer another platform. Website design and graphic design skills are always needed, and several people I know work from home doing just that.
Working from home has great advantages. I get to be home, available to my wife when she needs help. I get to eat meals with my family, take breaks as needed to run errands or do some work around the house. When a stranger knocks on the door, I, instead of my wife, can answer it.
Working from home also has disadvantages: I’m not physically present at the office, so collaboration with colleagues is more difficult. Also, while I have a dedicated room in the house I use for my home office, it is not sound proof, and children shouting or laughing or crying carries through, which can be distracting or make conferencing meetings challenging. Further, some companies frown upon working from home, and you may stall your career growth in choosing this way to work. In spite of these difficulties, working from home has been a great blessing to my family.
A Path for Grease Monkeys?
“This is all well and good for so-called knowledge workers,” you may say. “But I’m not a writer or lawyer or graphic designer or software guru. I’m a mechanic [or farmer, or welder, or carpenter]. Am I out of luck?”
Not at all. In many ways you are in an even better situation. You simply need to find a way to do your work close to home. Start a small engine repair shop in your garage. Offer to build custom dining room tables or cabinets and advertise through Craigslist. (We hired a guy who built us a beautiful table for half the price that an equivalent, but lower-quality one, would have cost at Pottery Barn.)
Small tradesmen used to abound, but with the advent of cheap stuff made in China and big box discount stores, most of these people had to find other work. Ironically, however, a niche for local products of good quality has been carved out again. People want something well-made and increasingly value work done locally.
How wonderful to be able to work in your own little shop connected to your house, and to have your children be able to see the work you do each day.
What about farmers? In my mind, small farmers get the best of all worlds. They can farm near their home, often on the same property–which could be rented inexpensively instead of purchased–and bring their children along while they do it. Best of all, they are providing for a real need that all people have: the need to eat good food.
People are more and more aware of the value of food grown without pesticides and herbicides. They want real food that tastes good, not pale, mushy tomatoes from the grocery store. For an example of someone succeeding at small farming, see Kevin Ford’s blog, The Catholic Land Movement.
I’m not a farmer, but we have just purchased ten acres of land and a house about thirty miles outside of Austin, Texas. I plan to grow a big garden, have chickens, sheep, bees, and a milk cow, and raise some of our own food. I plan to work from home most days of the week, avoiding the long commutes and frustrating traffic, enabling me to stay close to my family. Given my particular skills, this is the best option for me to provide for my family while also getting to spend lots of time with them. For others it will look different, according to their interests and skills.
Technology, a Double-Edged Sword
Technology has brought us many great advances, no one denies that. But with it has come new temptations that actually disconnect us from the people around us. If we make use of the spaces and opportunities that technology has opened up, however, we can leverage it to return to our families, to our children, to the land. The next step in this process will be joining up with other families, living close by them, to form true local communities. Not communes, where the proper boundaries around the family are violated, but families sharing their faith and work and recreation together. Before we can do this, we must find a path to this kind of life that our own family can take, giving us the freedom to then join with others.