I am back. In real time I have been away for two weeks, but in Ballet Dad Time, it has been three. Owing to the dates of my trip not correlating with the boarding school week, I've not seen our son for three weeks. This is a long time for an enmeshed, over-involved father to be away, but it has probably done us all some good. I know a couple of mothers who only get to see their children a twice a year. These young women are part of an economic diaspora, and are working overseas so that their children - living with their grandparents - can have a better life. In comparison, the two weeks away that I endure feel almost luxurious. There, by the grace of God ...
After these three weeks of absence, I went to pick up our son for his weekend back at home. Making eye-contact - live, not on Skype - was a moment of instant relief. It was exciting and energising, but at the same time natural and obvious. He had grown, or at least I imagined he had grown; but perhaps while he was away I remembered him as a younger version of himself. And is he beginning to walk differently - prematurely a bit more like a lanky teenager? Next time I go away, I'm going to measure his height before I leave; some empirical evidence for his growth-spurts when I am working abroad.
Someone I work with kindly introduced my to an appropriate hashtag - Hashtag First World Problems or #firstworldproblems. It was a justifiably mocking response to something that I had said; a way of deflating my habitual pomposity and unattractive earnestness. This is a legitimate reply to my complaints that the gnocchi has run out at Ocado, or that someone in my household always overcooks the quinoa, or that the 3G on my phone has a slight lag. I am usually more self aware than people give me credit for. I fully understand the comedy caricature that I schlep with me through daily life. The annoyance of those who do not get the joke gives me a perverse pleasure. The danger of living in a luxurious hotel for two weeks is that this overblown comedy persona begins to lose its sense of irony. For two weeks, I am provided with everything I need, and denied the pleasure of getting anything for myself. We work long hours, the financial rewards are significant, the food and the accompanying service are exquisite. I begin to turn into something monstrous. I focus on everything that I do not have during this time: the company of my family; a long walk with the dog; slobbing out in my own sitting room; marmite on toast; my freedom. When I am in the middle of it, it seems that it will never end. When it is over, I am painfully aware of how brief two weeks were. I remember those young women who only get to see their children twice a year. Our pain warrants no comparison. I'll be back in fourteen short days, and I'll see our son after twenty-one. They endure five or six months at a time; and they are not the recipients of an over-indulgent level of service during their twelve hour shifts. #firstworldproblems.
Being away brings with it a significant gift. Now that I am home, living again with these people - one of whom I only see at weekends - I know that I am in the right place. I remind myself never to forget this happiness.