I go back to work tomorrow on April 1st. My year-long paternity leave is over. No April Fools.
I couldn’t help noticing, though, the articles and especially the photograph on the front page of the Yomiuri Shimbun this morning. One article estimated the number of “disaster orphans” (children who lost both parents) from the Tohoku Earthquake and related tsunami in the hundreds at the very least. The accompanying photograph was that of a 4-year-old who had written a short letter to her mother, who is missing along with the girl’s father and older sister. The letter was short: “I hope you are still alive. How are you?” It took her almost an hour to write.
This morning, after seeing my wife off at the train station, I took my daughter to a nearby park. Though not quite two years old, she doggedly attempted to climb up a rope ladder to a slide by herself and insisted that she play catch with at least two different balls at the same time (one in each hand). Later at home around lunch time, she asked me to draw a red heart on her crayon-scrawl-covered paper. She then asked for blue, yellow, black, and green versions in quick succession, and pointed to show me where she wanted them. “Red heart yatte, koko.”
A few weeks ago, I tried to figure out how much money I spent from last April to this March, but stopped before too long. Basically, I wound up pretty much emptying my savings for the previous two to three years (graduate school and a trip to the US did partially explain that, however). I didn’t bother figuring out how much there was in lost pay. But even calling it “lost pay” is a poor choice of words. The events of March 11 and afterwards have made clear once again the value of family over money. None of the relief money will bring back that poor girl’s parents and sister.
Yet even without the ongoing tragedy, I still feel I made the right choice for my family. No amount of money can bring back lost memories or re-create events that wouldn’t have occurred, had I been at work every day instead of raising my daughter. I have no regrets.
My daughter starts nursery school tomorrow, with the “entrance ceremony” on Saturday morning (yes, there is even a ceremony for babies in Japan). My child care leave will be over…but taking care of my child will still continue. I will continue to post occasionally here, not only to reflect on what happened last year (I simply didn’t have time to write about a whole lot of things), but also to ponder new topics and issues as they arise.
I’m still a newbie at being a father, and while I have learned a lot this past year I’m sure there is plenty left to learn. Thanks for reading about my experiences on paternity leave; I know that there is little chance that my decision to take a year of child care leave will encourage other men to do so. There are two full-time workers in my family (my wife and myself), which made the decision easier. Not receiving any pay and staying home while friends and colleagues went to conferences and published papers in journals and books was difficult. But what I got in return can never be taken away, and will never come again.
I have no regrets. None. And I hope that more new fathers will also choose to have no future regrets when the opportunity arises.