Ed. note: This post is by Will Meyerhofer, a former Sullivan & Cromwell attorney turned psychotherapist. He holds degrees from Harvard, NYU Law, and The Hunter College School of Social Work, and he blogs at The People’s Therapist. His new book, Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy, is available on Amazon (affiliate link).
Every guy with a family feels the urge to pack a bag, get in the car, and drive. At least, sometimes.
A client told me that – a straight guy with kids. I don’t think it’s a straight thing, though. It might not be a guy thing, either. It can be a lawyer thing. Any lawyer with loans experiences the impulse to hit the highway.
When you’re “The Provider,” you do constant battle with the itch to hightail it out of town.
Who’s “The Provider”? It’s someone you morph into. A character from an Updike novel… or maybe it’s Cheever. Maybe it’s Mad Men. You become a cliché from 1950′s or early 60′s tv shows: Dad, who arrives home, pecks the wife on the cheek, tousles the kids’ hair, then collapses into a La-Z-Boy and reads the paper while the golden retriever fetches the bedroom slippers.
Except it sucks bad enough that you’re feeling the urge to pack a bag, get in the car and drive….
I’m not saying getting married and having kids is terrible. That’s how you got into this mess – you want the wife and the kids. As one of my clients bemoaned, “I want to be a good father. I want to be a good husband. I just can’t pull it off with this job, and it’s killing me.”
The problem is trying to be a lawyer and The Provider at the same time. That’s the part that doesn’t work.
The basic principle, when you’re The Provider, is simple: you pay for everything. This has a certain seductive quality. Many lawyers get into this work because they want to be The Provider. Maybe your father didn’t earn much, and mom had to work and hated it. Or there simply wasn’t enough money to go around. Or you’re the first in your family to go to college or grad school – or earn six figures. It’s a thrill, making it up there, conquering a new plateau of stability and social achievement. You want to bring everyone else up with you.
Or maybe this is what everyone’s always expected of you because it’s what they expected of themselves. You’ll be like dad, or your father-in-law. They were The Providers in their day. They pulled it off. Why can’t you?
It’s easy to get sucked in. You’ll have a big house, a few kids – maybe some leftover cash to lavish on mom and dad. “Let me fill your tank,” you’ll offer, without a care. “You deserve it.”
The Provider wants to “have it all,” “live the dream.” That stuff.
If you try to be The Provider, you could wind up standing next to my client on the train platform at 7 a.m. in a fat-cat town like Greenwich or Stamford or Bronxville, clutching a briefcase, waiting for the express to Grand Central and your midtown office.
That’s okay. You want that, too.
It’s later on, when things turn sour.