Interstellar Fatherhood

Is it ever OK for a father to put his family on hold for the sake of his career? Or, to put it another way, how do business trips, late nights at the office, or working weekends affect my family?

Two days ago I watched the film, Interstellar. It is an interesting sci-fi film with time travel, science, family struggles, quantum mechanics, environmental collapse, and heroics. The story is so intertwined with layers of reference, I had to go back and re-watch it yesterday. I was intrigued enough with the story and themes, I had a need to untangle it a bit more. Several themes come to mind, but one I want to explore today is in relation to a father’s willingness to put his family first, above all things.

Years ago I worked with a man who was very dedicated to his family and his job. He worked long hours and he adored his kids. One day he mentioned his priorities: job, family, and church — in that order. He said by putting his job first he could better provide for his family. Something about that phrase (I was young and single at the time) just didn’t set well with me.

In the film, Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a retired NASA pilot who is now a Midwest corn farmer living with his motherless 16 year old son, 10 year old daughter (my daughter’s age!), and father-in-law. Through a series of complicated events (not too complicated in the movie, just too much to explain here), Cooper is recruited to fly to another universe to find a solution to save mankind.

This is a pretty big task, for anyone, and it’s definitely more important than staying at work late to complete a report for tomorrow’s board meeting, or flying to Philadelphia for a weekend sales meeting. However, in principle, it is the same thing. Let me explain.

Like many driven men, Cooper rushes home to explain to his family that he has to leave on a trip. He’s not sure when he’ll be back, but because of the theory of relativity, they will be much older when he returns. They can send him messages, but he may not be able to reply. The 16 year old son takes it well, the 10 year old daughter doesn’t. In fact, she is angry and hurt by her father’s departure.

just another day at the office…

Dad leaves for an adventurous interstellar trip across space and time. The kids grow up angry and hurt by their dad’s departure. Eventually grandpa dies and the kids are now orphans, left to struggle through life on their own.

Many fathers fall prey to the lure of their jobs. Whether it is too make more money, propel their careers, or to find meaning and purpose, the kids essentially grow up without enough involvement from their fathers. These kids grow up hurt and angry at their dads for the abandonment — meanwhile, the dads believe they are better providing for their family. Universally, you will hear kids say they’d rather have time with their Dads — not more stuff.

So, while the film tries to say Cooper had to leave his kids to save the world and the human race, I’m asking, is it ever OK to abandon your family like this?

I believe, family should come first — and I’m even rethinking those nights I stay at the office longer than I should.

What are your thoughts? I’d really appreciate hearing from you in the comments below!

(and if you really like this question, feel free to click the little heart and recommend this for other readers)