Tommaso Ortino has worked with acclaimed directors Michel Gondry on “The We And The I,“ Abel Ferrara om “Welcome to New York“ and Joshua Marston on "Forgivness of Blood and “Complete Unknown.“ He also
designed "Still Alice,” which garnered Julianne Moore her first Oscar. Tommaso is about to start work on the 3rd season of Golden Globe winner Amazon show “Mozart in the Jungle.“
How do I balance my time being a father and the time spent working? It is a very complicated issue and like everything in this world I would say there are millions of possible answers and maybe a couple of essential common points.
I think the balancing is hard, complex and ever changing, like every relationship. Kids grow and your interaction with them changes, your relationship to your partner (in my case wife) also moves and shifts. Work develops. Gets better, worse. You work less, you work more; you get a break and have a bit of success, then you have a bad one and you find yourself waiting for calls.
But I think these are the challenges of anyone who wants to work and have a family.
There is no easy way. Yes, parents, family members, and very good friends will help in moments of particular difficulty. But for me the main “demon” I’ve been struggling with is a big, silent, subtle one that I would like to address here. As a confession, maybe, but also as a chance to create a sort of open-ended discussion. The demon: the idea that “kids need their mom the most.”
Now, some background: I was raised in Italy by a Catholic family in a conservative environment. Nothing too crazy and or bigoted: My parents were both university graduates and both professors when they got married. But nonetheless they were both Catholic and were definitely conservative in their beliefs. When my siblings and I came along, my mother gave up teaching and took care of us. All around me the various wives were mothers who were not working or were giving up work to “take care of the families.” I remember reading comic books about a disgruntled housewife and a disgruntled working husband (they were both wolves and the husband thought the wife was being lazy and vice versa). One time the wolves swapped their “duties” for a day. Of course daddy-wolf learns that being a housewife is super hard and mommy-wolf learns that being a professional workingman is super hard. And everything ends well: both sides of the wolf-family conundrum end up appreciating each other’s job much more and eagerly go back to what they did before. No need for much analysis here. I was raised in a world where separate family (wolf and non-wolf) roles were right and best for all involved.
Luckily that’s not where my background ended. I grew, I studied, I made important friendships, I read important books, I saw decisive movies, I had important experiences and formed myself in a more progressive and I would say enlightened way that brought me to think very differently from my upbringing. I grew resentful of how my father treated my mom and was (am) strongly convinced that my mom had been “repressed” by my father and most importantly by her own upbringing. Though my mom’s father was a renowned progressive-minded doctor of his time, he insisted to be addressed by his kids as “sir” and would not permit her to chatter at the dinner table if he was around.
In my eyes, my mom was repressed. But in her eyes it felt very different. My parents loved each other deeply and the picture I’ve painted here clouds some important truths: they were both loving and wonderful people and I consider myself lucky to have been their kid. That is very clear to me. Nonetheless I was becoming a different man from my father. And that was something I wanted.
I moved away and then came to New York and fell in love and married soon after.
My wife works and she always did. We met when she had finished her studies. While I was in the process of becoming a lawful green card holder in this country, she was already working and supporting our frugal but fun lifestyle.
I love that she is a smart, successful vibrant professional. I always did. I secretly felt like I was successfully demonstrating that I was not like my father. But more than even that Freudian plot twist, I was truly and naturally attracted to her passion for her profession.
Our relationship was based on her being the steady working one. She had an office schedule that rarely shifted and like clockwork she rarely ever came home later than 7. As a freelancer I was the opposite. Crazy 2-3 months with early calls and late wraps, my mind focused on the job. Often it was hard to disconnect in those crazy months to find a way to really be there and present with her. But we made the relationship work somehow. Then we decided to have a kid and 4 years later another one.
Like everything else in our life together we jumped on it without wanting to think too much about the outcome. We are proud of this way of doing things but sometimes we also feel a bit dimwitted and reckless.
One thing that having kids gave us was an even higher appreciation of what our parents had done for us and unfortunately it also brought back some of their beliefs. The demon: “kids need their mom most.”
My wife was brought up also into a fairly conservative family. Her mom also gave up working for a while to “take care of the family.”
So we both fought (still are) with that archaic, old-fashioned belief. She felt guilty working and I felt guilty letting her feel guilty. When the kids were first born we were ok because she had a 3 months leave and I turned down jobs for at least 2 months. Parents visited and thanks to them we navigated those periods well. But when “normal” life would restart things got a lot harder. My wife returned to work. I got the necessary “crazy months” jobs. Our kids got trotted to day care. But then (as always happens) things happen: numerous school holidays, fevers, aches, the consequence of germ-infested childhood and all of a sudden one of us would have to stay home to nurse a youngster. And though we were both working, she would be the one to stay home. I would say, “I can’t not be there.” Then I got some away job and I would say, “this is a really incredible opportunity for me.” The job of parenting in those moments would fall principally on her.
“Kids need their mom most”. It’s the opposite of what either of us ever wanted to be. But though do not believe it, we both sort of lean on it in moments of difficult decisions.
Now my kids are 7 and 3. There is no part or parcel of life for me that does not involve them. But it’s important to acknowledge that it is a job, a real job to raise them and have a relationship with them. And my wife and I both believe and want to have a double job life. We are struggling because it is hard to have two jobs. It is hard to be or feel successful at both. But what is the hardest part is to fight against the belief that we are doing something wrong and especially the belief that she, as a mother, is doing something wrong.
I loved when Dena wrote last month in this forum, that in those difficult moments she reminds herself of how proud she was of her mother and her doing an important job while being a mother.
So to answer the main question of this forum, I do not know how you balance your job and being a father. I do both but it doesn’t feel balanced and I’m sure it will never be. And maybe, a big maybe, that is not a necessity.
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