I am 30,000 feet in the air. Everything else recedes behind the dull hush of engines as I think about this past week with my father, our family and his work as a filmmaker. It is October, National Work and Family Month, and I have taken this week away from my work and my family of four to be in Chicago for my father's birthday. Three days ago he turned 90. On that same day, with the impeccable timing of the artist that he was, my father passed away.
To watch him labor for breath in the last few days of his life, I was struck by how much work death can be -- not unlike childbirth for that matter, and all the intervening years of joy and pain. Most will agree that life is work. After having been granted lifetime memberships in two families, I must observe that family is work. I deride employers who portray their workforces as families, yet my work team was among the handful of people I called to share my experience from the top of a mountain in Alaska last year. And in the hours I spent by my father's bedside this past week, I reached out to that same constellation of supports. There are breathtaking moments -- at the top of a mountain or the deathbed of a loved one -- in which the distinctions between work, life and family sometimes fall away.
The very name, "Work and Family Month" projects a problematic dualism. Work and family. Work and life. As if work is not an essential part of the human condition. As if urgent family demands magically time themselves around working hours. There was never an expectation that the two spheres would be separate when I was growing up. My father's work as a cinematographer and director spanned the clock and the globe. It was not always obvious to me which drove him more, his passion for his craft or his devotion to his family, whose security rested on his success. It was obvious to me that integral to his success was my mother, who singlehandedly kept the family running at home, and his film crews, who collectively got the shoots finished on time so that all could get back home when expected.
I inherited my father's dual-centric orientation to work and family. I am remarkably fortunate to have a husband, a work team and even an employer who support my sometimes awkward but often seamless integration of the two worlds. Now, flying back to them in Boston, I feel suspended somewhere between heaven and earth. I am thinking of my father. I am writing about my work. I am far above the clouds, between spheres, and in the strangest way possible, I am at home.