Friday, May 22, 2015

The Give And Take Balance That Is Working Away From Home

Working offshore is not for everyone.  This is a well-known reality.  In order to make a career out of earning a paycheck away from home – and enjoy the life you lead along the way – it takes a hell of a lot of the right pieces coming together at the right time.  You cannot force it.  Offshore work is the type of profession where the employee had better be either 100% in, or get 100% out.  There’s not a lot of in-between.  Guys that spend a month or more on the water at a time, and aren’t fully invested in their trade, often lead some pretty miserable lives.  You’ve got to want it, for it to really work.

Love what you do

Some are meant for a desk, and some are meant for a cave.

I love heavy machinery, and the compression-ignition engine.  It is the only engine you’ll ever find under the hood of any truck I own.  Loud noises and horsepower are who I am.  I can’t escape it, nor will I ever try.  I have a pair of marine diesel pistons and connecting rods tattooed on my inner forearm, so I will never stray too far from where I began.  I live and breathe diesel engines, just like my old man, and my old man’s old man.  To earn my living overseeing the operation of a 55,000 combined horsepower diesel electric plant, drilling a big hole in the ocean floor, seems as fitting as any profession I could find.  Please, spare me the holier than thou bullshit about the morality of the drilling industry.  We are all more dependent on it than we care to admit, and that’s not what this post is about in the first place.

Appreciate the ‘take’ that comes with the ‘give’

My favorite part about working 28 days in the Gulf of Mexico, is the 28 days at home that follow.  I am more than willing to sweat my balls off and take care of business out on the rig, in order to give my family my undivided attention for an entire month… every other month.  I realize that sounds like lunacy to a lot of people, and that’s ok.  If everyone saw it like I do, it’d be pretty hard to find a job offshore anyways.

In my first job on the water, I worked with an electrician in his early 60’s named J.B.  He had spent several years in the Navy, and another 30+ working on the same dredge we were currently sailing.  He had raised his entire family while working rotations away from the house.  In all those years, he lived on the same farm in Pensacola Florida, with the same neighbors on the street.  His children grew up alongside his neighbor’s.  Small time America in all its glory.  I will always remember a story he told me, about a conversation between his neighbor’s wife and his own:

The neighbor had worked his entire adult life as a local tradesman, punching in and out of the normal 9:00 to 5:00, Monday through Friday.  His wife and J.B.’s were discussing the dynamics of father and children as each of their families had grown over the years.  The tradesman’s wife said that looking back, she realized that it was J.B. who seemed to be in his yard with his daughter damn near every time she looked out the window.  It seemed he was always out there.  Her husband, who worked a few miles away right in their own town, didn’t seem to have a fraction of the time available to dedicate to his family. 

This is what people always seem to miss when they tell me how awful it must be for me to never see my wife and daughter.  When I am home, I am HOME.  In mind and body, with nowhere else to be.   I’m not rushing in just in time for dinner, and I’m not heading out the door before my two girls are awake yet.  My time is my family’s time, without exception.  This is the give and take that I can absolutely live with.  I will inevitably be absent from a few holidays and other special events I’d much rather be home for.  That said, if you think the calendar date of any holiday is what it’s really about, you’re missing out on a pretty big part of the picture.  I’ve been offshore for Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, Independence Day, birthdays, Mother’s Day, you name it.  But of all the things I’ve “missed’, I have some pretty fond memories of times with my family celebrating exactly ALL of those events.  We enjoyed them when time allowed.  Sometimes a few days early, sometimes a few weeks late.  But we always make the time.  I asked my 16 month old daughter if she was ok having her birthday cake once I got home.  It turns out she didn’t mind at all.  She will grow up remembering all the special days I was there, not the ones I wasn’t. 

Someone to hold down the fort

The most important part of a successful life at home to go along with the one offshore, doesn’t have a damn thing to do with me.  It’s got everything to do with the woman who holds my world together while I’m gone.  All the aspiration and drive in the world will not carry a man through a career away from home, if he cannot rely on a strong woman back home to take care of his family.  I wholeheartedly appreciate the burden this places on the spouse, believe me.  It is one of the reasons I admire my wife as much as I do.  She takes care of our little girl, assuming the role of mom AND dad half the time, and does so beautifully.

FaceTime is a pretty major help keeping in touch, too

I can see in the eyes of someone I work with offshore, when they are not as fortunate to have the roof held down at home.  Stress has a way of carrying itself with you wherever you go.  If a guy can’t focus on the task at hand because of the constant worry of his at-home state of affairs, it’s going to be a short stressful ride offshore.  I always told myself from the very beginning that if I ever reached that kind of breaking point, this job could kick rocks.  I would put the wellbeing of my family ahead of anything else, including my job.  Whatever my job was.  I’d find a better one if I couldn’t hold it together at home.  That is a powerful life lesson I adopted from my own father.  I remember him telling me several times when I was younger that he wasn’t sure what he’d do, but he’d do whatever it took to keep his family together if life on the road proved to be too much.  Fortunately, that has never been a worry for him or myself.

Anyway, before I ramble off into outer space with this post, I’ll shut it down.  Maybe it shed a little light on what I think it takes to build a strong family in an environment very few successfully can.  Working away from home requires the fullest commitment from both partners, a real appreciation for the good parts, and an understanding that you cannot get something for nothing in this world.  It’s a give and take, and we’ve all got to pay to play. 

On that note, I’ve got 27 more Mondays in the Gulf before it’s time to play with all those Saturdays.

Hammer down.