Breaking Bad: What Would You Do for Your Family?

breakingbadAt the moment, I’m obsessed with the TV show Breaking Bad.

In a nutshell, it’s about a regular guy named Walter White who finds himself in an extraordinary situation.  He’s 50 with a wife and 16-year-old son who has cerebral palsy, and his 40-year-old wife is pregnant. He’s a brilliant chemist who did groundbreaking research years ago, but was screwed over by his partners. Now he’s living in New Mexico and working as the most overqualified high school chemistry teacher on the planet. And because teachers make dick, he also works a second job at a car wash where he suffers daily indignities.

But everything changes when Walt finds out he has terminal lung cancer. Already behind in bills and now facing the proposition of chemo and other expensive medical treatments not covered by insurance, Walt is petrified not about dying, but of leaving his family in a pile of debt.

One day he does a ride-along with his brother-in-law, a DEA agent. While the cops are busting a meth lab, Walt sees one of his fuck-up former students escaping. But instead of telling the police, Walt blackmails this kid Jesse go into going into business together. With Walt’s chemistry background he’s able to cook up the purest methamphetamine around. And eventually the most unlikely of drug kingpins is born.

But as you might imagine, balancing life as the Southwest’s top crystal meth dealer with that of husband and father is challenging to say the least. And indeed, much of the show centers around that dichotomy. But the crux of the whole thing, the main question at the center of everything, is simple.

What are you willing to do to provide for your family?

As any regular reader of these pages knows, that is a question near and dear to my heart recently. But moreover, it’s something I think a lot of dads (and moms too) are struggling with. As the economy continues to sink while foreclosures and bankruptcies spike, many families are in dire straits. So what do you do?

As fathers, we’re programmed to provide at all costs. Or at least that’s how it was with me. So if your family is in trouble, I always thought we should spring into action. If you’re not working then get a job. If you’re working full-time, get a second job. Or a third one if necessary. Work 90 hours a week if you have to. Whatever it takes and whatever you have to do to ensure your family’s well being, you do it. Because you’re a man and that’s what men do.

That’s what Walt did. He even resorted to illegal means to make it happen. He made millions and millions of dollars and made sure that his family would never want for anything. Mortgage payments, medical bills and college tuition for two kids. He flat out provided.

But he also lost his family in the process. He was working so much and for so long he grew estranged from them. Eventually he came to a crossroads where he could either stop making all that money and go back to life as he once knew it, or continue on his path. He chose to keep bringing in the dough, even though he knew his wife wouldn’t take him back because of it. Even though he knew it would harm his relationship with his son and newborn daughter. For Walt, providing for his family was paramount. And he did it even though his family didn’t love him anymore, because “that’s what men do.”

I won’t lie, a part of me really respects Walt. What I wouldn’t give to plop down a duffel bag full of money on the kitchen table and tell my MJ “don’t worry about anything anymore because I’ve got this.” To feel like a “real man.” While I wouldn’t do anything illegal to earn money, I could get a second or third job in addition to the newspaper and my freelance gigs. I could work 90 hours a week like a dog to pay off our bills for a few years. It makes sense.

Except for a few things.

Time spent at these hypothetical jobs is time I don’t get to spend with my wife and child. I work 40+ hours a week as it is. My wife’s hours are even worse. Will is already in daycare full-time. Any further absence on my part or MJ’s would mean either increased time at daycare or with other babysitters. And I have to tell you, I’m not sure I’m willing to do that.

Will amazes me every single day. His progress at this age is so rapid and intriguing, I literally shake my head every day in wonder and amusement. He sings songs, he talks in complete sentences. He’s grasping jokes and humor. I worked Saturday and Sunday this weekend, and as a result I barely saw him at all. And I miss him something fierce. I just can’t imagine that feeling of missing him on an ongoing basis.

Providing for one’s family is a good and noble thing. Kids need food, clothes and shelter. And it takes money to do that. But there are more ways to provide than simply earning a paycheck. Will needs two parents who are there as much as possible.

I have great memories of my father, but most of them are from when I was pre-teen and older. And that’s because he was building a business from scratch. My memories from early childhood are almost exclusively of my mother. I’m not bitter or angry about that. I understand why it was that way. And because of my dad’s hard work we moved into a nice house, had decent cars and my brother and I could play sports. I’m incredibly appreciative.

But at the same time, my dad has told me one of his biggest regrets is not being around as much when we were young. And I think that’s why he’s constantly foaming at the mouth to get Will, because he’s making up for lost time. And doing a helluva job I might add.

The point is I don’t think I’m willing to work 90 hours a week if it means missing out on Will’s childhood. That probably means I’m not a real man to a lot of people. Hell, I have a hard time swallowing it myself to an extent. But do these people realize that part of being a real man is spending time with your kids? Being there for them. Guiding them and helping them at every turn. All the money in the world isn’t going to help when you find yourself a stranger to your own kids.

Just ask Walt.

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15 thoughts on “Breaking Bad: What Would You Do for Your Family?

  1. Awesome post, AG- questions and problems that totally resonate with me, as a man who set a good career down to stay at home with my 3 kiddos.
    I totally get how hard it is to answer that question about what “makes a man.” I guess for me, I had to understand what it means to “provide” in a broader, more holistic sort of way.
    As you pointed out, Dads have a vital part to play in parenting. We teach our boys how to be men, and we teach our daughters what sort of man to look for in a spouse.
    But as husbands we also fill out our role as men, and that plays no mean part in defining or qualifying who we are “as men.”
    In the bible, a “man” is pictured as someone who leads diligently, sacrifices selflessly, and serves others. To me that means that I shape my life to feed the needs of my wife’s heart and body, then those of my parents and those of my children.
    That seems to challenge me to live with integrity constantly. And as I think you more than hinted at “providing” quality of life covers SO much more than money. Fortunately for us in middle class America, There’s usually something we can give up if there’s not enough $ to cover the many good things our lives have.
    Good work, Aaron. You’re right on- a good dad doesn’t have to be a rich one, thank goodness!

  2. Know what honey? You are TOTALLY a real man! It means balancing being there and providing which in today’s world is harder and harder. We (my hubby and I) struggle with that balance everyday in different ways. Keep pushing through and we’ll all stumble bumble our ways through.

  3. This post is timely for me because I had a very interesting realization this morning.

    Resentment.

    I realized that I resent being a single mom because I cannot spend the time or feel as dedicated to the hard core career I had before I was a mother.

    I resent being a working mother because I cannot spend the time or feel as dedicated to my children as I did when I was a stay at home mom.

    Somehow I feel like there’s a one or the other thing with me. Like… I cannot give 100% to either so I resent both. Does that make sense?

    I LOVE my children but I can’t help but feel that they are missing out because I have to do this alone. I feel resentful for the fact that I HAVE to be the mom AND the dad.

    But would I give them up to focus on a career again. Nope. My life would be empty.

    These kids… they really shake up our lives, don’t they? We’d just not be the same people without them.

  4. I really hate that we can’t have everything at once :)

    Ideally, Will would have his parents around much of the time, and they would be able to support him, and their lifestyle. Of course, nothing about this world is ideal.

    We are about as far in debt as we can get courteousy of funeral costs and medical expenses after we lost Ariana. Our entire savings was wiped out, we have no “backup” plan, and I’m not allowed to work. We struggle, daily. We raided our three year old’s piggy bank over the weekend to get enough change to buy bread and milk until my husband gets a paycheck this week.

    And I wouldn’t change a thing. Sure, I’d like it to be easier. But despite the struggling, the debt and the fear, we are happy together. Ultimately, that’s all I want.

  5. Anyone who thinks you aren’t a real man is stuck in the stone age. I think it takes incredible strength to go against stereotypes, and to recognize that money isn’t the most important thing. When my husband wanted to get a second job, I begged him not to. He used to have a job where he was gone before the kids got up in the morning and only home in time to put them to bed, then he would fall into bed exhausted… we were miserable. Now he makes a lot less, but he is home a lot more, and we – the kids too – are happier for it.

  6. I feel *exactly* the same way. I struggle with balancing a career that feeds everyone and pays the bills and seeing my children on their schedules. If I’m really doing this for them, but they lose me in the process, is that really a fair trade? I say no.

    Thanks for sharing some of the things real men think about. A real man is one who takes care of his own, whether it be a business or a stinky diaper.

  7. If being a real man means working 90 hour weeks and missing your children’s achievements then I’ll proudly join you in the “Not A Real Man” club. While those “real men” go and work themselves to death for another buck, we’ll be clapping along while our kids sing songs, having tickle fights with them and helping them with their homework. In the end, they might have more money, but we’ll be richer!

  8. TechyDad: I see your point but it’s not really an “us vs. them” argument I’m making. I have no doubt most of the dads who do work 90 hours a week do so either out of necessity or because they have a noble desire to provide for their families. They are likely good men who are doing what they think is best. And hey, maybe without working that much they don’t have a home in which to have tickle fights.

    All I’m saying is, for me, I don’t think it’s worth the trade off. I’m personally not willing to give up that time with my son for anything. If that means we lose our house and have to rent for a few years, I’m OK with that. I firmly believe kids can adapt to anything and as long as the family foundation is solid, everything else will come together.

  9. For a time I struggled with the notion that I needed to provide for my family when I was laid off and became a full time dad. My wife kept reminding me though that the work I was doing was priceless.
    I feel that you are more of a man if you do not take that second or third job. I also feel there are situations where taking that second job is taking the easy way out, though I think that is the exception not the rule. Yes your children need food and clothing but they do not need the best of the best, and teaching them to be wise with money is just as important as teaching them to work hard for what they want. Not to mention you get this one chance to spend this time together and once it is gone it is gone forever and when you are old is the time not more important than anything else you could have given them?

  10. A real parent is there for their kids. I actually was talking to my 8 year old daughter the other day about what it was like when I was a kid. My mom worked 3 jobs and was never around (and we were still poor). I told her that I would have given anything so that I could have had time with my mom as a child. While money is crucial, it is not everything. As for Walt, he should have stopped making the money and spent time with his family so that when he does die, he leaves them precious memories.

  11. Great post. I’ll be reading from now on. I’m a new dad and I would love to stay home with my little one but need to work. I’m sure there has to be a balance between supporting ones family financially, and emotionally. I hope I can find it.

  12. For the record, I’m a huge “Breaking Bad” fan, too — which surprised me, because I can bare to watch violent shows. But you say it well: the thread of this show really is family and love and holding on.

    After my ex split town — and I became the solo mom of our daughter — my own father stepped up to be the man in her life. I’m grateful every day.

    Thanks for this post.

  13. It is a constant balancing act that never ends. There are many wrong answers but very few right. What I mean by that is trying to find a way to provide with your family without giving up your ability to spend time with them. I have been in both positions and neither one feels as comfortable as I would like it to.

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