There's no joy: the pain of being a parent who travels for work

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images 

A common misconception amongst those hopelessly optimistic and unbroken people we like to call "first-time parents" is that, when it comes to handing out punishments, they'll be the ones in the box seat rather than the naughty corner.

Ask anyone who travels a lot for work, however, and they'll explain why that's wrong. While very young children are supposed to have the memory capacity of a gold fish, or a 1980s PC, they are entirely capable of remembering that you've been away, how long it was for and what kind of present you pledged to bring them on your return.

Cruelly, even if you have spent a spectacularly obscene amount of money at one of those airport toy shops that exist purely to separate guilt-ridden parents from their hard-earned cash, it might not be enough.

After the initial volcanic effusion of joy that always greets the actual moment of your return has fizzed out, you may find yourself being treated to a shoulder so cold it would make even Queen Elsa flinch. 

With my first child, this mystified me. Why was he treating me like last year's least favourite Christmas gift, when I knew that he'd missed me so much while I was away? Punishment, that's why. And his little sister is far more frosty when she does it than he ever was.

If only they knew, or could believe it when I tell them, how much I despise being away from them, it might make a difference. Maybe.

The fact is that travelling for work is often hugely enjoyable, particularly if someone else pays for it, and that it often does beat having a real job.

Right up until you have children. Then, at least for me, it becomes a tug on your heart strings so severe it feels like there's a cello in your rib cage.

I used to love zipping off to Europe, and would always try to add on an extra day or few, but now I have to be truly, fiscally convinced that the trip I'm going on is worth it. And I'm about as likely to stay extra days as I am to request a seat between Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull.

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People who aren't forced to travel a lot for work tend to make faux sad faces, cry fake tears and pluck tiny violins at this point. They often point out it must be far easier these days, because you can just video call your kids any time they miss you. Tell that to any parent of a toddler, who's been through the moment of abject heartbreak that is seeing their beloved child's face light up at the sight of them on an iPad, turn to confusion as they reach out to touch or kiss you and then dissolve into tears when they realise you're not really there.

Video calling is, in fact, among the 6,531 unexpectedly double-edged swords that Apple's technology has foisted upon us all.

Yes, I tell myself the travel is merely a fact of life, a side effect of the career I have chosen, and that I shouldn't complain. Fortunately none of my trips are longer than a week, and I know other fathers who are sent overseas for months at a time. But I still hate it.

It is a strange and inexplicable experience to find yourself on a super yacht in Monaco, watching a grand prix you have always wanted to see, and yet feeling no joy at all, because your daughter just told you on the phone that she misses you and wants you to come home. Right. Now.

Presumably so she can start punishing you.