At the beginning of the interview, he looked and sounded like any other man giving any other interview. He was smartly dressed. A map of the world hung on a wall behind him. Books littered every flat surface within camera range.
It quickly became unlike any other interview.
His daughter sauntered in. The space was transformed, by her mere presence, into a home office trying to pretend it wasn’t. Nudged away from his side, she sat on one of those presumably flat surfaces. The surface bounced under her weight. It was a bed, probably for guests.
By this time, her younger brother had joined the fun, pushed into view by the inertia of his own walker. He managed his entrance with enough speed to indicate that he had a running start. Heard but not seen was his mother’s strangled cry, presumably issued when she realized that she had lost arm’s-reach control over not one, but two, children.
Mom recaptured the children, dad recaptured the narrative of the interview, and the family captured the world’s attention.
“BBC dad interview” became an internet sensation within hours. It notched records for the number of views and related interactions it generated.
When I first watched the video of Professor Robert E. Kelly, his wife Kim Jeong-ah, and their children, Marion and James, I laughed until tears were streaming down my face.
You can’t make this stuff up, it’s often said of the most unbelievable believable stuff. And this scene couldn’t have been scripted or portrayed better than real life allowed it to be. The children’s personalities, the mother’s heroic desperation, the father’s near ruined restraint, made for comedy “Saturday Night Live” couldn’t mimic.
But the authenticity of the setting was the real fulcrum around which the viral nature of this video pivoted.
Thanks to the seeming grace of some higher power, every parent has survived a comparable situation involving their children. Dinner in a restaurant. Traveling on an airplane. Shopping.
You know your children are there. You just hope everyone around you doesn’t have cause to discover it. The facade inevitably, eventually breaks, and voila: You have a reliably humbling story for life.
In the almost nine years that I have had children, I have been fortunate enough to work at places that allowed me to accommodate my family commitments as routinely as I addressed my professional commitments.
Even as I worked as a litigator at a big, national law firm, I left the office for my daughter’s doctor appointments and to take her to swimming lessons. I worked late at night, but from home. I had pictures of her all over my office.
But once I took a conference call from a playground. One of the other participants gruffly noted that he couldn’t hear me because of the “background noise.” I didn’t admit where I was, or why. I nervously put myself on mute, and refrained from chiming in even when I had something to contribute.
I tried to manage my work life around my family life, but I hoped one never met the other.
I no longer try to maintain that artificial divide.
I am a mother when I work, and I’m a lawyer when I mother. I’m also a wife, a sister, a friend, and other things, too. In short, I’m a person, not a one-dimensional name on an organization chart.
I work from home on snow days. I sometimes participate in calls during car-pooling. And I occasionally bring my children into the office when they are not at school.
I don’t pretend that I’m not playing at least two roles at once. I announce myself at the top of the call and explain in advance that my children are in the room, or in the backseat. I send my boss pictures of my kids trick-or-treating, or at a football game.
I try to maintain a professional presence at work. But like Professor Kelly and his now-famous exchange with the BBC beautifully shows, sometimes the rest of my life crashes in.
We’re all, ultimately, just human. And that’s hilarious.