Back in 2017, Professor Robert Kelly became, very briefly, the Internet’s Dad after his children crashed a BBC interview he had patched into from the desk in his home office. An expert on inter-Korean affairs, Kelly had been called on to comment on a presidential scandal in South Korea. He did a decent job until his two children — a hilarious toddler and on-the-go infant — jumped into the phone call and the rest is meme history. Or it was meme history until it became reality for the millions of dads working from home during the COVID-19 crisis. Now, the interrupting kid is less novelty than a digital workplace staple. Rewatching that “BBC Dad” video in the age of coronavirus, it’s striking how unnecessary Kelly’s apologies were. To badly paraphrase Yakov Smirnoff: “In Russia, you don’t work from home. In Russia, home works you.”
And that’s fine. Not just now. Always.
Statistically, American parents work too much. We don’t take enough vacations, we don’t spend enough time with our kids, and, for the most part, we outsource all kinds of parental tasks to third parties at debilitating cost. All around the country — and the world — the collective groans from parents sound the same. We are overwhelmed with our kids because they interfere with the work that defines and encompasses so much of our lives. And, because we’re all such damn workaholics, a lot of parents — I include myself — frequently forgot that we don’t work to get away from our kids, we work for our kids (on a lot of levels).
I’ve been BBC dad. I’ve had my kid with me on calls before and sometimes I’ve owned it and sometimes I’ve been embarrassed. As a journalist who writes about TV and movies, I’m in the lucky position of having done my job while holding my daughter on many occasions before the current coronavirus panic. When my daughter was still an infant in 2017, I interviewed Rian Johnson about The Last Jedi, while my then-7-month-daughter gurgled a word sounding like “Luke” into the phone. He was the hottest director in Hollywood at the time (still is, arguably) and he was also totally cool about it. He said hello to her, virtually. The funny thing is just how normal that is. People get that you have a kid and sometimes even like having a kid interrupt the flow of work. Many people, it turns out, like kids. This is probably good news for the species.
In 2018, some very nice folks at a Turkish news network called TRT World even retroactively included my daughter into their coverage, after she photobombed an interview I was giving about Superman’s origin story. Korean politics, it was not, but I was briefly Istanbul’s BBC Dad and… everyone was nice about it. If anyone was being weird, it was likely me.
— Efnan Han (@efnan_han) March 29, 2018
And that’s the thing: I’ll admit to feeling a tiny bit guilty when my daughter wanders into frame or mic range. During one interview with a major celebrity I idolized as a child, my daughter interrupted. The actor, not known for being a kind person, became annoyed when my daughter joined our phone interview and he felt perfectly comfortable lending voice to that annoyance, presumably because it was not normal. But it’s normal now and, truth be told, it was normal then. I regret apologizing, which I did far too profusely. I entertained the premise that it was weird my kid was around. It wasn’t weird. Working is entwined with family because family is entwined with everything.
I know I’m not alone on this right now. Everywhere, parents who are conference-calling into their jobs are all suddenly BBC Dad, wracked with embarrassment that, quite simply, they have a life. We’re all saying “I’m sorry,” everyone else on the video chat, or phone call. We shouldn’t. We should introduce our children to our co-workers. We should help them — both the children and the coworkers — understand that our lives are multifaceted. Let the corn farmers silo — it doesn’t work for those of us on conference calls.
So, the next time your kid bombs the Zoom call, hold your ground. There’s nothing unprofessional about having kids and taking care of them. Home office doesn’t just mean office. It means home.