Dad E., Phone Home

My husband is a hard-working provider with a habit that drives me crazy. He takes work-related phone calls, and calls from his family and friends, on his cell phone constantly — and these are not short conversations. This disrupts our family life and makes me (and the kids, I worry) feel like we are second place in his life. Help!

Modern communications technology is the epitome of the double-edged sword, isn’t it? On the one hand, we are able to conduct our work and personal business with an efficiency that would have been unimaginable even 20 years ago. One would think that the result of this would be ample amounts of time freed up for family and leisure. Not so — the other edge of the sword has been the intrusion of this inescapable technology into every nook and cranny of our lives.

For instance, while caller ID allows us to avoid a call we may not want at the moment, cell phones, pagers and Blackberries enable that caller to tug at us for attention everywhere we go.

When we were both school teachers/administrators, we would come home after a long day only to have the phone ring frequently with parents calling. We dutifully answered these calls for a while, but soon realized that these calls could wait until regular school hours the next day. That was when we decided to get caller ID. If the call was from a parent, we would let the answering machine get it. If the message was urgent, we would call back. If it could wait, we’d address it the next day.

We realized that having the phone handy didn’t mean we were obligated to answer it every time it rang. We bought the phone and paid the monthly bill because it suited our needs. We were not going to let it turn into a demanding device that could dictate to us when and how it would be used.

The same holds true for all of our modern communications devices. They serve us; we don’t serve them. We must never allow them to become miniature techno-idols that beckon us to drop everything for their sake.

Certainly, your husband probably does receive a call of some urgency that takes priority — we all get those calls once in a while. But voicemail and other recording systems are a simple way to separate the wheat from the chaff, call-wise. Even his willingness to tell someone it isn’t a good time to talk isn’t out of the question.

If he has a difficult time making these call-by-call judgments, a more radical but just as effective solution would be to set blocks of time each day when the phone is simply off limits. For example, he might switch it off when he gets home at 5:30 and not turn it on again until the kids go to bed at 8:30.

Assuming he is a reasonable fellow, surely your husband can see how the constant interruptions can bend the family bonds practically to the breaking point. It is just a matter of outlining concrete steps to solve the problem and bust a bad habit.

Simply saying “I’ll try to do better” isn’t enough. Actually doing something different should help.

The McDonalds are family-life coordinators for the Diocese of Mobile, Alabama.

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito says of discerning one’s college choice, ‘There has to be something that tugs at you and makes you want to investigate it further. And then the personal encounter comes in the form of a visit or a chat with a student or alumnus who communicates with the same enthusiasm or energy about the place. And then that love of a place can be a seed which germinates in your own heart through prayer.’

Choose a College With a Discerning Mind and Heart

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito, assistant professor of theology at the University of Dallas (UD) and subprior (and former vocations director) of the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas, drew from his experience as both a student and now monastic religious to help those discerning understand the parallels between religious and college discernment.