My son got a reading award! (But I couldn’t be there)

by The Darwinian Doctor

Today, learn how missing a reading award for my son made me question my career choice and strengthened my resolve to achieve financial independence.

Teaching a child to read is a huge undertaking.  In our household, the Dr-ess has taken lead on this Herculean task.  It’s been over a year of letters, sight words, and Dick and Jane reading books (affiliate link).

But their efforts have really paid off.  With daily reinforcement (both at home and at school), our son is finally reading independently! He’s mostly reading simple books about the Avengers and Pokemon, but he’s reading.   

The Reading Award

This hasn’t gone unnoticed by his teacher, and she sent us an email a short while ago that our son was going to get a reading award.  The event was held during the weekly school assembly around 8AM on a Friday.  

It was a fun affair.  A few kids got awards for various academic accomplishments, and our son was so proud to get his reading award.  He smiled and for once, wasn’t shy in the slightest!

But I wasn’t there.

Unfortunately, I had no clue how the event went until after the fact.  I didn’t see his happy face while he got the award until my wife sent me pictures later in the day.  Instead, I was at work in the clinic, seeing patients and doing minor surgical procedures.  

Conflicting emotions

My son’s teacher gave us 7 days of notice prior to the awards assembly.  Her email read, “I hope you both can make it to take lots of pictures. I am very proud of his progress in reading.”

In the week leading up to the reading award event, I wrestled with a variety of emotions.  


I was so proud of my son for persevering through his reading lessons.  I was so proud of my wife for working with him on a daily basis to teach him reading.  On weekends, I could hear the protestations from my son, encouragement from the Dr-ess, and yes, even occasional tears of frustration.  It sounded like really hard work on both sides.  

But they did it!  


But as an employed doctor in a large group practice, my schedule is set in stone months ahead of time. When I learned about the award ceremony, I already had 18 patients booked to be seen that morning.  

While I get leeway for emergencies, it’s difficult to cancel clinic without inconveniencing a ton of people. Morally, the thought of canceling on those patients just didn’t seem right.

But this realization didn’t make it any easier. When I have been able to make important events in my son’s life, he’s been so happy. The fact that I’d be missing this one made me so sad. 


For the first time in recent memory, I was overcome by a feeling of powerlessness over my day to day routine.  I fast forwarded in my mind to the next year, the next five years, and the next decade. I had an image of my life spent seeing patients, doing their surgeries, seeing more patients, and missing many major milestones in my kids’ life along the way…


We are lucky that both the Dr-ess and the grandparents were able to attend the award assembly.  From their description, my son was super happy, and everyone had a nice time. Honestly, they’ve gotten used to me missing school events due to my job.

But this event was a cold reminder that no job is without sacrifices.  As a surgeon, I’m lucky to exercise a lot of autonomy in terms of my patient centered decision making.  But I’m a slave to the overall structure that supports my medical care.

I feel the only way that I can break free from this is to have enough financial strength to become less dependent on the steady income that my job affords.  

I’ve written before about why I want to create a solid financial bedrock for my family. Luckily, I’m paid well for my surgical services, but my job comes with some heavy golden handcuffs. I’ve got high costs of living and need my income to pay back loans, support my family, and invest.

If I wasn’t as dependent on my paycheck, though, I’d gladly trade out some of my clinic and operating time for more flexibility.  I’d trade out my overnight call in a tachycardic heartbeat.

My investments in real estate and index funds have never seemed more important. I look forward to going over my short and long term financial goals at the end of this year. And you can bet that the events of the last few weeks have crystallized these goals for me quite significantly.


Have you had to miss a special event due to work obligations? How did it make you feel? Comment below.

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4 years ago

Congratulations on your son winning an award. It is tough to rearrange a schedule as a physician with such short notice. Ideally for me it is a month out and maybe if lucky can do something with 2 wks notice. 1 wk is really pushing it and I have a much easier practice/schedule to do it than you.

My dad missed a ton of awards (he was a busy internist) so it was more common for my mom to be there (although I believe my dad was there for my spelling bee competition (won 2nd in school and then city). But it was my mom that did all the hard work of doing the things to study for the bee.

It’s just something that the medical career forces you to sacrifice. You are right that FI is the best approach to counter it

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