While his wife Elaine was at home with their four kids in Snellville, Alan Oberdeck was traveling around from Atlanta to Mexico to Canada making sales calls. Sometimes he was home for only one full week out of eight, and even then he was so overburdened with paperwork he could hardly spend quality time with his kids.
"It wasn't easy, but we were just thankful he had a job," Elaine said.
A few years ago, when Oberdeck retired, he just sat back and let Elaine have full control over designing and building their retirement home.
"Since I had nowhere to go and nothing to do, I decided to write a book about the life of a traveling salesman," he said.
His objective was to dispel the stereotype of the traveling salesman be it Willy Loman or Harold Hill and put the profession in a more positive light.
What evolved was a trilogy he called "The Deer/Dear Hunt." As I got a few pages into the first book, I wondered why his main character, Peter Waldmann, would be divorced.
"Peter is a composite of all the guys I met on the road over 35 years. So many of them were divorced, and not because their wives didn't love them. They just couldn't handle the lifestyle," Oberdeck said.
The book " A Salesman's Guide to Hunting," followed by "The Vancouver Rendezvous" and "This Time I'll Stay" tells the story of a salesman who manages to squeeze a hunting trip into his busy schedule and finds himself reunited with a high school crush, hence the deer/dear pun. Using the people skills he'd acquired as a salesman, Waldmann sought a life more balanced than that of his first marriage, and one Oberdeck wishes he himself might have had.
But Oberdeck's book doesn't have to apply to only salesmen. There are other dads out there doing a variety of jobs that keep them on the road in order to provide for their families. My brother-in-law, Kim, spent years on the road setting up Walmart stores all over the Southeast.
"It's sort of a subculture out there," Kim said. "Everywhere I went, I ran into the same electricians and plumbers traveling around to where the work was."
Then there are professional athletes and scouts like my friend Rod Gilbreath who has played both positions for the Atlanta Braves. Whether he was at second base or somewhere in the stands, he had to be where the games were being played.
And of course we can't forget all the dads in the military who are away from their families for months at a time, sacrificing not only for their kids, but for their whole country.
It's a hard life for any of these dads and I think Oberdeck speaks for all of them. And not all traveling salesmen end up like Peter Waldmann. On June 23, Alan and Elaine will celebrate their 50th anniversary. Blessings to them and to all traveling dads everywhere.
Susan Larson is a writer from Lilburn. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.