Personal Essay

Why I Left My Dream Job at WBZ

Across the country, men are grappling with the rapidly changing definition of what it means to be a good dad. For television anchor Liam Martin, it meant having to make the most agonizing decision of his career.

Photo by Pat Piasecki

It was a spectacular, sunny day on Cape Cod. And yet I was devastatingly sad. While my kids and wife were happily getting ready for the beach, gathering our sandcastle tools and packing up peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches and juice boxes, I had quietly stepped outside as I had several times over the past few months—to cry privately. Secretly.

It was the summer of 2022, and I was nearly 15 years into a career in television news that most people would consider highly successful. I was the morning anchor at the legendary WBZ in Boston—the station I had grown up watching.

I finally had some downtime to spend with my wife and kids in South Yarmouth—one of my favorite spots in the world. Yet instead of relaxing, I found myself in a full-blown mental health crisis. The obsessive-compulsive disorder with which I had struggled off and on since childhood had come roaring back. I was suffering from crippling anxiety and major depression. I wasn’t myself.

On some level, I knew the source of my tailspin. For months, I had been agonizing over the feeling that I couldn’t be the husband or father I wanted to be. With an overnight schedule, I was gone by the time my kids woke up and often in bed before they went to sleep. And when I was present, I was too tired to be truly present. That came with guilt. And more anxiety. And more depression.

To make matters more complicated, when I did apply myself fully as a dad, it often felt like I was neglecting my career—or at least limiting my potential for growth within it. Television news can be a grinding labyrinth of ratings and deadlines and a perpetual feeling that you’re one contract away from it all ending. It’s difficult to turn that all off when you get home.

This is a pattern that working mothers have been discussing publicly for years. Over the past generation, the American family has undergone a sea change in roles and priorities, with women entering the workforce at a historic rate and eclipsing young men in admission to and graduation from college. The story of what that means for the family lives of women is well known, as it should be.

All of this has also led to a major and long-overdue change in how our society defines fatherhood and what it means to be a good dad. We are expected to be more involved. More hands-on. More sensitive and emotionally connected with our children. More vulnerable with our partners. More engaged with household chores. And that has meant men, too, are increasingly grappling with the serious question of work-life balance. Better put, work-family balance.

It’s a dilemma that I think many modern fathers will recognize. But unlike women, we aren’t talking about it enough—not to our partners, one another, or mental health professionals. Our inclination is to keep our emotional vulnerabilities secret.

I, for one, had thought of seeking help more than once over the prior year and, each time, decided against it. Asking for help is a sign of weakness, I had told myself. I can solve this on my own. I kept the pain a secret even from my wife and closest friends. But standing outside that Cape Cod cottage with my head in my hands that day, I knew I was in a dark place, and it had become obvious that my plan to fix it myself wasn’t working. I knew I needed help. What I didn’t know was how much my life was about to change.

Men are increasingly grappling with the serious question of work-family balance. But unlike women, men aren’t talking about it enough.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with achievement. I still haven’t unpacked exactly why, but I was laser-focused on excelling. I studied hard and went to Harvard University and then to Northwestern’s highly acclaimed journalism master’s program. Soon after graduating, I landed my first gig in TV news in 2009 in Lansing, Michigan, working as a weekend anchor and weekday reporter. I shot and edited my own stories and often produced my own newscasts on the weekends, even using a foot pedal to roll the teleprompter as I delivered the news. I worked holidays and odd shifts. I reported live during lightning storms and snowstorms. I listened to police scanners and sometimes arrived at crime scenes before the police. I did whatever it took to keep advancing.

Three years later, the fruits of my labor paid off when WCVB hired me as a freelance reporter. I couldn’t believe my good fortune: I was coming back to work in my hometown of Boston at 27 years old. I kept aiming higher, though, and there was almost nothing I wouldn’t give up—Thanksgiving dinners, Christmases with family, weekends off—on my climb toward my ultimate, then-inconceivable goal of being an anchor at WBZ, the channel I grew up watching and one of the oldest TV news stations in the country.

During that time, I was also starting a family. I met my wife in Lansing, and we married in 2011. Our daughter was born in 2014, followed by a son in 2017. I felt immensely blessed and determined to be the best father I could be.

It quickly became clear that wouldn’t be easy, as I darted in and out of the house at odd hours most days of the week. Evening anchors generally arrive at work at 3 p.m. and get home around midnight, which means they only get to see their kids for a few hectic minutes in the morning before school. I saw some of my coworkers and close friends—also parents—struggling with those split responsibilities and lost time at home. I knew my career aspirations were running headlong into the realities of fatherhood.

The first signal that something about my priorities had shifted came in 2015. My daughter wasn’t yet one and I was deep in talks with CNN to be a national correspondent—a dream job for just about any TV journalist. In the final rounds of the interview process, I asked the talent executive how many days of the year I would have to be on the road. He estimated 200.

I looked at my daughter crawling around in the room next door. I thanked the executive for his time and rejected their invitation to come to New York the same day. A piece of me mourned the loss of a remarkable opportunity to see the world and tell its stories, but I knew any decision I made for the benefit of my family was the right one. That was my priority, and from that point, all decisions about my career were made with that understanding.

Soon after, WBZ hired me to be the second evening anchor. I had achieved my goal, set out so long ago. But I also knew the difficulties that dream and the schedule that came with it would present when my kids got to school age. So in 2020, I made the move to the morning show. I wouldn’t be home to get my daughter and son off to school, but I would be there to get them off the bus, bring them to their after-school activities, coach their sports teams, cook them dinner, and help my wife get them ready for bed before I crawled in myself. I felt I had found a balance.

It wasn’t long, however, before I realized this more family-friendly position was taking a toll on me. I was up at 2 a.m. and (on a good day) in bed by 7:30 p.m. When I first took the job, a good friend who had worked the morning shift for years told me, “You’ll always feel a little like shit.” He was right.

I should pause here to point out that there are people who work even more grueling shifts, and in much more difficult roles: night nurses, firefighters, police officers, security guards. Even the producers on our show work more challenging hours—11 p.m. to 7 a.m. Some people function well on that distorted sleep schedule, but most struggle with it. I was in the latter camp.

On more than one occasion, I found myself delivering the headline of a new study on how bad overnight shifts are for the body and brain. Increased risk of heart disease. Decreased odds of healthy aging. Increased risk for dementia, depression, anxiety, and on and on.

I figured I could beat the odds. After all, I had grown up in the ’80s with a healthy dose of Burt Reynolds and Clint Eastwood and the notion that men should push through. Hustle. Grind. Don’t show vulnerability. But two years into working the morning shift, I was a wreck. I was foggy-brained, drained, stressed, and, eventually, depressed. I was suffering from intrusive thoughts and self-loathing. Some days, just getting out of bed felt like a monumental task.

I did just about everything I could to mask the pain from my family. I kept rough­housing with my kids, pushing myself to be the playful, silly dad they had always known. I tried to do my part when it came to household duties, though I always recognized my wife as the CEO of that operation. At work, I smiled and laughed and worked hard—hoping to will away the storm inside.

Deep down, I knew it wasn’t sustainable. The dam would eventually break.

In a moment of desperation, in the summer of 2022, I finally let my wife in on the secret I had been keeping from her for months. When she asked why I hadn’t told her before, I replied, “Because I didn’t want to be weak.”

Her response changed my life: “The strongest thing a person can do is to ask for help.”

My therapist had wild bright-red hair and a finely tuned bullshit detector that she wasn’t afraid to use. I had found her online during that desperate day in Cape Cod, and during our first session, she was quick to recognize the patterns—and the causes—of my mental health challenges.

“How many hours of sleep a night are you getting?” she asked, perking up when I told her about my shift.

“And why are you doing that to yourself?”

The answer to that question was pretty simple: I loved the job. I loved getting to share people’s stories. I loved learning about complex policy issues and boiling them down for our viewers. I loved meeting and interviewing fascinating newsmakers and sports legends. I loved the connection with the community. And I loved the camaraderie and excitement of the newsroom. It was an atmosphere like few others.

But my therapist was bringing to the forefront what had been bouncing around in the back of my brain for some time: Is all of that worth the toll? That question was especially germane in light of the more-active role I so desperately wanted to take on as a father, and for good reason. Study after study has shown that dads being more involved in their kids’ lives—school pickups and drop-offs, meal prep, after-school activities, creative play, and quality time—correlates with better outcomes for the children and more satisfaction for the dads.

Of course, being more hands-on with the kids means that, for many men, hustle culture is dead. And yet the pressure on dads to provide for the family persists. Our society, by and large, hasn’t quite shaken that notion, and it’s left dads with a competing set of priorities: Be the dad and husband they want to be or secure the career they want to achieve. When I thought about it like that, the choice for me became pretty clear.

In March, I left my dream job at WBZ behind. It was a difficult choice. I loved my coworkers. Truly loved them. And I felt very connected to the viewers, who often tell us it feels like we’re a part of their family. What an incredible honor. But I knew what I wanted my life to look like, and ultimately—for me—it couldn’t look that way while working in TV news.

In therapy, one of the things I learned about myself is that I tend to be a black-and-white thinker who sees the world as a series of mutually exclusive choices. You can have the prestigious career, or you can be the best dad, but you can’t have both. Or at least that’s what I thought.

Now I am learning to see the world in shades of gray—or maybe even in color. I am moving on to a new career as co-owner of a public relations and social media marketing agency in Boston. It’s a role that excites me, gratifies me, and challenges me—and allows me to be with my family for the big and little moments of life without compromising my mental or physical health.

None of this takes away all that I have done. I can say I was there when the Patriots won championships. I covered Tiger Woods in his prime. I interviewed a president, governors, and mayors. I moderated debates and shared grief with communities devastated by tragedy. I witnessed major storms and historic elections and had a front-row seat to history in the making in a city and state I love. It was an immense privilege.

Embarking on this new path, however, gives me the time and space to be there for other history-making events. I will be there to see my daughter nail her first back tuck in gymnastics and to cheer on my son when he earns his next belt in karate. I’ll have breakfast and dinner with them and be fully present to watch them grow. That’s a full-spectrum life, and man, is that beautiful.

First published in the print edition of the April 2024 issue with the headline, “A Seat at the Table.”