Saturday, July 14, 2007

Would you trade your dad for a Mini Cooper?

Would you trade your dad for a Mini Cooper?

Before you answer I should say that I’m not talking about the base model Mini Cooper. I’m talking about the S-class. Probably a convertible. Definitely with a cooler built into the glove compartment for sandwiches and fruits of the forest. Given the choice, would you trade your dad for the car? Let’s say you got to use it during the weekdays but you didn’t get to see your dad. Then when he was home on the weekends and mildly connected to your life, you had to give back the Mini Cooper temporarily until another Monday rolled around. Pretend that you had a good dad if yours was a failure of a father. Would you make that trade?

I don’t think anyone I know would. I think any kid on the planet would choose their dad over any thing on the planet. But lots of dads disagree with me every Monday morning. They must, because so many dads choose there jobs over their families. Few people ever say that outloud. Rarely do you hear someone begin their work week by getting in the car and singing, “I love my job, I like my kids.” But this weekend in the July issue of a business magazine they actually had an interview with a CEO that admitted he knew the words to that song. Here is his quote about why missing family meals isn’t a huge problem for him:

“My real preference is that she and the kids eat because I don’t want the pressure of letting someone else down. This (his company) always take precedence over that. Sh*&^% thing to say, I know, but that’s me. I’m doing this so that they can have a lifestyle that they want. I have an obligation to all the shareholders who put, in this case, $46 million into this place. That obligation comes before anything else. They know that that’s priority. If that sounds really bad, because I’m here telling you I put work first and not family first, I’ve tried it the other way around. You cannot serve two masters. You can only serve one master well.

I try to compensate for that by being pretty protective of my weekends. First thing and last, I’m checking my Blackberry, but I’ll go to the park and play basketball with the kids or go bodysurfing. I try to keep the weekends for the family so they know that during the week I’m pretty much a nonentity.”

Wow. That is an amazingly unintentional description of how so many fathers think. But before you unpack what’s wrong about that logic, unpack what’s right … at least he’s honest. At least he’s being upfront about making his family at best a second or third tier priority. He’s not working 80 hours a week and thinking he’s still being a great father to his kids. He’s recognized that what he’s doing to his family is Sh*&^%. He’s recognized that it has consequences and he’s comfortable with them.

But there are a couple of key phrases in there that you can’t help but highlight:

“I have an obligation to all the shareholders …”

The biggest obligation he has, bigger than 46 million dollars, is that he helped create some kids. He’s obligated to grow them, nurture them, and show them how to do this thing called life. The shareholders in his company are faceless strangers with money that probably fund dozens of companies just like his. But it’s always easier to fulfill an easier obligation so meeting the financial needs of people you might never meet versus meeting the intimacy needs of kids under your own roof, is a simple choice to make.

“I’m doing this so that they can have a lifestyle that they want.”

I don’t know anyone that has deep “lifestyle wounds.” I’ve never met anyone who has said, “My dad gave me lots of love, but my lifestyle wasn’t as involved in my life as I would have wanted.” But I know plenty of people that grew up with amazing lifestyles and absent fathers. They never seem that happy. And when their dads retire and suddenly want to dive into their lives they are overwhelmed with the sense of “Where were you for the first 30 years of my life? What makes you think that being compassionate to your grandson is going to make things magically better?” And seriously, what four year old has ever said while her father was reading her a bedtime story, “Dad, I appreciate the stories, I do, but could you put in some more hours at the office? My lifestyle is starting to suffer.”

“Sh*&^% thing to say, I know, but that’s me.”

When they hand you a baby in the delivery room you should hand them back your right to use the phrase, “but that’s me.” Go ahead and retire it, because you’re no longer a “me,” you’re a “we.” And to become a we means that some degree of me needs to die. Not all of who you are, but you can’t be the same person after you’ve had a kid. Your time isn’t just yours. The decisions aren’t just about you. Everything changes. And note here that he’s flip-flopped from “I’m doing this for my kid’s lifestyle” to “that’s me.”

“You can only serve one master well.”

It’s true, and kudos to him for recognizing it. What does that really mean though? For me it means getting home from work at 4:30. That gives me on average 2.5 hours with the kids each weekday. If the CEO above only sees his kids 30 minutes a day then every week, I get 10 hours more with my children. That makes me better at being a dad. Not automatically a better father, because I have loads of faults and don’t know the CEO, but by hours alone I have to know more about my kids than he does about his. Think about it. If you and I were taking Karate and I practiced 10 hours more a week than you did, who would know more about Karate? If I spent 520 hours more a year practicing karate, which one of us would you say is more serious about becoming better? Why do we pretend that the same time principle doesn’t apply to raising kids?

“they know that during the week I’m pretty much a nonentity.”

The good thing about this statement is that whatever therapist works with this guy’s kids in 20 years isn’t going to have a difficult task. Have you ever learned anything from a nonentity? Have you ever felt loved by a nonentity? Have you ever had the deep questions about being a teenager answered by a nonentity? Has a nonentity ever taught you how to throw a baseball or intimidated your prom date before you went out? Nope, but that’s what this guy is telling his family he is 5 out of 7 days a week.

This whole piece feels kind of judgmental. Maybe this guy’s kids are really happy. Maybe his wife is glad he’s not around. I don’t know this guy at all. But I know me and when I lived like he was living, it sucked. I used to work 70+ hours a week. I became an uncle to my oldest daughter and a roommate to my wife. I made lots of money, but I was rarely home and when I was there physically, I certainly wasn’t there mentally. That my wife didn’t divorce me is miraculous. I guess I want to share the lessons from that season with you in the hope that you won’t experience it.

It’s just a job. Kids aren’t desperate for lifestyles. It’s not just you anymore. And the world is full of nonentities. Don’t be one.

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