Saturday, July 2, 2011

What Will They Say of You When It’s Your Time to Go?

Today I attended the funeral service of a lady. She lived a full and remarkable life and touched many lives along the way. Now she’s passed on and only the memories remain. Despite the occasion, it was a nice gathering of family and friends as we celebrated her life and legacy.

As I generally do when I attend such a service, I did quite a bit of reflecting on the big picture of life.  That was particularly easy to do today when a poem entitled "The Dash" was read during the service. And it really got me thinking. Here's the meaning of it: on tombstones, they generally write the date of birth, then a dash, then the date of death. 

The essence of the poem was that everyone is born and everyone dies but it's how we spend our "dash" that determines the quality of life that we live and how we will be remembered. The lives that we touch along our journey will forever be impacted by how we spend our “dash."

As I pondered the thoughts generated by the poem, I started thinking about just how when people pass on, all the best things are said about them. It seems that as people pay tribute to them at their funerals, they speak of them as if they were the most angelic beings to have ever lived. It's just common practice to speak of those who die that way. 

This brings to mind a story my dad told me several years ago. A man in our old community in Jamaica died. At his funeral, as the wonderful tributes were shared at the service, his wife and kids sat in the front row listening to the words of comfort. 

After one of the tributes, the widow asked one of the kids to go and look in the casket to see whose body was in it because she didn't know the man they were talking about. She certainly couldn't relate to the "angel" that others portrayed him to be.

That's a funny story but it also makes a powerful point that I think we can all benefit from. As dads, whether we should pass on as old men or as young men, it's our families - our wives and kids - who know us best. So although others may have a certain perception of us, it's those who live with us and see the quality of our lives who can truly attest to the persons we really are.

As you may know, the Upbeat Dad organization was founded on the principle that kids need actively-involved, loving fathers to become their best. The role of fatherhood is such a noble and influential calling. It's a precious gift that some of us are fortunate to have. 

Having the opportunity to shape, mold and influence the lives of those who will lead the next generation is a privilege that ought not be taken for granted. And it's an opportunity that's loaded with rewards for us and for our kids.  

On this blog I write about fatherhood from multiple perspectives. I share my own journey about being a married dad of one child, then a divorced/single dad and now a married dad of two children. Because of the power of the internet, I'm able to share thoughts with people all over the world and truly make a connection with them. That’s as wonderful an experience as I could hope for – touching the lives of many whom I’ll likely never meet.

But can I tell you something? All that I do regarding my public persona would be totally meaningless and futile if my wife and kids cannot attest to the life that I live at home. Because when the computers shut down and the lights go out, it's those who remain in my life perpetually who can tell who I really am. 

So if I am a loving, caring husband and father and make my wife and kids my top priority in all things, then I’ll know that anything else that might come along is only a bonus. My home is my first responsibility; then comes everything else.

I have no plans to leave this earth any time soon. I have too much life to live and too much more to give. I also want to continue building a successful marriage and enjoying every moment with my wife. And guiding my kids into becoming the best that they can be is a passion of mine. But I also know that tomorrow is promised to no one.

A cliché that is often used says, "Live each day as if it was your last." I want to know that whenever my last day should come - whether I'm young or old - regardless of what others may say of me, my wife and kids would honestly say that I lovingly cared for them with every fiber of my being. 

My challenge with this post is to encourage you to put first things first. It's great to live the lifestyles of the rich and famous. It's wonderful to climb the corporate ladder and achieve success in our careers. But in such a pursuit, let's not forget that our families come first. 

How tragic it would be if we achieve our life goals and become known around the world as a result of our accomplishments, yet we lose our special connection to our families in the process? How disheartening would that be? I’d call that becoming a successful failure.

I'll close this post with my poem A Lasting Legacy from my book Poems of Inspiration: A Daily Dose of Self-Motivation:

A Lasting Legacy

May I seek to serve my fellow man,
and give of myself and do all that I can.
May I love and give a helping hand—
that's the foundation on which I stand.

For what is my life if not to live?
And what is my purpose if not to give?
When my life has ended I cannot relive
the moments I now have to love and forgive.

Each day as I awaken and watch the sunrise
and offer my life as a sacrifice,
may I teach all I know, and give good advice—
displaying integrity with no compromise.

Whenever I come to the end of my days
and I go to my final resting place—
when the sun goes down and I finish this race,
may I leave this world a better place.

This is my vow to humanity—
a vow that will last all eternity.
For my children and all who will come after me,
may I leave a lasting legacy.

I hope that whenever your last day should come, despite the great accolades that you may receive from others, those who know you best – those in your household – would speak of your goodness with true sincerity.  That's what really matters when all is said and done.

Let these thoughts lead and guide you as you live your life each day.

The Upbeat Dad

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Establishing a Bond Between Dads and Kids

Today was just one of those long days that we have every now and then. This morning I had an early meeting so I had to leave home about 6:30 AM. And I didn’t get home until 10 PM. When I left home, my 10 month old son was sleeping and certainly at the hour that I returned home, he was sleeping as well.

So I missed my daily highlight. What’s that, you ask? Well, each day, as I get home and unlock the door and step into the house, with the sounds that opening the door makes, my son is alerted to the fact that I’m home. So by the time I walk into the room, the big smile is already as wide as you might imagine. At that point, he’s usually in my wife’s arms. Then he begins giggling and wrestling his way to try to get to me. When he gets down, it’s a full sprint to me – well, as much “sprint” as you can get by creeping. These moments are what life is all about. It’s more precious than I could describe in a blog post. It’s just something that I live for.

I recall when my 12 year old daughter was at that stage. It was an absolute delight to come home every  day to her “upbeat” greeting. Then when she went to daycare, it was the same thing. Later on when she was able to walk and talk, just hearing her say, “Daddy” and running to leap into my arms was just something to live for.

The bond between a mother and child is so natural. First, it’s the mother who carries the child for 9 months. Then at birth, it’s generally the mother who nurtures and brings that baby along. And particularly when the mother breastfeeds the child, that bond is strengthened. It’s just natural for a mother and child to bond.
The bond between a father and child is different. It’s also natural but it’s something that generally requires a bit more effort. The father has to be a constant presence in the life of that child and needs to be really engaged for that bond to be formed. He has to know the child’s personality and do the necessary things to establish the lifetime connection.

My wife is an absolutely wonderful mother. She nurtures our son, reads to him and teaches him as much as a 10 month old can learn. She does all those special things that make him feel special. She spends so much more time with him than I do. For me, if I am not a proactive parent, I could easily become a bystander to his growth and development. But I’m committed to being a father who is always engaged in my kids lives – regardless of how busy I may become.

Within the Upbeat Dad organization, one initiative that we’re currently working on is empowering fathers who might be considered deadbeat dads to become actively involved in the lives of their children – upbeat dads, if you will. In the coming months, you’ll hear a lot more about what we’re now doing “behind the scenes.”

As I’ve been working on this project, it came to mind that my son is now at the stage where he recognizes people and chooses whether or not he wants to go into their arms. I wonder how many babies would refuse to go into their dads’ arms because to them, he’s a total stranger. How many fathers are missing their kids grow up because they’re climbing the corporate ladder and conquering the world? Read Cats in the Cradle: A Lesson for Working Parents for more on this. I also wonder how many kids grow up knowing more what others say about their dad than knowing their dads for themselves.

These are questions that ought to make us think. In the United States alone, 24 million kids live a home without their biological father. Many of these kids do not know and will never know who their dad is. Other kids do know their dads but to them, he’s just another person who they know – there’s no kind of bonding that was ever formed.

And what about the absentee fathers living at home? I wrote a blog post about this issue – Click Here to read it. These dads may be physically present but they get up early and work late. They may be at home but are otherwise engaged that they miss their kids growing up. Or perhaps they travel for work and are home on the weekends but prefer to hang out with their friends instead of bonding with their kids. 

Studies show that when kids do not have actively engaged fathers, they are at a competitive disadvantage. I share statistics periodically on this blog that support this statement in every way. And as our organization is working on its initiatives, I’m learning more and more that kids without fathers have a challenging road to travel.

Bonding with kids doesn’t have to be something complex. It doesn’t have to be costly. I often say that kids know you love them by the time you spend with them. You can sit at home and literally do nothing other than spending time with them and entering into their world. Certainly you can take them out to do fun activities. Go to Disney World, if you will. The possibilities are endless. But however complex or simple the activities may be, spending meaningful time forming that bond is what it’s all about.  

This year my parents celebrated their 47th wedding anniversary. I am so fortunate and blessed that they both have been actively involved and engaged in my life as well as my siblings. I learned how to be a father by watching my dad and seeing how he lovingly cared for us while instilling in us discipline. So as I became a father 12 years ago, it was natural for me to bond with my daughter. Now with a young son, nothing has changed. Being a father is a privilege that I’ll never take for granted.

In When Good Fathers Go Bad, I wrote about dads who effectively divorce their kids when their marriages end. More kids need fathers who are committed to their well-being regardless of the challenges that arise. When I divorced almost 10 years ago, despite the challenges that I encountered throughout the legal ending of that union, in my view, nothing changed in terms of being a dad. And now that I’m happily remarried with a young son, I just continue to be the father that I have always been. Fatherhood is perpetual because whether or not the relationships that produce kids work out, the role of being a father never ends.

If you’re a dad, I hope that you do the little things along the way to let your kids know they’re the apple of your eye, as the expression goes. Climbing the corporate ladder is great. But being a dad and influencing your kids’ lives in a positive way is even greater. As you provide for them, do ensure that you become the kind of dad who has an unbreakable bond with his kids. That’s something worth living for.

Enjoy your day.

The Upbeat Dad