Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Life Lesson for Dads from a Dying Cell Phone Battery

Recently I noticed that my cell phone battery seemed to be getting drained quite easily. At full charge, it’s supposed to have 8 hours talk time and 22 hours of stand-by/idle time. But it’s gotten so bad lately that if I don’t keep it charged constantly, it gets drained and just shuts down the phone. So while at home or in the car or at work, I’ve had to constantly charge and monitor it.

As I called up the carrier to talk about my options, I had an “ah ha” moment – one that made me think of the perfect analogy. And that’s the subject of this post. I hope you get the point of it because it sends a powerful message in my view. Ok, here we go.

I got the new phone – a Blackberry Bold - over a year ago. It’s been my companion of sorts since then. I’m always on the go and it’s my way of keeping in touch since I use it to manage my life. Phone, email, internet, Facebook, Twitter, calendar and the list goes on and on. I’ve had some technical issues with the device itself but never the battery. It’s always powered up and lasted for the time it’s supposed to.

When I started having issues with it, it wasn’t quite the same. Sometimes I just picked up the phone and saw a blank screen – never even realizing that the battery had been fully drained. I use the alarm clock feature to wake me up in the mornings. I overslept a couple of times because, although the battery was fully charged before I went to sleep, it wasn’t plugged in so by the time the morning rolled around, there was no life in it.

I believe that this issue is the perfect analogy for dads and their kids. When our kids are born, we welcome them with open arms. They’re new and the whole feeling is exciting. I have a 12 year old daughter and I remember how wonderful it was when she was born. I got to relive that feeling 11 months ago when our son was born. It’s like nothing else I’ve experienced – just a thrill and a joy.

But while my pre-teen and toddler grow up, guess what? I have to continue living life. There’s work and all that that entails. There’s so much to do with what I envision from a business standpoint that I literally could work 24 hours a day – three 8 hour shifts; I really could. Then there are personal relationships with family and friends to maintain. There is so much going on that at times I just want to call timeout and get away – turning off the phone, the computer and everything. That’s very much needed sometimes.

In the midst of all of this, I have a wife and two wonderful kids who I care for deeply. They are my life – my pride and joy. It’s hard to recall a time when I didn’t have any of them in my life; it’s as if we’ve been together forever.

Now here’s the connection between the battery and my relationship with the kids. If I should allow my work and life responsibilities to so consume me that I don’t make time for them, that equates to me not charging the battery. Over time, as they grow up, their interests change. 

At age 12, our daughter’s interests are much different than they were a few years ago. She’s into texting and spending time with her cousins and friends now. Not too long ago, we could be together 24/7 and she’d be just fine. Now she has other things that interest her.

Just like with the battery, initially it was just fine. All I needed to do was charge it overnight and I knew that I could do anything I wanted to on the phone all day and never have to worry about it losing power. When our daughter goes to school and I go to work, we don’t see each other for most of the day. And if I’m traveling, I don’t see her for several days. 

If I don’t do my part and maintain that connection (remember, cell phone charging) over time, the relationship slowly fades. And eventually, she would be living her life while I live mine and we could really lose that connection and have to start all over – recharging the battery, if you will.

I wrote a few posts about maintaining a connection with our kids: Cats in the Cradle: A Life Lesson for Working Parents; The Absentee Dad Living at Home; 7 Words That Changed My Life: Daddy Are You Going to the Airport?; and Establishing a Bond Between Dads and Kids. I encourage you to read these because they further tell of the importance of keeping our kids a high priority while we climb the corporate ladder and go about our daily lives.

When there’s a divorce, in a sense, that’s like when the battery has gone bad. There’s no longer that natural bonding that takes place. Both dads and moms have to deal with the fact that the family unit is no longer intact. Generally, the kids live with the mom primarily while the dad gets “every other weekend.” 

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that without investing time and effort into maintaining the relationship with the kids, dads could easily lose that bond. As we continue the analogy, if the battery isn’t always plugged in, the relationship will fade – and then one day, it’ll come to a crashing halt.

When my daughter was three, her mom and I divorced. She lived with her mom primarily but she and I remained close. Then her mom relocated to the northeast US where she’s originally from while I remained here in the Miami area. I didn’t like it but, believe me, though I did everything possible to stop it, it happened anyway. That’s a different story that I can share at a different time.

But my concern with that move was that my daughter could have become alienated from me. So what did I do? Commit to being a loving dad from a distance. She was with her mom during school time but every holiday and summer, she came to me. I visited when I could. I called her teachers and introduced myself. I helped her with her homework over the telephone. I just embraced the fact that no matter what happens, she’s always my child – even if I’m parenting from a distance.

Now the situation I just referred to has totally reversed. She lives with me primarily and goes to see her mom during holidays and the summer. As I write this, she’s with her mom – and has been for over a month; she returns in a few weeks to start the eighth grade. If I let the summer pass without calling and texting her daily, very easily we could lose our connection. She has friends and family on her mom’s side who love and care for her deeply. So, unless I ensure we remain in contact, we could easily have an “out of sight, out of mind experience.”

I hope that you get the point I’m making with this post. We need to keep the connection to our kids as a top priority. They might be young now but before you know it, they’re off to live their lives. Then the bond that we establish with them early in life – and for the 18 or so years that they live with us – will last a lifetime. If we’re there for them through each stage of their development, it’s much easier to keep that bond when they’re older. Believe me, you don’t want to have an adult child and you’re left wondering why (s)he’s estranged from you.

As a fitting conclusion to this post, guess what? Last week I got a new phone – along with a new battery. Now everything is working like a charm - phone’s great; battery lasts as it should and all is well in that regard. The best analogy I can use to relate to this is that 2 ½ years ago, I got remarried. Everything is brand new! And when our little son was born last August, our blended family of four came together. Through it all, the connection – the tie that binds us – is what keeps us going. To maintain and even build on what we’ve got going, we must constantly keep “fully charged” by remaining engaged with each other in every aspect of our lives.

Let this post speak to your hearts. If you need to do some work on your end to build and maintain that connection with your kids, please do so. You’ll love it – and they’ll love it even more. Life is too short to live with regrets. Let’s stand up and play our part to ensure that we are perpetually connected and bonded with our kids.

Enjoy your day.

The Upbeat Dad

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Life-Changing Encounter with a Wise Senior Citizen

I hope you’re having a great day today. One thing I often say is that, each day, if we wake up horizontal and are able to get vertical without the aid of anyone or anything, that’s a day to be thankful for what we have.  

I’m always looking for ways to share some insight to help our readers put life into perspective. This weekend, I had one of those moments that just caused me to pause and ponder about the beauty of life so I thought I’d share it with this blog post.

This past Saturday, my family and I were grocery shopping. It’s one of those things we enjoy doing together. I would never have guessed that a simple evening in the grocery store would have inspired me as much as it did. I hope it inspires you as well.

As we walked down an aisle, I saw an old man walking towards us with a walking stick. He had such a pleasant, inviting look on his face that it made me want to strike up a conversation with him. We greeted each other and just started talking. He seemed enchanted with our little 11 month old son, playing with him and smiling. He said, “Guess how old I am?” I guessed, “82? 83?” He said, “No. I’m 98 years old.” I was awestruck! He seemed so relatively young and full of life as he walked with relative ease. It was amazing to know that he’s so close to being a century old.

One thing those who know me well can attest to is the fact that I have a soft spot in my heart for children and the elderly. They’re just so innocent and precious in my view. For the elderly, I am particularly drawn to them because they have so many years of wisdom that they can share with us younger folk. So when I’m in the presence of senior citizens, I always like to talk with them and ask probing questions so that I may learn a thing or two from them to help me live the best life possible.

I took the moment that evening to ask this gentleman what’s his secret to life. I wanted to know how some people his age are bed ridden in pain while he’s casually walking, shopping and smiling on a Saturday afternoon. I’ll never forget the beautiful words in his response, “It’s all about the family. I have 18 children, 23 grandchildren and 6 great grandchildren. They are my life.”  

That brought a smile to my face. Here we were – a young family with our entire lives ahead of us. And there was an older gentleman, looking so content and at peace, telling us that family is what it’s all about. He mentioned that he married 3 times. His first 9 kids were with the first wife.

I didn’t ask about how any of these marriages ended. I don’t know if there was a divorce or death or anything. I don’t know if he has a wife now. I didn’t ask. I just wanted him to share what he wanted to. The only thing I knew is that he just seemed to enjoy speaking of his life and sharing some wise words with us.

He told us, “Enjoy your life; eat, sleep, exercise; do everything in moderation – too much of anything isn’t good for you. Just enjoy what you do and do it in moderation.” Isn’t that profound? I could only just look, listen and learn because I knew the voice of wisdom was speaking.

He said that the reason he’s so content is that he has lived a full life and he’s had the chance to see his children have their own grandchildren. He’s surrounded by love and couldn’t ask for anything more. He encouraged my wife and me to continue to love each other and to always keep the lines of communication open. He said that the love we have for each other and for our kids will keep us going through all that life presents to us.

As we parted ways, I really felt as if I had a brief encounter with a great man. I almost had tears in my eyes, thinking about how fortunate I was to share just a short but special moment with him. We might not read about him in the news or see him on television but something about him sent a powerful message to me. And now I seek to share that message with you.

Life is beautiful – it really is. I’m sure that in that old man’s life, he’s had highs and lows. He’s had the privilege of seeing his children grow up. He’s lived and he’s loved. I’m sure that he’s experienced disappointment and regret. Yet, there he was – at age 98, undaunted by anything that may have come his way. He was just looking back with a smile and sharing what he’s learned with a younger, eager to listen man.

As I thought about him, I took a look at my own life. I know how much responsibility I have to carry out my daily tasks. I have a wife who loves me unconditionally; and two kids who are my whole world. Boy, I would love to see the day when I can be an old man at age 98, walking in the grocery store with a smile on my face telling another young, eager to listen young man that it’s all about the family.

Please note that the gentleman didn’t mention anything to me about having a grandiose house or luxury car. He didn’t mention anything about multi-million dollar investments or cruising the Mediterranean in a luxury yacht. All he mentioned was the love of family.

I’m not saying that the aforementioned items aren’t to be sought after. I like the finer things in life just like the next person. But sometimes as we pursue these things, our families become less significant to us – and in some extreme cases, it causes us to lose them in the process.

How tragic it would be if we gain all the material wealth that life has to offer but it costs us our families. Bonding with them is so much more significant than bonding with our possessions. When we’re in our last days, it’s not the wealth that we’ve acquired that’s going to give us the greatest memories; rather, it’s the love of family and friends and the lives that we touch along the way that will sustain us.

Perhaps you too can learn a thing or two from an innocent wise old man. Who knows if I’ll ever meet him again. But I do know that I will not forget that brief moment that I got to speak with him. It’s those moments that give us a true perspective on what life is all about.

I hope that you get the essence of the point I sought to make in this post. It’s a very simple lesson but still it’s so profound. Our families come first in all things. We can acquire great wealth but it’s all meaningless if we’re not able to enjoy it with our dear loved ones.

Hug your spouse, won’t you; and your kids while you’re at it. Shower them with your love and let them know how much you appreciate them. Whether you live to 98 or some other age, just know that, through each stage of life, the love of family is what it’s all about.

Enjoy your day.

The Upbeat Dad