I have an embarrassing collection of Leatherman tools. Anywhere I turn, there’s a Wingman, Wave or Skeletool to slice open a box, tighten a screw or snip a green wire (or is it the red wire?).
I have one in each car, one in my office and the garage; even one in the tool roll for my little Honda Grom.
They’re beautifully made, supremely functional and damn near unbreakable. And if you do manage to break one, Leatherman will give you another.
They’re the exact opposite of your family, which is clumsy, dysfunctional and fragile. And impossible to replace. Sure, you can cycle through a few partners until you find the right one, but kids? No, it doesn’t work like that.
Kids can’t be replaced, substituted or traded in for better ones. And if you screw them up, it can take a lifetime of work to set them straight – if ever.
“I’m glad you’re not a deadbeat.”
I’m pleased to report that despite divorcing their mum about 10 years ago, my teenage girls are mostly happy, confident young women. I’m sure there are many reasons for this, and some are probably beyond my control or influence. But two of them have to do with how I was raised and how I work.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about kids (including my 15-odd years as one), it’s that nothing beats having a parent who is present. Geographically and psychologically.
It’s no good ‘being there’ for your 15-year-old daughter when some pimply asshole breaks her heart… if you’re at a conference in Orlando. Or sitting next to your 7-year-old son as he explains the inner workings of Roblox… while thumbing through Instagram on your phone.
Being present for your kids means being there physically, mentally and emotionally. Often it requires nothing more than shutting the hell up and listening. (Nodding helps, too.)
My folks were good at this. Granted, there was no Instagram back then. Or smartphones or computers, even. But if there was an issue, the TV would go off and they’d sit and listen. Great role models, then.
The other thing they had going for them was this: they both came home before five, and both of them hardly worked on weekends. They were around.
I’m glad I learned the listening (being present when you’re there) thing from my folks. I know what it means to be seen and heard; even if misunderstood. I know from what my kids tell me that listening to them and showing genuine interest sets me apart from other dads.
My 15-year-old Sarah recently said, “I’m glad I have you as my dad and not some deadbeat.”
It means a lot to hear that kind of thing. It’s better than money, I tell you.
A Stranger in my own Home
But getting back to the other part – how I work – it’s been a major contributor to the relationship I have with my kids. I also credit much of my mental health, happiness and peace of mind to this one decision: to work how, where and when I want.
It began innocently enough; a throwaway line from my employer after returning from a brief ‘grass is greener’ expedition. He gave me two choices: return to the office as a salaried employee or work from home as a contractor.
More than fifteen years have passed, and that second choice remains one of the best decisions I ever made.
Because I walk my son to and from school every day, and because I’m often available to discuss Minecraft hacks, we’ve become best buddies.
Because my girls know I’m (usually) available to drop them at a friend’s house for a ‘gatho’ on a Tuesday, we get plenty of opportunities for random chats.
The point is, if I’d followed the typical trajectory of my role, I’d never get home before 6:30 pm (and I’d never see my son before school, either). My days would pass under fluoro lights in an office cubicle, or worse, at airport lounges in random cities. I’d be a stranger in my own home.
This is how you lose your kids. This is how you destroy your kids.
These days, mums and dads both have careers. And the assumption is that bigger must be better. More must be better. More money, more status, more recognition, more of whatever’s on offer.
‘More’ isn’t always better. Only ‘better’ is better.
The thing is, kids don’t understand any of this. They don’t value your job title. They don’t care if you make $60k or $160k; not if the second option means they never see you (or when they do, you’re too stressed to pay attention).
Kids value you – even if they don’t show it (especially if they don’t show it). They need you to be around for them.
I look at it this way. I chose to have kids, so it’s incumbent on me to love them, guide them and listen to them. It’s my job – no, privilege – to be there for them.
I continue to work from home (despite tempting offers to re-enter corporate life), so I’m fulfilling my promise to my kids the best way I can. And I will maintain this position because the rewards are too great to change it.
Leatherman guarantees its multitools for 25 years. Sadly, your relationship with your kids comes with no such assurance. Each one of them is a miracle, yet few of us remember it until we’re discussing hypothetical extremes like a hostage situation. If you’d gladly take a bullet for your kids, ask yourself what the next step down from that might be. Or a hundred steps down from that.
Perhaps being around for them a bit more is the only lifesaver they need.
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