The timing of this post in no accident in that I intentionally waited until after Fathers Day to post it. I had some feedback from my last post, from several readers, that sometimes this can be a difficult message to take in. I have often considered toning the message down or balancing every stark criticism of western masculinity with a proportional amount of praise and adulation. I have; however, once again, reached the conclusion that I simply cannot. There are plenty of “yeah guys” resources out there but this isn’t one of them. Please don’t misunderstand; I do see hope in certain areas, I do see progress … but not enough. I decided to launch this endeavor out of a sense of urgency. Real men are an endangered species in our culture and unless we do something about it there will be significant consequences.
In my last post, Next up … Fathers Day, I identified five levels of fatherly engagement. It is true that, for the most part, the same leveling system can be used to evaluate “husbandly” engagement. As you may recall from that same post; one of the best things you can do for your children is to be a highly engaged husband. You’ll recall this quote, “A father who has a good relationship with the mother of their children is more likely to be involved and to spend time with their children and to have children who are psychologically and emotionally healthier”. Please note that ideally this happens inside of marriage but doesn’t necessarily have to. If you are divorced man with children, you have a lasting duty to the mother of those children. Caring for your children means caring for her and there is simply no way around it.
I would like to present to you that getting to Level 5 – Present, Available, and Highly Engaged should become the single most important priority in your life. This has been a long journey for me personally, and I struggle with it everyday. I have gotten into the daily habit of mentally reminding myself what is important, who I am, who I want to be, and what is important to me. For me, it’s usually during the morning run, or whatever physical training I happen to be doing that day. I’m often reminded of my desire to be a Level 5 husband and father most on days where my training includes some kind of weight training. Weight training is a funny thing, it is the great equalizer, and forces me to be honest with myself. There can be no delusions of grandeur when it comes to weight training. I got serous about weight training about eighteen-months ago after having been on a running kick for a while. I had been logging 20+ miles per week, which leaves you with a freakish kind of physique that certainly favors the lower half of your body. Stick with me here, I’m going to draw a parallel eventually. When I decided to even things out and started weight training, there came what I call, “the day of reckoning”. I went from station to station keeping a diary of what is called the 1RM, a basic test of baseline strength. It’s simple, for each configuration, what is the maximum weight you can move a single time … hence, your 1 rep max. It was a humbling experience for sure; all delusions of grandeur were torn down during “the day of reckoning”. Nothing remained but the brutal and honest truth about just how far I had to go. That truth, has motivated me every day since. On the days when I am so tired of food of any sort that even the idea of eating makes me shutter, on the weeks when I was schedule to add 20lbs to the bar but ended up barely getting thru a set with my base weight, at these times the honesty from the day of reckoning drives me forward. So eighteen-months later and for every pound of muscle I’ve added to my frame, I’ve added substance to my character, the kind of substance that comes from an honest assessment of reality and a determination to be better.
I chose my physical journey because somehow it seems more palatable; however, the reality is that I had the same “day of reckoning” a while back only it wasn’t my physical ability in questions … it was my engagement as a husband and father. In much the same way, the reality of where I was and what it was doing to my family and the desire to be something different has become a daily source of motivation for me. It starts with an honest assessment. In lifting, there are no dilutions of grandeur, the bar weighs about 50lbs, add up the plates and that is what it is. You can tell yourself that you are strong all you want, but the truth is in the total weight on the bar and your ability to move it. I encourage you to be just as honest in your assessment of your engagement as a husband and as a father. If you are neither of those things yet, I encourage you to take lesson here; you have the advantage of time, use it wisely.
The title of this post is Bring Your ‘A Game’, which I’ll now explain. As I observe our culture and talk to male after male, I see a trend. Most men live life with the following priority matrix, or something very similar:
Priority One – Vocation / Work Outside of the Home
Priority Two – Family / Husbandry / Fatherhood
Priority Three – Everything Else
I observe men easily justifying work as top priority by using the “breadwinner” or “primary breadwinner” argument. It sounds something like, “I work so much because I need to provide for my family” … I’ll discuss that in more detail soon. Most guys, who are being honest with themselves, know that they have placed all things Family in second place. Moreover, most guys really haven’t given much thought to the difference between being an engaged husband and an engaged father nor have they come to the realization that lump summing these things into one is a huge part of the problem. I would bet that most guys have a list of goals and objectives for their vocation, a prioritized task list for sure. My anecdotal research so far seems to indicate that very few males have the placed the same kind of emphasis on goals and objectives on the home front. The third priority group is also equally concerning to me in that it ends up being a catchall for “all the other crap I do with whatever time and energy I have left”. I am astonished by all of the amazing male leaders and thinkers, strategic planners by nature, who seem to be working along a decisive plan on all things career and absent any sort of plan for everything else.
And now brace yourself for this post’s bombshell … everything is totally and completely out of order and, if you want to make the trip from male to man, if you want to be a highly engaged husband and father, you need a kick in the gut kind of “day of reckoning” that will lay at your feet a brutally honest state of things. I can tell you that, as males, we are so easily distracted from the things that matter to the things that don’t and from the things that will last to the things that wont. I would present to you that corporation after corporation has grown and prospered on the back of the misplaced ambitions of misguided men, while family after family have been starved for engagement, attention, vision, and leadership. Sometimes it appears to me that men have become the creative equivalent of milking cows, walking into the corporate factory day in and day out, where they are milked of all capabilities and creativity, only to be sent home empty at the end of each day. Obviously, we all have to work, and to some degree, we are to provide for our families; however, our families need more than the income we earn. To provide for our families is to put food on the table while, at the same time, putting a fully engaged heart and mind in a seat at that same table. Guys, your wife needs your ‘A Game’ … your precious little children need your ‘A Game’ … your “not so precious teens” need your ‘A Game’ … your adult children and grandchildren, they too need your ‘A Game’.
I would encourage each of you to take a close and honest look at your life and priorities and ask yourself if this is the way you want things to be. If not, use this dissatisfaction as the motivational fuel you will need to make the change. Twenty-nine months ago, I did just that. I decided that my family would get the best and everyone else would get the rest. So what does that look like? Well it is different for everyone, but for me it is a conscious decision to live my life with the following priority matrix:
Priority One – My Own Spiritual, Emotional, and Physical Well Being
Priority Two – My Wife
Priority Three – My Children
Priority Four – Activities That Earn Money
Priority Five – All Other Relationships
Priority Six – My Community
So I can hear the words of my childhood Sunday school teacher already, “God first, others second, yourself last”. How many of you were taught that very thing? I can tell you that approach isn’t sustainable, not in the long run. I have found that I simply cannot even come close to living this way without the faith that has become so integrated into every single part of my life. You need to read my prior posts, Believe Something and You? Who Are You? If you haven’t done so already, they will put you on path to a cohesive and coherent set of beliefs and answers to life’s biggest questions, The Big Four, another post that you should take a look, or a second look at. When my believing is absolute, my emotional house has been tended to, and my physical body is cared for, then I am better equipped to be engaged with my wife, my children, my vocation, and my community. Do I always do that? Of course not, we’ve already established that I am vastly imperfect and flawed, but I am mindful of it, have a plan, and work towards that end. And yes, I really do have my wife listed as a higher priority than my children, which may not sit well with some of you. There really is a simple explanation for this; her and I “were” before they showed up and her and I “will be” after they leave. In this blog series, I won’t spend much time talking about what it looks like for you to have your children properly prioritized in your own family. I will however, post a mid-week blog this week with a list of books that I have read during the past few years. Books that have changed the way I look at parenting all together. Your first step towards being an engaged father, is educating yourself. These books have played an important role in that for me so I will share them with you soon. You’ll notice that my priority matrix doesn’t have anything listed that says “My Career”, that is on purpose. There are things that I do that earn money and it is just that simple. I find that the idea of “A Career” places so many unrealistic expectations on vocation, and, in fact, my next post, entitled Work or work?, will discuss this in detail. I will deal specifically with the issues that surround “A Career” as a means to self worth. Generally, I have seen that misplaced ambitions and emotional needs are probably the primary reason guys get vocation out of priority order. I often say to the guys I work with one-on-one, “You can probably provide enough income to live on working 40 hours per week, but you work that extra 20 to provide for your starving ego”. Lastly, my matrix makes sure to account for the importance of relationships and my larger community. Much of the reason we find our world in the state it is in can be traced to male disengagement in relationships and community.
My priorities aren’t perfect, and I’m not saying yours should be the same as mine, but I am asking you to take a hard look at them. There are moments of awakening in my life that I’ll never forget. I remember one Sunday several years ago, I was flying out for yet another week on the road and had to run by my office to print some material. I had started this particular company from scratch and had chose to give it the best part of me for entirely too long. On the entry wall of this particular office were plaques and pictures, mostly of me, articles from the business journals, pictures with politicians, and the sort. For years, I would walk in and gain some satisfaction from that shrine. On that particular Sunday, I was disgusted by this shrine to vain accomplishments. I remember thinking to myself, “was any of this really worth it?” One year ago this month, I closed the deal of the sale of that company. The other day I was talking to another member of the business community who said, “remember that company you had, what was it called again?” One short year, and all of that sacrifice, and the memories of that company have faded. When I made these adjustments, I thought for sure I would digress to unsuccessful obscurity, I was sure I would end up broke and unemployed; but guess what? I didn’t. In fact, I’ve had some of my most productive years. I have found that when the right things are in the right place, everything just works better
In a tiny corner of my garage you’ll find a stack of mahogany mounted placards, awards, and pictures, covered in dust, somewhere behind the canoe and camping supplies. These days, my wife get’s my ‘A Game’, my children get my ‘A Game’, and the awards I care about are posted proudly on my dresser mirror … a love note from my wife given to me on my birthday and several drawings from my sweet little girl. Pictures she drew for me, of us watching a rainbow together, my arm around her. Those beat the business journal any day. Guys, we are giving our best selves to all the wrong things. We are strong, courageous, creative, and strategic. To many times, we are all those things for all the wrong people and all the wrong reasons, but it doesn’t have to be that way, it’s never too late to change and bring your ‘A Game’ to the ones who need it most.