This is a revision for the print publication of my 2014 Father’s day post.
As guys, we know what it means to bring our ‘A’ game. There is a place inside that motivates us to go the extra mile for that big project at work, the corp-to-corp golf tourney, the weekend race, pick-up game, leg day, or any number of other worthy causes. If you have an X and Y chromosome, you also have a primal desire to be a warrior. Every male, admittedly or not, desperately wants to fight those “odds stacked against you” battles, to adventure, to explore, to push himself to the brink for some great cause. Each of us is born with an ‘A’ game and a longing to express it. The existence of our primal and competitive nature isn’t the problem, nor is the expression of it; even if the expression is towards vocational, physical, or athletic excellence. The problem lies not in the areas where we ARE bringing our ‘A’ game but in the areas where we AREN’T brining our ‘A’ game.
In my vocation I interact with some of industries most successful men, executives, brilliant entrepreneurs, and political up-and-comers. In the early morning hours at the gym, I see men with astounding physical discipline and strength. In many cases, I admire the accomplishments of these men, but then I look at the world around me. I look at the state of the family in the Western world, I look at the divorce rate, I look at the waywardness of our youth, and I have to ask this question. When was the last time you brought your ‘A’ game for your children? When was the last time you brought your ‘A’ game for your wife? I would like to present to you that no two areas are more deserving and, at the same time, in desperate need of the best you have to offer.
For me personally, I find thinking in terms of levels and classifications to be very helpful. As I have shared these thoughts with other men, they seem to find them useful as well. With regards to our level of engagement as a husband and father, I would suggest an honest assessment using the following classifications:
- Level One – Alive but Absent
- Level Two – Present
- Level Three – Present and Available
- Level Four – Present, Available, and Engaged
- Level Five – Present, Available, and Highly Engaged (AKA ‘A’ Game)
I would present to you that getting to Level Five 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. These days I have a daily habit of mentally reminding myself what is important, who I am, who I want to be, and the difference between the two. It’s a mental callisthenic usually occurring during the morning run, or whatever physical training I happen to be doing that day. I’m often most reminded of my desire to be a Level 5 husband and father on days where that includes some kind of weight training.
Weight training is a funny thing, I call it the great equalizer; it 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. When I started lifting, there came what I now call, “the day of reckoning”. I went through a series of basic lifts keeping a diary of what is called the 1RM, a measure of baseline strength. It’s simple, for each lift, 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 day when I was set to add pounds to the bar but ended up barely getting thru a single set with my base weight, at these times the honesty from the day of reckoning drove me forward.
I experienced a similar “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; bar weight + total plate weight = total weight. 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:
- Vocation / Work Outside of the Home
- Family / Husbandry / Fatherhood
- 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.
Now brace yourself for the bombshell … everything is totally and completely out of order and, if you want to make the trip from male to “real man”, if you want to be a highly engaged husband and father, you need a kick in the gut that will lay at your feet a brutally honest state of things. 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 fueled by 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 our fully engaged hearts and minds 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:
- My Own Spiritual, Emotional, and Physical Well Being
- My Wife
- My Children
- All Other Relationships
- 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’ll need a transcendent view on things and coherent set of beliefs and answers to life’s biggest questions. If find that 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. You may notice that my wife is 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. If you are divorced, you’re not off the hook in this department. You and this woman brought new life into this world and you forever have a role in doing everything you can to care for her; if not as her husband then as the father of her children. You’ll notice that my priority matrix doesn’t have anything listed that says “My Career”, which is intentional. 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. All to often, guys heap insecurities, unrecognized emotional pain, fears, inadequacies, and a whole host of other things onto the back of their career then are surprised when job after job, promotion after promotion, never fills that gaping hole inside of them. Generally, I have seen that misplaced ambitions and emotional needs are probably the primary reasons 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 stop at my office. 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 that sort of thing. For years, I would walk in and gain some satisfaction from that shrine. But on that particular day I was disgusted by this shrine to my 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, but too many times, we are all those things for all the wrong people and all the wrong reasons. It doesn’t have to be that way; it’s never too late to change. All you have to do is decide to bring your ‘A Game’ to the ones who need it most.