Are you running yet? That is the typical response when someone talks about their kids.
I was never “that guy” who had a stack of pics to roll out like playing cards if someone asked if I had a family (this is before cell phones and uploaded photos of course). I would be happy to talk about them to someone really interested but I have always believed that people are really not interested, it’s just something to say, like “how are you today? “Trust me they don’t really want to know.
My children are older now and I don’t have to deal with that anymore. But now I want to talk about them to anyone who will listen.
If this past year has taught me anything, it is that life’s meaning is not in the size of your house, your stock portfolio or how nice your car is. After being reduced to an unemployed, sick man with too much time on his hands I have come to value accomplishments as the measure of a man. To do this I had to contemplate the meaning of a real accomplishment. Here is what I came up with.
I worked at a restaurant for a long time. A family business where I met my wife. I rose to the top of the food chain in the kitchen to a manager, where I was responsible for thousands of meals. To be real, however, my only real accomplishment was establishing high standards that led to a reputation as a hard-working perfectionist.
I sold cars for many years. Aside from consistently meeting or exceeding goals for sales and satisfaction, my only real accomplishment was the testimonials of customers that left with a different, better impression of my much-maligned industry after they met me. They used words like nice, accessible, professional and my favorite “has integrity.”
I worked as a Collections and Liquidations (repo) manager for many years. I developed systems, reduced overall losses, and increased profitability for the entire ten years that I was there. I was considered the best in my industry. Despite that, my only real accomplishment was that I helped a lot of people. People who were struggling, confused how things worked and needed someone to talk to who would really listen. I was the person that worked with them and I know that at the end of the day I made a difference in someone’s life.
Nothing else I have done matters…except my children. I really accomplished something there.
My children are awesome. At 21, 20, 18 and 15 I have four decent, sarcastic, hardworking and nice kids. They are good citizens. Charitable, kind-hearted, polite to all, respectful of the elderly and authority figures and did I say nice? I am a truly blessed man. While I wasn’t able to afford a massive house, a car for each of them on their 18th birthday and a trust fund, I was able to give them a decent childhood despite constant financial hardship. We went to Disney, we went camping, they played sports and I spent every minute of daylight and energy that I had to throw the football, fling the frisbee or wrestle on the lawn. Fighting the clock, all the while knowing that they were going to grow up too fast.
I was able to walk the line between parent and friend, being accessible while still in position to leverage the “Dad card” when necessary. They weren’t afraid to tell me things. I never shielded them from life, instead, I told them how the world really is. My girls dressed as Disney princesses once, but today they aren’t the types to wait around for a man to solve their problems. My boys aren’t fighters, but they knew enough to punch the school bully back and he would leave you alone. And if someone messed with their sisters, well watch out is all I can say. The other lessons they learned from me were unfortunate. They learned the value of saving money by seeing their family home auctioned off. They learned the value of hard work when I lost 6 months of work to illness and the older 2 had to get jobs in High School. They learned about sacrifice when they realized that I had tried to leave a terrible marriage ten years previous, but stayed because they deserved to have their father around. And finally, they learned that life is not all sunshine and rainbows when their mother and I finally split up after 21 years of marriage. Amazingly, they are all thriving. Strong, resilient, versatile and not expecting a damn thing from anyone.
That is truly an accomplishment.
So let me tell you about my kids. Despite all of my shortcomings, they were able to retain all of the good things, rise above the bad and cause person after person to tell me how great my kids are. Thank you, I say. If I were to die tomorrow, they are indeed my real contribution to the world. My legacy.