One of my friends posted a note on Facebook about his dad’s birthday and said how much he misses his father. We didn’t talk about it, but I know how he feels, especially today.
My dad was a good listener and a good teacher, and I never met anyone who didn’t like him. That says a lot. When he died, he had been retired and ill for a long time, so there were no customers or vendors or anxious heirs to fill the funeral home. Still, the room was overflowing, simply because people liked him.
I’ve always thought about him as the kind of father I wanted to be and want to be, still. I could talk to him about anything and he would listen, without laughing or judging or making sure I knew immediately what he thought of the situation. He taught without lectures. He didn’t view his success as dependent on someone else’s failure, or vice versa. He worked ten hours a day, plus lots of weekends, but he always seemed to have time for me, because I knew he was paying attention when we shared time together.
There are lots of books about how to be a good parent; maybe you’ve read one or twenty. For most of us, whether we read the expert guides or not, our roadmap for parenting is complete by the time we’re in high school. Whatever our parents did up until then will lead us on our own journeys. Later, in our twenties or thirties, without even thinking about it, we mimic them.
There’s comfort and caution to be had here. The good examples of our own parents are etched into our synapses, but so are the bad ones. Abused children become abusive parents because that’s what they know. Oddly, I don’t know many pampered children who become doting parents, possibly because they’ve been trained to see themselves as recipients rather than givers.
As a dad, even with grown children who have children of their own, I’m checking my own dashboard regularly. What can I leave on cruise control and what do I need to change, right now and forever? How can I be the same kind of father to my kids that my father was to me?
I’m still working on it, but the girls haven’t sued me for parental malpractice yet. I’m taking that as a good sign.
Happy Father’s Day.
Next week, we take a deep dive into another father, the founding kind, as we reconsider the meaning of Independence Day. Subscribe by clicking here and you won’t miss a single word.
Let’s add this to the many reasons kids are smarter than adults, and likely to be much happier, as well.
My grandson decided to get into the porta-crib by himself, so he grabbed a step-stool and started pulling himself up. I offered to help him, but he said, “I can do it.” And then he got stuck, so he asked for help.
Brilliant! He got stuck and asked for help. The greatest lessons are so, so simple.
So when do we lose the ability—no, the wisdom—to ask for help when we need it? As adults, we chant our rugged individualist, self-sufficiency mantras repeatedly as we damage our health, our relationships, and our survival. As is often the case, we would do a lot better if we acted like children.
I thought about my grandson recently, in a suburban diner, as I was catching up on life with a guy I hadn’t seen for about a decade. We were about 20 minutes into our highlight reels when I felt the need to explain how he could solve all his problems. (My old record was four minutes, so this counts as progress.)
There’s no doubt I was right, of course. I knew what he needed because I could see things objectively, without being bogged down by emotional baggage or unnecessary details of his life. Foolishly, he was challenged by minor issues like "ethics" and "people" and how many "resources" he could devote to the problems. Let’s just say that he didn’t take a ton of notes as I spewed sagacity all over the table.
We commiserated for a while about how easily we can solve other people’s problems, a particularly relevant topic for two guys who have earned their keep as consultants. When you’re in the business of finding solutions, though, problem solving is the easy part. The biggest challenge is convincing the client to accept and implement the plan that they’re paying you to deliver.
I encountered this frequently with business founders who couldn’t accept the limits of their insights. Paraphrasing just a tad, “I built this company and nobody knows more about this business than I do, so nobody can solve any problems better than I can. If I haven’t fixed it, it cannot be fixed. Now, what was your idea?”
This resistance is pervasive in our personal lives as well. Someone asks if we need help and we say, no, we’re fine, we have it under control, we can handle it, no need to be concerned. Except, of course, that we can’t get out of our own way and we’ll be wallowing in our slop forever.
Every one of us has a friend who is trapped in an eternal do-loop, continually hitting the same roadblock and making the same decisions that get them nowhere. Every one of us has a friend who picks the wrong relationship, the wrong investment, the wrong job, the wrong health choices, over and over again.
And every one of us is that friend to somebody else. We need help, we know we need help, all our friends know we need help, and we still insist it’s all fine, totally under control.
This is one of those challenges that is dirt simple.
Any three-year-old could make the right choice here. Couldn’t we be just as smart?
Before you start calling all your friends to get the help you’ve been avoiding, why not click here to subscribe to our weekly viewpoints? Maybe we can solve all your problems.
If you were sick and you finally found a medicine that kept your illness under control, would you stop taking it as soon as it started to work?
That’s the trap we’re in right now. All this social distancing and hand washing appears to be slowing the spread of the coronavirus. Slowing, but not stopping, of course. Even if 80% of us are locked in our closets 24 hours per day, somebody has to deliver the toilet paper.
All the people who drive the trucks and treat the patients and stock the shelves and fix the plumbing are still on the job. Some are driven by their commitment to the greater good, some cannot afford to miss a paycheck, and others are simply certain it won’t happen to them. It will, though, at least to some of them, and the outbreak will continue.
The virus will spread more slowly if they interact with fewer people, of course. If we go back to our regularly scheduled programming, we’ll just reboot the plague.
Maybe warmer weather will slow the spread, at least until the fall. Maybe it will turn out that drinking a gallon of Diet Rite each day really does work. Maybe a million old people will offer to die in order to save the economy. Maybe.
Right now, the stock market is orgasmic as the adult in the room predicts a peak, but a peak is not a trough and it is not an end date. When is it safe to come out to play, and how will we know?
Even as I write this, I realize that the whole situation looks very different in different parts of the country, even in different neighborhoods. Immigration issues look different in Boise than in El Paso. Gun control has a very different value proposition in Chicago than in Casper. The plague probably looks like no big deal in most rural areas, while it's a clear and present danger in densely populated cities. In fact, the situation looks different in downtown Chicago than in many of our suburbs.
Let’s assume, though, that we were and are taking this seriously. Let’s assume that we’ve seen enough deaths and enough hot spots that we all agree there is a threat. Even if we believe the threat is less significant in our corner of the world, it is real.
Now what? How do we prepare for life with a highly communicable disease that has no proven treatments and no vaccine? When is it safe to open the diner, hug the grandkids and stop washing our damned hands. (Honestly, I feel like Lady Macbeth, but not quite as guilty.)
It’s sunny and almost 70 in Chicago today, the perfect day to invite the neighbors over for a barbecue. Too soon, though. We have to wait until…what?
Over lunch one day, a friend and I were discussing the challenges of leading people to the best decisions. He suggested that one way I am limited in that area is that I am too much a contrarian. In one group that we belong to, people anticipate that I will be the one to rain on their parades with challenging questions or comments. When I meet those expectations, my comments get discounted and my influence disappears.
He’s right about the impact of my actions, and I’ve seen this situation play out more often than I would like to admit. In fact, I know one guy who believes I am always wrong, because he believes I am always opposing the wisdom of the crowd. As a result, he becomes even more certain that he is correct if I say I disagree with his view. In his world, my accuracy is two steps lower than a stopped clock.
What if he’s wrong, though? What if the wisdom of the crowd isn’t always wise? What if the emperor is really a flasher?
Often, when people get together to make a decision, some ideas will gather momentum and others won’t. It’s not necessarily the value of the idea that drives that momentum, though. Sometimes, it’s espoused by a forceful individual, or it’s a view shared by two people in quick succession and the group dynamic flows from there. Once enough attaboys are issued, the idea becomes a truth destined to be chiseled in stone.
That’s where I join the conversation. I’m looking for the missing guest, the thing that should be considered and isn’t on the table. I’m trying to anticipate the unintended consequences of today’s big idea. I’m looking at how the ultimate audience is going to respond when the committee issues its report.
In fact, most of the time, I’m trying to figure out how to make the idea work in the real world. And then, I open my big “contrarian” mouth.
How many customers do we have to acquire in order to make any money on this? What’s to stop Amazon from simply offering the same service and putting us out of business? What if Uncle Ernie decides to invest the money in a boys’ boarding school?
By the time I chime in, however, the train has left the station, that ship has sailed, and the chicken has crossed the road. My question becomes the final evidence that this is the best idea ever. “We all believed it was a great idea and then, even better, Rosenbaum didn’t like it. Pure gold!!!”
Time for some introspection. If I’m trying to help a person reach a better conclusion, but my approach often leads to a suboptimal decision, shouldn’t I change my tactics? Perhaps I should be more active in the chorus of attaboys when someone makes an inane comment like, “let’s break the mold,” or “we dare to be different.” Should I be more manipulative in the pursuit of a greater good, or is that one of those slippery slopes they talk about in law school?
So, thanks to my friend for giving me something to consider in terms of the way I’m perceived. I’m working on it. Meanwhile, I keep thinking about the guy who has concluded that my disagreement is proof of his brilliance. There’s a great prank in here, somewhere.
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On the way back to the airport, I had to pull over to the side of the road and cry for a while.
Jerry was dying. There was no doubt and there was no cure. I had flown to California to visit with him one last time, to let him know he had tipped the scales for the positive in this world, and that he would be missed. Through his contributions to my life, and to many others, he had earned this visit several times over.
Jerry had been a client for many years, and then he became a mentor and a friend. I hadn’t done any work with him or his company for years, and he had left the company as well, but this was a rare instance in which “business friend” is not an oxymoron. He always had an instructive story about business, about life and values, and he passed along a few jokes that I could claim as my own. He was a mensch.
On the night of our last visit, we acknowledged the obvious in about two minutes and then spent the rest of our time the way we always did, sharing stories and jokes and commiserating about the state of the world. All things considered, it was a very enjoyable evening. For obvious reasons, I didn’t want that evening to end, because that night’s goodbye would almost certainly be the last.
I’ve had many “last visits” since then; they become more frequent as you and your friends get older. Sometimes, you don’t know it’s your last visit when you have it, because nobody is aware of the fuse that’s burning. In those cases, you look back and wonder if you said the right things, if you left on good enough terms.
Often, though, you do know the reality when you come to visit, and you know you’re fulfilling an important mission. You’re letting somebody know they made a difference, they were appreciated, and they will be remembered as a positive force in the world.
My last visit with Jerry was relatively easy. He was alert and energetic, with few telltale signs of the traitors within his body. Other visits are much more challenging, such as those times you’re sitting with a friend who has lost her personhood while a machine sustains the metrics of existence. All we can offer is a gift of normalcy, an episode of the life they had, and still have, if we can ignore the demands of their impatient companion.
Every so often, you go to a really great funeral. The guest of honor lived a long and productive life, all the guests knew and loved him, and the family is comforted by a constant stream of stories from a life well lived. It’s sad, as it must be, but it’s also joyous in a way, marking the completion of an honorable, meaningful journey.
Funerals are for the survivors, though, not the deceased. Last visits are for the guest of honor, a chance to celebrate their life in the present tense, to offer whatever solace can be delivered through a promise to remember. It isn’t really much, but sometimes it’s all we can give.
In honor of Restaurant Week in Chicago, we examine the curse of hummus, extremely confident servers, and the best beer to pair with peppermint ice cream. Clearly, I am in desperate need of a home-cooked meal…
So, if we were actually making any money from this blog, would all our restaurant meals be tax deductible as a “research” expense? Hmm…
Aren’t you getting weary from reading all these requests that you subscribe? Wouldn’t life be much better if you simply clicked here to sign up and you didn’t need to be distracted by these brazen appeals in the future?
Who writes this stuff?
Dadwrites oozes from the warped mind of Michael Rosenbaum, an award-winning author who spends most of his time these days as a start-up business mentor, book coach, photographer and, mostly, a grandfather. All views are his alone, largely due to the fact that he can’t find anyone who agrees with him.