Us: Evolution of Leadership

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I am not sure if anyone is a natural parent. Even if you are prone to nurturing and selflessness, there are too many variables that kick in once you bring a newborn home from the hospital. You can have all the help and advice in the world but there will always come that time you find yourself facing something you never thought possible, an event no one even hinted at, and you realize you are truly alone. The next step is all yours. Like when William was two and Hope called me into the bedroom to show me how the Bubble Yum that he had somehow found was now attempting an exit from his little body and was pulling like taffy from his backside. That was never mentioned in a book; we were left to our own devices to work things out.

In our family, I have to give the nod to Hope as being the parent who “got” it the fastest. I have no doubt it was born out of necessity as well as a gift from estrogen, but, regardless where it came from, she slid comfortably into the Parenting Classroom Called Life, ready to learn while I was still on the playground, sneaking cigarettes behind the slide.

I look back on my evolution as a dad and see there were levels. Newborns are awesome, fairly easy to maintain, and I figured I was pulling my weight by changing a diaper or two and letting the babies fall asleep on my chest every night. Lying on the floor, watching them try to lift their heads was fun and I was the king of funny noises and rolling around with them. All of that fit into the category of maintenance. Plus, I had to get back to work.

For the majority of our children’s early, formative years, Hope was home with them. It was a desire of ours and God, along with tight budgeting, made it happen. This meant Hope did most of the heavy lifting in child rearing while I was away at work. To compound matters, while Hope was pregnant with William and I was working at the Kennedy Space Center in Titusville, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded and the local economy tanked. I eventually found a new job in Orlando, which was a blessing but it was also 55 miles of driving each way. My time away from home got extended. Suffice it to say I was having trouble even maintaining levels of maintenance as a parent, much less growing and learning how to get better. We made it work but it was dysfunctional.

When William was four and Laura was two, I accepted a new job in Tallahassee and we moved, leaving behind a lot of family and friends but returning to a city we loved that also had family and friends. I also inherited a 10-minute commute and a lot more time at home. I did not make a quality adjustment to my new life. I never saw my shorter drive as anything other than an opportunity to sleep later, even when Hope consistently got up to deal with the early rising children. I did marginally better evenings and weekends but I had little issue with Hope carrying the load, handling the hard stuff which was anything except playing and yelling, two of my gifts. Consciously or not, my thinking was what had worked before, could work in perpetuity.

I was wrong and it was time to step to the next level.

Hope finally decided to have a talk with me and let me know that the current situation was not working. It was in the family’s best interest that I make some changes. Not being one to miss a chance to get defensive and whine, I asked for specifics. She said I could start by getting up earlier in the morning and eating breakfast with the family. I was reasonably sure I could do that, so I vowed to adjust. After a couple of weeks of me sitting at the breakfast table reading the paper, Hope decided we needed to talk again. I can see the entire scene in my mind even as I type this today. Where I was sitting, where William and Laura were and, more importantly, what Hope said to me from the kitchen. And I can remember because it not only took me to another level as a parent, it changed my life.  She was exasperated and she said, “Look, if you’re just going to sit there and read the paper and not even look at us, just stay in bed.”  It was one of those rare occasions where something said in frustration actually got through; it left a mark but was necessary. I realized it takes more than just showing up to be a father. I had a lot to learn and the first step was actually paying attention to what was happening around me, taking my eyes off me and scanning the room. Those little eyes staring back needed me, not the back of the sports page.

That day began my journey to being a lot more attentive and purposeful when interacting with the family. I began the slow move from being strictly the breadwinner and funny guy who yells to William, Laura and, eventually, Jordan’s dad.  And, in the process, a much better husband to Hope.

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