Sunday, June 16, 2013

How I Am Failing To Be a Great Dad

When I was a child I loved reading The Berenstain Bears books. Apparently I am not alone in this, as I just observed that there are "over 300 titles, which have sold approximately 260 million copies in 23 languages.

Even as a father, I have often referred to these classics, suggesting that I have a "Berenstain Bears" style of parenting. To explain that idea, here are some Washington Post reviews I have clipped from Wikipedia ...

  • "Papa sets out to instruct Small Bear in some aspect of the art of living and ends up badly the worse for wear, with Small Bear expressing his appreciation for the fine lesson Papa has taught him." 
  • "The action usually starts when the kids face a problem. They turn to Papa, who offers a "solution" that only makes the problem—or the kids' fears about it—even worse. Enter Mama, who eventually sets everyone straight."

Before I go any further, I will let you off the hook. I believe that I AM a great Dad. Still, I stand behind the title of this post. My children know that I am as fallible as anyone else, and it is often through my "failing" that I teach them the most important lessons. (Sometimes my "Small Bears" are even so wonderful as to express their appreciation for the fine lesson I have taught them.)

We (and I guess I can really only speak for myself) love to share our successes - there is a reason some people refer to Facebook as "Bragbook" - and those stories are important too. Through some of my triumphs I have shown Katy and Jack that it pays to dream big and to go after your goals with everything you've got. I have given them some great tales to share with their friends, about their "crazy Dad". I have made sure their last name serves them well (actually, I was handed an impeccable family reputation and have simply tried to pass it on in equally good "condition").

But I have also failed in rather spectacular fashion in their 14 and 16 years on this planet. Using a term that I love, "I have shit the bed" on several occasions. Still, looking at it all objectively, I am actually fairly certain that the best life lessons I can pass on have come from these apparent disasters.

Borrowing from the parlance of the fine blog of my wonderful erstwhile-wife (Mama Bear)...

"A (Non)Comprehensive List of Important Lessons I Have Taught My Children While Failing"
  1. My failed political career - in 2007 I ran as the Liberal candidate for Member of Parliament. As Canada had a minority Conservative government at the time, there could have been an election at any moment - but there wasn't. For the whole year! For all 4 seasons, I zigzagged across our riding, campaigning, spending, promising. And it was all for naught, as I was broke and exhausted and out of steam by Christmas. I had to resign - front page news - and never even actually had my chance to "save the world".

    LESSON: Sometimes you are going to take a big chance that does not work out - and it may even be a rather public affair - but you still have to get up to greet the sun the next morning (in truth, it was quite a few mornings before I leapt out of bed again at the crack of dawn - there was a bit of a regrouping "low" in the early months of 2008).  I owned my decision to run and also my decision to resign. And the world did carry on. In fact, I have enjoyed far more rewarding success since that debacle than before.

  1. The end of my marriage to their mom - in 2008 I left my wife (the aforementioned brilliant bloggess). I still love and respect her as much as ever, but decided (realized) we were on divergent life paths, with conflicting, albeit equally valid, core values. We knew our relationship was in trouble in the Spring and went for marriage counselling. By the Summer it was obvious we'd be parting, and we finally "pulled the trigger" on our separation in the Fall.

    LESSON: You can always choose kindness and civility over bitterness and anger. A breakup does not have to be acrimonious. We split very amicably, as neither of us had wronged the other, and have continued to support one another on our respective paths. If Katy and Jack's eventual relationship "Plan A" lasts forever, awesome. And if not, they have seen very clearly that Plan B does not have to be a shit-show. They have two parents who love them and one another and are as committed as ever to everyone having great lives.

  2. Being really, really broke - a couple years of an aborted (and expensive) campaign, marital dissolution and funding the setup of a second household, and a weak real estate market (yes, that was my career before my big reset) exacerbated by my rebranding as a politician, had all left me quite literally penniless. I took a job bartending to be able to cover even basic support for Karen to maintain her home for our kids and moved myself into my truck. For over a year I bounced back and forth between my truck, my siblings and my office floor. When I had Katy and Jack for weekends we would camp or go on "adventures" or stay at my folks. Beyond just living arrangements, I was unable to provide many luxuries that we had previously taken for granted - dinners out, ski trips, expensive clothing.

    LESSON: You don't need much to be happy. Despite this being a humbling experience, we always had a lot of fun, and I don't think any of us will reflect on it being miserable or even a particular struggle. We simply made do and focused on gratitude for what we did have. Even now that I have "bounced back" I have kept my life very simple - I live in a rented apartment, buy almost all of my clothes at thrift shops, and have as few extra belongings as possible. This keeps me free to enjoy adventures and travel and able to give significant financial support to Karen to help her provide a more traditional home (she has a beautiful log cabin on 6+ acres on the edge of town). My kids don't want for much, but they also now have an appreciation for what they have and get.
  3. DNF'ing The Death Race on National TV - In 2011 I finished the Spartan Death Race. With this success came small-town fame, pride and a new reputation as an athlete and a badass. I began speaking, coaching, and blogging, all as "that guy" who finishes Death Races (reinforced with my 5th place Winter Death Race result in early 2012). Then, in June 2012, with a film crew in tow (shooting a documentary feature for national broadcast on Global TV's 16x9), I dropped out of the race after 35 hours. In hindsight, I was not particularly injured (though my banged up feet were my "reason", they had been much worse a year prior) - I was just "done". At the time I was really very embarrassed. I felt like I had let many people down.

    LESSON: It's not all about succeeding - it is about who you are being, win or lose. Ultimately I received every bit as much support and encouragement from friends and peers after my DNF as my finish. Because I did not make any excuses, or look for anyone to blame, people had nothing but praise for my effort. I simply acknowledged that I was not as tough as that year's race and gave enormous respect to those who carried on to finish (in upwards of 70 hours!). And seeing them finish, I was reminded of what is possible. With this, I returned to more serious training and came back to Vermont 3 months later to outright WIN the first ever Team Death Race with my good friends Don Devaney, Ray Morvan and Dave French. Hopefully we were as humble and gracious then too!
I think the biggest thing I have going for me in my relationship with my kids is that I don't pretend to be perfect. I actually understand that their opinions and perspectives about their lives are usually even more valid than mine. A while back I wrote that "My Kids Are People Not Projects", and I mean it. I will help them any way that I can, including by knowing when to back off and let them learn for themselves.

And by FAILING - repeatedly, joyfully, humbly and graciously - I am demonstrating that they can approach life fearlessly and, thus, enjoy uncommon success.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: 
it is the courage to continue that counts.” 

Winston Churchill

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Tonight's 75 minute speech compressed to 75 seconds.

"YES is almost always better than NO.

No can only get you no-thing. Yes can get you anything. Even if it does not get you what you thought you wanted, it will get you something. And that will lead to more. The awesome stuff may be hidden around a few bends, but Yes keeps you in the flow of possibility.

It may end up that yes leads you to something hard. I hope it does! Hard is not bad. We've been fooled into thinking that easy is good, and are becoming weak, lazy and bored. There is a reason we love Rocky. Respect comes with working for something. They do not build statues for lottery winners.

Besides, what do "good" and "bad" even mean?? The fact is that WE get to DECIDE! In truth, we are making ALL of this up as we go. All of it. Always. So think up a story that interests - no, that FASCINATES - you.

And don't shy away from adventure - no matter what form it shows up in. It's not all about climbing mountains. A cancer diagnosis is still an adventure, and you choose how you are going to respond. Whatever is, IS. And it's 100% up to you what you do with it. There is opportunity in anything to inspire others and make the world a better place.

So where to begin? Somewhere. Anywhere! Start exactly where you are, and begin by finding something for which to be grateful. That will be the spark that lights a fire. Then, the fuel for that fire is whatever excites you. Not just what you are good at, but what stirs your soul. Whatever that awesomeness is, commit to generating more of it in the world.

Then do something. Anything! Show up for your life with energy and commitment, and invite others to join you on this path. You do not need to convince anyone of anything. Just share your light and you will soon be doing incredible things with amazing people.

You are in the perfect place to start your life adventure, and now is the perfect time. It germinates with YES, is fertilized by gratitude, sprouts with joyful work and blossoms in love."