Parenthood takes guts. Raising another human being to be the very best human that they can be is no easy endeavor. So how do we do it? One. Breath. At a time. Thank you to Jason Graham-Nye, CEO and co-founder of gDiapers, for kicking off our “This takes guts” blog series, just in time for Father’s Day.
Fatherhood is quite the trip.
With no instruction book included, early on at least parenting seems to be a series of stumbles and falls and then a semblance of survival. My kids are 8 and 10 now and I still have very little idea about what I’m doing. The major reference point for us all (for better or worse) is how our own fathers pulled it off.
For me, I observed a man who had dedicated himself to his profession and his family. Both my parents were in the medical field but there was very little if ever an overt expectation of us following in the family business. None of us had that gene. There was an expectation however that we would find our own passions.
As a parent now, I see how dicey that approach is. It is far easier to attempt to guide the future for your kids than it is to let them discover what they discover and carry on. In my generation there was a move to get from the “right” school to the “right” university to get the “right” job. While my siblings and I followed the course in steps one and two, we collectively and individually veered off course for number three. We followed our parents directive and searched for our own passions.
I have had 8 mini-careers in 20 years: tour guide, stockbroker, high school teacher, University lecturer, Japanese interpreter, author, event management business owner and now, diaper executive (!). My parents were barely able to keep up. And I believe for my own kids, this pattern will not only repeat but increase in velocity. And that is challenging to face up to, to expect my kids to not only survive, but to thrive, under their own initiative.
What my parents didn’t do is park their own dreams to help try and fulfill our own. And that to me is the biggest lesson. The reality is that many kids logically look to their parents to get cues for what life is all about. Kids see the world that their parents have created and, at some level, frankly dread it. The predictable move from school to job to marriage (for some), kids (for some) and mortgage. Adolescent rebellion is the last ditch effort to avoid the impending tragedy. Then for most, conformity sets in and they get on the well-worn track.
For me as a father, getting comfortable with the uncomfortable feeling that for my boys to be the very best humans they can be, I need to continue to follow my path and know that they will see that and follow their own path is tough. The tendency is to over-guide, over-parent and get over-involved. It is a more comfortable approach but it will hobble them in the end.
This has sorely tested me. For the first 8 years of parenthood, I had a fixed plan for my boys education.. Despite living in the US at that time (as I do today), I was fixated on sending my kids to the same school I went to back in Sydney, Australia – a mere 10,000 miles away from our current home. I saw that school do such a good job with me and I couldn’t imagine not sending my kids there. My Sydney mates were sending their kids there too. It all made such logical sense. It was the plan. And everyone knew it. There was just the small issue of gDiapers, the company my wife Kim and I launched in the US in 2005. We were somehow going to both pursue our own dreams via gDiapers and send the kids to school in Australia. We had a physics problem. We couldn’t be in two places at once. But it took far more than physics for Kim and I to let go of that dream that was mired in my own scholastic experiences. It took guts, and it wasn’t painless.
Today, the boys go to their local schools here in Portland, Oregon. They have experienced what it takes to launch and run a company with a social and environmental mission with all the ups and downs. They have watched us grow from just the two of us working in the living room of our house to a team of 18 with offices in two countries. They have seen Kim and I grapple with life-altering decisions, and choose the less-than-comfortable route on more than one occasion.
They have also joined us on much of the travel involved in starting a company, seeing places they wouldn’t have seen if they had been raised in Sydney, Australia. It is not what we had planned but what has unfolded has been far richer than the original plan.
I will write a follow up blog in 20 years and let you know how it works out!