Father, Homeowner, Husband, Leadership, Marketer

Strategic vs Tactical

Our days are so full of tasks to complete, like quests in a never-ending role-playing game.

Laundry, dishes, decluttering, bills, groceries, straightening, meal prep, errands.

Emails, phone calls, status reports, one-on-one check-ins, presentation revisions, invoices.

Decisions, optimizations, quick fixes, interventions, assists, demonstrations, coordinations, deferments.

It’s both exhilarating and exhausting to check off items from the ever-growing to-do list, whether it’s explicitly written out before you or churning amorphously in your overloaded brain.

That’s why it’s so important to take a step back.  To climb a tree and make sure your team is swinging the machete in the right direction as you all hack through the jungle:

  • What are we trying to do?  Why are we doing it?
  • What does success look like?  Is there a metric, a milestone, a goal to shoot for?
  • Where do we want to be in 1, 3, 5, 10 years?  How do we get there?
  • Do all of us agree?

Whether it’s your family, your coworkers, your activity group, your circle of friends… one rarely hears of anyone accused of being “too strategic.”  Get away for a weekend.  Have an offsite.  Go on a retreat.  Meet for a drink.  And while you’re away from the checklists, figure out where you’re going.  Then you’ll find joy in having a progress bar to go along with your checklist.

Father

Answering the tough questions

Once upon a time the tough child-to-parent questions were from curious but naive faces. Whether one actually gets “why is the sky blue” or “does God exist” or other classics, we surmount them with pat answers that satisfy or children long enough for them to forget about it. Young minds aren’t built for philosophy and the way the world works.

Teenage and pre-teen minds are. You explain unions, and strikes and lockouts. What Spin the Bottle really is. How Ouija boards work/don’t work. That Spam was canned meat but is now undesirable email, and why that sort of works. Why Paul Manafort was indicted – what indicted means – why it’s trouble for the current president. What Hurricane Florence is doing. What religion is about, and whether science or religion (or neither) has the answers to the big questions.

It’s humbling to realize that you are passing on your opinions even as you try not to. You explain the different viewpoints and counterarguments so your children can form their own opinions. Then you hear them mirror it back to you, to their friends, to other adults, and you realize what you have wrought – a living mini-me on ever growing bodies that will soon ask even tougher questions. Even then, however, being able to answer those questions will also be a joy.

Father, Uncategorized

Getting ROI from Kids

The ROI on kids is not particularly good.  At least, not at first.

For those unfamiliar with the term, ROI – “Return On Investment” – is a common business term used to evaluate whether something is worth spending money on.  If investing in that faster email system for $10,000 lets you earn money twice as fast, there’s a good (5x!) ROI if you normally make $50,000/year and now make $100,000… and a terrible one if you normally make $1000 and now you make $2000, because you spent $10,000 to earn $1,000… so it’ll take 10 years to payback that investment.

Babies have a terrible ROI.  The first six weeks is almost all “I”, in the form of sleepless nights, unproductive days, and a constant give, give, give for all your baby will take, take, take.  Your primary R is a smile here and there, and a sense of accomplishment for all that you’re investing.  Toddlers are only slightly better.  Grade schoolers definitely have more “R” because they’re more fun.  Middle schoolers even more so.

The ROI becomes more obvious as your kids grow.  They gain self-sufficiency.  They help you out with chores, sometimes even without prompting. You don’t spend $75+ on baby sitting for dinner and a movie.  As they grow older, they become your sidekicks, your cribbage partners, your avatar.  They’re the home team you’re rooting for in life.  They’re the source of so much proudness.

And don’t get me started on grandparenting.  From what I’ve observed, that’s when the kid thing pays crazy dividends.  Not to mention it becomes up to them to take care of you, eventually.

Of course, all of this is bullshit, too.  Because love doesn’t keep score. And parenting isn’t measured on ROI.

But still… it doesn’t hurt to get those moments where one kid is running around at soccer practice, and the other is on the playground with grade school friends, after the three of you finished dinner and had some ice cream, as a comfortable fall evening wraps up.  You look around, take a deep breath, and say to yourself: “This is a joyful moment.”

Father, Musician, Uncategorized

Metallica

I am not a heavy metal fan.  I rank it just above gangsta rap and country music in my mental list of “least favorite music genres.”  I tend to dismiss the songs as so much noise, much as a connoisseur on the other side of the spectrum would be dismissive of an operatic aria.

Perversely, my 13yo son is now a huge Metallica fan.

It’d be too easy to slip into the role of doddering father, shaking my cane and muttering “turn that crap down” and “kids these days” and “back in my day”, even though technically I’m pretty sure Metallica was “back in my day.” I’ve been humoring his excited explanations of why he liked certain songs. I’ve marveled at his ability during drum practice to capture the patterns of some of his favorites. I’ve been perplexed at his recall of song names, albums, lyrics, band member names as they’ve come and gone… these are from the 80s.  I guess it’s the equivalent of if I had been a teenage fan of alternative 50s music — not Elvis Presley, but perhaps Tony Bennett or Mitch Miller.

(Of course, play a symphonic piece and I can almost certainly name whether it’s from 100, 200, or 300 years ago, if not the composer and the piece itself, but I digress…)

Today he played me “Spit Out the Bone” on the way home from soccer practice.  As I was adjusting to the percussive assault on my brain, he explained the lyrics and the post-apocalyptic man vs robot setting.  He pointed out how Lars Ulrich is achieving those sounds from the drum set, and the different “fills” involved. He mentioned it’s from a recent album rather than something from the 80s.  He noted the patterns and rhythm and how there’s actually some music and chord structure going on. That evening I read up more on the song.  I learned about the philosophy of transhumanism which is, to some degree, advocated by the song’s narrator, implying criticism by the band given that said narrator is trying to convince humans to give themselves over to technology and essentially commit suicide.  It’s commentary on our smart watches and faces buried in iPhones and desire to stay plugged in all the time.  Given that context, the music makes sense, and I understand the emotion behind it.  And suddenly I have a glimpse as to what a lot of heavy metal is about, and why it’s music, and why he likes it.

In short, I got a music lesson from my son.  That was awesome.

Father, Human

The Day Back

At some point on vacation, it can hit you.  No matter how much fun you’re having.  No matter how relaxed you are.  No matter how far the rest of the world has melted away.

At some point you’re ready to go back.

You want to sleep in your own bed.  To have your shower, your covers, your pillow, your kitchen, your routine, your diversions, your comfort food, your familiar everything.

It’s the corollary to “how can I miss you if you don’t go away” — how can you vacation without a baseline every day that you’re leaving behind?

Embrace the return.  Celebrate the ordinary.  Be glad for normalcy.  Before you left, it was the rut.  After you return, it’s the comfortable routine.

 

Father

Out of his comfort zone

It’s rewarding to see your child’s mind expand when exposing them to new cultural experiences.

We had just finished a first half day in Quebec City. You get everything, as my older son said: mountains, water, castles and walls, history, cannons, street performers, ice cream… So we asked our younger son as we tucked him in that night, whaddya think?

Being the one often unimpressed by change and most likely to want to go home on any vacation, his response was gratifying: his eyes lit up, he wore a confused half-smile, and he said, “It’s so… weird! I feel like such a stranger!”

Throughout the day we saw him interacting with other kids while watching street performers or climbing on monuments. Kids who sometimes didn’t speak English. We saw him marvel at things being done differently, from what comes on a burger, to colored money that you can see through, to the geography of the multi level city, to streets and toilets and customs and faces….

You could just see that his brain had exploded … or at least expanded. He wasn’t sure whether he liked it or not, as it was out of his comfort zone.

Another word for “slightly out of your comfort zone” is “learning.”