This weekend, I attended a concert of guitar virtuoso and three time Grammy® nominee Stanley Jordan
. It was a pretty amazing concert for a number of reasons.
First, Stanley was a couple of years ahead of me at Princeton and it had been some time since I had seen him play. I didnt really know him while we were in college other than to nod hello when we would pass each other on campus. We played in different circles that didnt overlap
his a world of jazz and mine a world of football pads.
Second, Stanley developed a unique way of playing the guitar with both hands topping the fret board that creates a sound like no other guitarist. (Check out his rendition of Stairway to Heaven
.) Even in college, he was becoming quite well-known for this technique. Its really something to see and hear
At one point in the concert, Stanley strolled over to the piano and began to play a song. Nothing unique about this since lots of folks can play multiple instruments. But then, he started playing the piano AND the guitar simultaneously. Amazing.
When he finished playing, he explained that the song was called, Song for My Father and then he spoke a bit about the importance of fatherhood. Heres what he had to say in the notes of his fabulous new CD State of Nature.
Fathers of fathers, sons of sons
Fatherhood, that precious profession;
That sacred occupation.
Passing on strength and wisdom,
Leaving no stone unturned,
Moving heaven and earth
To teach and protect,
To love and inspire,
And ultimately, to free.
For we are all children of mystery.
When Stanley finished his remarks and moved to the next number, I could not help but linger there a bit. Ironically, his unique ability to play two instruments simultaneously with such grace and skill is the perfect metaphor for what good fathers do. They balance family AND work. They balance affection AND discipline. They balance patience AND urgency. They do all of thisand much moreto create a melody that their childrens hearts need to see and to hear. Like Stanleys music, its a thing of beauty.
My life was interrupted yesterday. I was all set to head to work when I got a call from my wife. She told me that she was not feeling well and was heading for the emergency room. She said not to worry but asked that I get there as soon as I could. So, I grabbed my briefcase, etc. and headed out.
By the time I got to the hospital, she was already in a room and was hooked up to a few machines and an IV. They had already started to run some tests to check her blood. After an hour or so, the doctor came in and told us that the test results were fine and it turned out that she was having a bad reaction to some medicine that she was taking to settle her stomach. This was certainly great news and I have to admit, being a man of action, I instinctively checked my watch to see how long before I could get back to my regularly scheduled programming.
Just then, a nurse rushed into the room and told us that we needed to move to another room quickly because they needed this one for a patient in critical condition that was on an ambulance in route. Moments after we settled in the new room, the PA began to blare code blue this and code red that. It all sounded like a foreign language to me but not to my wife, who quickly grew somber. She is a family practice doctor and she decoded the announcement and told me that the incoming critically ill patient was a small child, probably a baby. We said a quiet prayer
Soon there was a storm of activity of rushing feet, urgent commands that nearly muffled the wailing of the mother of the child. However, almost as quickly, it was silent againsort of an eerie hush. So I decided to leave our room to see what was happening. As I approached our old room, the curtain was pulled back just far enough for me to see him
a little baby boy no more than 6 months old laying on an oversized gurney. He just looked adorable laying there. He had the cutest little face with a small tuft of blond hair tumbling gently on his forehead. And, he looked so peacefulalmost as if he was sleepingbut he wasnt
his day had been interrupted.
Its been a long time since I have been this close to someone who was dead. And, I have never been this close to a death so quick and so young. It was really difficult to take it all in and I could not help but to think back to how my day started and the interrupting call that I received
and the one that the father of this little boy received. Like me, I am sure that he had a day planned with lots of important stuff too. Now, he had to come to terms with a painful loss, an interruption of life-changing proportion.
Over the years, I have been fond of reminding dadsrather tongue in cheekthat what makes you a dad is that you have kids. Otherwise, youre just a guy. But I had not really thought about what it means to be a dad in this situation. How does one view his identity as a father in light of the death of his child, especially one so young? Does one wrestle with a sense that he is now a dad in name only? I dont know.
But I do know a few things for sure. First, 6 months, 6 weeks, 6 days, 6 minutes and 6 seconds before this father received the call, he had hopes and dreams of many firsts to share with his son that will never happen. Second, I know first hand as a father that despite the joy and blessing that babies are, at times, they place demands on us and they often interrupt our sleep, our plans and our life. Finally, I know that this father, as he cradles his little guy in his arms for the very last time, will look into his sons face and think
I would give just about anything for another chance to pardon his interruptions.
Relationships. Families. Those are the casualties of war that you don't see in the news everyday.
USA Today had an insightful, emotional article today - Troops' Families Feel Weight of War.
It profiles several different families as they struggle to reintegrate after not just one, but several deployments.
NFI and Lockheed Martin's 2009 Military Fatherhood Awardee, QMC John Lehnen of the U.S. Navy, said something so telling at this year's award ceremony
: The hardest part...when you're gone...your family grows without you...you come home to strangers.
That's exactly what this article is saying. One of the military fathers profiled is having a hard time reconnecting to his teenage son, and his son is acting out:
Scott, at 15, says his dad still seems to treat him like the 12-year-old he was before the last combat tour.
He says he loves his father and is proud of his military service but feels distant from him and often finds it easier to just leave the house and go skateboarding...
One a recent Sunday, before his father left on a trip, Scott suddenly threw his arms around his dad and hugged. "I didn't know what to do," Mark says. Father and son had shed that kind of physical affection one or two combat tours ago. "I lost that connection," Mark concedes.
Military families sacrifice so much for our freedom, both on and off the combat field. After the war in Iraq started, NFI developed a suite of resources specifically for military dads, to make sure they are able to reconnect with their kids. And the response we've had to these resources is overwhelming - the Deployed Fathers and Families Guide
is being used by ten of thousands of families in all branches of our armed forces. You can learn more at www.fatherhood.org/military
There is hope; these families show an amazing resillience and commitment to making it work. And, if these families can make it work, almost anyone can.
In this piece from the Wall Street Journal
, General Electric CEO, Jack Welch, pulls no punches in telling working moms that if they choose to spend more time with their families, they are likely giving up the highest levels of career advancement. Thus, he says, there is no such thing as work-family balance, only work-family choices.
He makes some valid points, but he takes his argument to an extreme and among the things he leaves out of his analysis is the fact that working fathers are equally susceptible to being left back for not being there "in the clutch, as he puts it.
In fact, working fathers who spend "too much time" with their families may be even more stigmatized than working mothers, as it is less expected of them to leave work early for the ballet recital.
Do you think Welch's views are representative of today's corporate CEOs, or is he part of the old guard, being replaced by a younger generation of corporate leaders who are more attuned to the work-family balance needs of both men and