Athlete: Daddy's Home at Last
From Mike Singletary's Daddy's Home at Last
Among problems confronting America today, one of the most serious, with the most dire and lasting consequences, is the breakdown of the family unit. And families, in the majority of cases, have become fractured, split, and twisted horribly out of shape because daddy’s not home.
He’s either away on a business trip or working late at the office. He’s gone to the country club to sharpen his golf swing or he’s meeting his buddies at the local bar for drinks after work. Maybe he’s meeting with a headhunter about a new career opportunity or doing some industry networking that might lead to an attractive job offer.
Perhaps daddy had to take his best clients to the Bulls game or the Cubs game or the Bears game or the Black Hawks game. There’s always a game going on, no matter what time of year, which explains why some men tend to regard ESPN sports casters as members of their extended family.
None of these choices are bad in and of themselves. But if dad’s actions are not balanced against his children’s needs, if they do not meet family rules and guidelines and, most critically, if they don’t have mom’s support and consent, dad’s decisions about where and how he spends his time can deal a crushing blow to his family.
I know all about the time crunch dads face. As a corporate consultant and motivational speaker, I constantly face agonizing decisions about time management. Virtually every time I drive to O’Hare Airport in Chicago, on my way out of town for another speech or seminar, I’m tempted to ask: Should I stay or should I go?
A huge part of me wants to remain at our home in the Chicago suburbs with my wife, Kim, and our six children—Kristen, Matthew, Jill, Jackie, Brooke, and Becky. I desperately want to be at home from school and to spend the evening hours attending to our children’s needs, whatever they may be.
That’s not always possible, of course. My speaking schedule is such that I’m forced to spend more time away from my family than I would like. Which explains why I am conscious of making the most of the hours we’re together and why I am committed to being home in spirit even when I have to be away physically.
After my retirement from the Chicago Bears in 1992, as I began sorting through business opportunities associated with beginning a second career, I began traveling frequently. At some point, Kim, my darling wife, whom I married in 1984, realized that she had become angry and frustrated by being left home alone with our children so often. When Kim confronted me about her feelings, I registered my surprise.
“I hear you, honey,” I told her, “but don’t you see that I’m doing all this for you and the kids? I’m trying to give us security for the future. If you think I enjoy being away from the family so much, you’re mistaken. It eats a hole in my heart.”
Kim wasn’t buying any of that. “Don’t get hurt patting yourself on the back so hard,” she said. “We don’t need this big house and all the other stuff, Mike. What we need from you as a husband, father, and leader of this family is your presence and commitment. What we need from you is you.”
Kim’s stinging words filled me with shame. She forced me to take a closer look at our family situation. Our children were starting to grow up, developing their own personalities. They were full of energy, enthusiasm, and wide-eyed curiosity. They were also asking Mommy questions about where Daddy had gone and when he’d be back home.
I could see the concern reflected in Kim’s beautiful green eyes and hear it in her voice. “I appreciate what you’re trying to do for us, Mike,” she said, “but you have to realize I can’t raise these children alone. You talk all the time about wanting to have a great family, but just exactly how do you suppose that will happen if you’re not here for date night or family night or to pray with our children? We need you here for family meetings, to help with homework, and to help resolve conflicts. How are you going to manage to do all those things when you’re not at home?”
I stood mute, at a loss for words.
“We’re going to have to sit down together and work out a reasonable schedule for your business travel,” she said. “Either that, or this family will probably become just another statistic, another casualty of neglect.”
D.O.A. because Daddy’s Out Again.
“You know I’d never let that happen to us,” I interjected. “You and our children are the most important things in my life.”
“Well, maybe you should start demonstrating that in a different way,” Kim concluded. “And just remember this, Mike, everything else has a price, but time cannot be negotiated.”
By traveling so extensively and trying to keep so many business deals going, I had allowed myself to get caught up in trying to meet society’s definition of success. Not our own.
Kim and I have worked together closely ever since to conduct business with a minimum of stress and strain on our children. Kim helps me schedule appearances and coordinate travel plans so that I spend the fewest possible number of nights away from home. Even so, I probably sleep in a strange bed seventy-five or eighty nights a year. That’s too often.
I’ve come to realize how important it is for parents—especially dads—to slow down. The time crunch we all face as dads needs to be dealt with by putting family issues before career issues. We have to focus on our children’s needs and address their concerns. We need to reclaim them from the streets and back alleys, the shopping malls and video arcades, before it’s too late.