Advocate Reveals Ways to Be A Better Father in Trying Times
Tom Watson knows what it’s like not to have time to spend with his family.
“My wife and my sons would ask me to come and spend time with them and I would often use the line ‘We’ll see’ or ‘Maybe later’ as a way of answering them and then I would head to my office to carry on with my work. I felt that if I could just get ahead on my work, I could get out and spend time with my wife and play with my kids. The problem was that work just kept building and so did the pressure to provide for my family. I would rarely find the time to be there for them.
”Then one day my boys and I were having lunch together and my oldest son Brad asked me if I’d join them outside after lunch for a game of street hockey. I answered him as I had grown accustomed with, ‘We’ll see.’ I finished my lunch and headed to my home office to get back to work when I realized I had left my cell phone on the kitchen counter. I was on my way back to the kitchen to retrieve my phone when I ran upon a conversation between my boys that stopped me dead in my tracks. My middle son, Kelly, was talking to Brad and his words thundered in my ears. ‘Brad! Dad’s not coming out. He always says ‘we’ll see’ and he never comes and plays. He’s too busy and he’s no fun anymore.’
“As I stood there frozen in the hallway, it was like a knife had pierced my heart. There I was, working hard to build my business trying to provide for my family, thinking I was doing the right thing. What I realized in that moment was that I was losing touch with my family! I wasn’t the husband or the father I had been to my family in the past. I had become obsessed with trying to build a company to pay the bills and I was foregoing family time to make that happen. What I realized in that instance was that my sons didn’t care about my work – they just wanted their dad to be there for them like he used to be. They wanted some of my time – they needed my time and so did my wife!
“With the economy as tight as it is, I know that I’m not the only father who has or is struggling to balance work life with personal life. These days, many fathers are either unemployed and working hard to find work or they are working multiple jobs in a global workplace just to make ends meet. Because of this, family time is limited and I often believe men just aren’t in the mood for family because they are despondent or feeling helpless as a provider.”
But, it doesn’t have to be that way, according to Watson, author of the autobiographical Man Shoes: The Journey to Becoming a Better Man, Husband & Father . Watson’s tips for dads in a tough economy include:
- Share Time – Don’t spend time with your family. Too often I would say, “I have to spend time with my family.” What that term made it sound like to them was that I was begrudgingly stopping work to spend time with them. I realized I needed to reframe what I needed to do and so I began to say instead, “I need to share time with them.” Sharing indicates that everyone is going to get something out of that time. It’s a more positive way of thinking about being with your family. It’s important for your wife and your kids to know that you aren’t paying attention to them out of obligation, but rather, because you need to be with them as much as they need to be with you.
- Make a Schedule – Stability and security are important. So set up a time throughout the week that is meant just for your family, and do your best to make that time on your calendar immovable. It has to be HIGH PRIORITY! Give them something they can look forward to on a regular basis and it will show them how important they are to you. If you follow through on this simple action, I have found that it can help you build a trusting relationship with the people who need you most – your family.
- A Little Quality Time is Better Than No Time – If you’re working long hours, forced to work multiple jobs or work out of town and commute home on weekends, your family will be much more understanding if you ensure you block out a couple of hours every week for them. As long as you keep to the schedule and don’t let them down, that time will be as valuable as if you spent the entire weekend with them. The key is to BE THERE in body and in mind during those family times. Shut off your cell phone, shut down your computer and realize that whatever is going on in your work world will be alright; it can wait to be dealt with until after you have shared time with you family. The fact is that if your family life is in order, you’re likely going to be in a better place mentally and emotionally to deal with your work life. Success at home generally leads to greater success at work and vice versa.
- Don’t Plan Big – Husbands/fathers who work a lot sometimes feel guilty about neglecting their families and they cater to that guilt by trying to create big moments. They feel that doing something lavish and expensive will somehow be seen as a payback to their wives or kids for not sharing time with them. There are many pitfalls to this including increased financial strain and the impossibility of sustaining these types of MAKE UP moments long-term. The truth is, for the most part, your spouse and kids don’t really care about the extravagant moments. More often than not, the extravagant moments are fleeting fun. It’s the little moments that happen every week that bond the family together. Things as simple as going for a walk, flying kites at the park, playing games, eating brown bag lunches together and listening to your family members talk to you about their lives are often the things that mean the most to your family. Those are the mortar moments that hold all the major bricks of your family’s life in place. Without those moments, I have found my personal and professional worlds begin to crumble. So make sure you spend time culturing the mortar moments weekly with your wife and your children.
“Life is a choice and the person you choose to be is in your control. No matter the hand you may have been dealt, there are no excuses,” Watson added. “I grew up as an orphan and I acted out a lot, because I lacked the guidance of a family until I was finally taken in by the Watsons,” he said. “And even when I found stability with the Watsons, it took some time for me to settle down. Having shoes on my feet, clothes on my back and food on the table were all good things, but it wasn’t those things that soothed me as a child. It was the time, love and attention I received from Mr. and Mrs. Watson, their family and friends that put me back on course. That’s what I believe every child needs; that’s what I believe our spouses need, and in fact that is what we as men need to be successful. While it may seem to some men that working hard to provide for their families is their primary responsibility, that’s just not so. Children are adaptable and can do without material things more easily than they can do without the love and attention of their parents. If my experience meant anything to me, it showed me that being a dad is far more than just being able to bring home the bacon. It’s not enough to just do for your family – you have to be with them, too.”
Tom Watson is a survivor of child abuse, upheaval and 13 foster homes, so he learned how to overcome adversity at an early age. Later in life, Tom was faced with heartbreaking tragedies which threatened to destroy him. He drew from previous life lessons to persevere and show that new beginnings are possible at any age or stage of life - no matter what obstacles get in the way. These principles and their applications are chronicled in his new book Man Shoes: The Journey to Becoming a Better Man, Husband & Father (www.manshoes.net).