On a beautiful Sunday morning in early April 1995, I was faced with making a seemingly difficult choice. Behind “door number one” was a once-in-a-lifetime package deal: an early morning private flight from Atlanta to Augusta to attend the final round of the Masters Tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club where I would stroll the fairways, mingle with VIPs while gawking at world-renowned golfers, and witness the donning of the famed Green Jacket. Behind “door number two” was a totally different option: a playoff t-ball game followed by a family day with my wife, daughter, and energetic 6-year-old who presumably was a rising major leaguer. I carefully weighed the options before I made my decision…
In 2003 my siblings and I made arrangements to celebrate our parents’ 50th wedding anniversary with a family cruise. Only seventy at the time, my father was just beginning his protracted battle with Parkinson’s’ disease, while my mother had not yet begun to struggle with the various ailments that have plagued her in recent years. A cruise was the perfect choice for our celebration as it accommodated the various needs of three generations – ages twelve to seventy – including dining, entertainment, relaxation, and age-appropriate activities. The trip proved to be the one-and-only-time my family vacationed together. One of my brothers, however, elected not to join us with his wife and children. While his reasons still are not fully understood, their absence caused an effect.
These two situations depict examples of choices that are made daily. Choices that highlight what is or what is not important. A myriad of “little decisions” like these add up and shape the life we live; they mold the person we become. Time and again, I can remember saying some form of “let’s wait until…” or “it will be a better time when…” as I was confronted with making decisions to take vacations, make visits to family, take time off work to be with my children, etc. Many times these options were deferred with the confidence that there would be another chance in the near future.
As our children advanced from elementary to high school, my wife and I faced various junctures in our respective careers. For her, the path led from a decade in corporate America to another with the freedom — and responsibility — that comes with being a small business owner. During that same era, I went through a string of positions within a fast-growing high tech company; evidence of the “Peter Principle” at work – being promoted to a new level of incompetence each time I finally began to assume command over the role I was in. Tensions were often high at home as we strove to find balance between career achievements, healthy family relationships, and just getting daily stuff done. As my wife developed the courage and insight to make career choices that enabled her to keep everything moving forward at home, I racked up some serious international frequent flyer miles.
John Lennon is often credited with saying “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” Shortly before the 2003 family cruise, I found myself “seeking new opportunities” for the first time in my adult life. Removed from the hamster wheel of work, I became a present and functioning member of our family. I began doing some light consulting, an even lighter job search, and I enrolled in a Wednesday morning Jewish Studies course with my wife. The Wednesday classes went on for over a year; each of which was followed by lunch with my wife to discuss the religious, ethical, historical, and behavioral topics that were covered. Our relationship regained the strength that had diminished over the prior years. During this transitional time, I also was able to follow through on carpool commitments, attend school activities, and I rarely missed a baseball, basketball or soccer game. Though I lamented the uncertainty of being between jobs, I had a sudden dose of what I had been missing over the years. As I joined a start-up, and later took an executive role in a public company, I looked back jealously at that short period of time when my priorities were flipped. In fact, some of my best memories came during that time while I was busily making plans for my next career move. I had no idea how fast it would go by.
The Jewish sage, Hillel, emphasizes the Jewish perspectives on not delaying action. “If not now, when” (Pirkei Avot, 1:14) and “Say not: when I have time I will study because you may never have the time” (Pirkei Avot, 2:5). It took a while, but I finally learned that you never really know if a moment will come again. Therefore, Carpe Diem.
Since the 2003 family cruise, my parents’ lives have changed dramatically. My father is wheelchair-bound, immobilized, and usually disconnected from his surroundings as a result of the onward progression of his disease. My mother now faces a litany of health issues; living independently, but living a life considerably different from any she may have envisioned. However, we still have wonderful images from that cruise – on paper and in our minds – of the few days we all spent together making memories. We, and I’m sure my brother, just didn’t realize that this opportunity would never happen again.
These experiences helped me shape a goal for the next phase of my life: I want to teach my grandchildren how to ski. While neither of my children is married and no grandchildren are on the near horizon, this simple goal highlights several important points. First, to achieve it I will need to be healthy enough to still enjoy the beauty, cold, and physical challenges of the mountains. Second, my children (and their significant others and their children) will have to agree to participate! (Though I’m supposedly a much nicer, more fun person to be with in the mountains.) And lastly, but not insignificantly, I will need financial resources and time to make these meaningful family trips possible. So, I now find myself doing what it takes to stay fit, clear-headed, and focused; build and maintain close relationships with my young adult children; and work smart to position myself to be on the ski slopes when I’m in my sixties and seventies.
I don’t remember which team won the t-ball game in 1995, but I know I made the right decision by being there. I’ve never made it to the Masters, and I can’t tell you who won that Year. But, I actually do remember eating pizza with my family that evening, sitting outdoors and watching the setting sun, listening to and laughing at a six-year-old’s perspective on the world. And, I also recall jealously eyeing the couple at the next table that was wearing green Masters hats.