The Platform Is Burning
In the Beginning
Tom made me pick up cigarette butts off the bowling alley floor. At 16, he was my first boss, and after I finished my work programming the automatic scoring machines, he’d find something – anything – else for me to do. Later, as an entrepreneur, when I hired my first employees, I thought, “I may not know how to be a good boss, but I DO know how NOT TO BE a bad one”. The same thoughts coursed through my brain when I was about to become a parent. Of course I wanted to be an amazing dad, and while I wasn’t quite sure how, I knew I wasn’t going to make all those mistakes that my parents made.
So, after 15 harmonious, perfectly synchronous, yin-yang years together, Linda and I became parents. After the baby bliss, we re-entered the stream of life, and I settled into my role as Dad. That is when I noticed something strange happening that I didn’t expect.
Dad? Is that you?
As the kids’ needs naturally shifted from maternal toward paternal, my parenting role expanded accordingly. And while we were still awash in magic moments and the wonders of childhood, like all families, there was conflict. That is precisely when my own dad would appear, out of nowhere, 20 years after he died. After countless internal monologues about my dad’s own limitations and shortcomings as a parent, I found myself following that same path, even saying exactly what he would have said in the same situation. On occasion, I’d have the clarity to recognize the origin of what I had just said, but more often than not, it was brought to my awareness via my wife, who’d give me one of those where-did-THAT-come-from kind of looks. I knew that look, of course, because I shared those with her as well, during some of her less than stellar parenting moments.
So we didn’t see eye-to-eye on everything. This was new to us, actually, but we found out that it wasn’t exclusive to us. We met other parents experiencing the same struggles that we were having, so we formed a parenting book club. Yes, there is a never-ending gaggle of books that defend the disciplinarian, authoritarian approach to parenting, but our group was enlightened. We wanted to parent differently than our own parents. We wanted to parent consciously. Our first selection was a book called Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves. We met monthly, discussing the book, but mostly sharing the personal trials (and mistrials) of our experiences. We swapped parenting tools (answers), and congratulated each other when something “worked”. By the end of the book, I realized that author’s position was basically this: Your child is perfect, it’s YOU who are screwing this up!” Wait….What?!? We picked a new book. Then another. Then a third. Each book we read, however, performed a jiu-jitsu move on us, deftly tricking us into a bunch of self-work that might (or might not?) lead us in the direction that the author connoted. Not good enough. We needed answers. The club disbanded.
Father Knows Best….Right?
The parenting struggles continued, of course, and while I stubbornly clung to what I thought was best, Linda continued to read various books on her own. When she’d share a particular passage with me that gave her an “ah-ha!” moment, I’d find myself saying things like, “C’mon, when I was a kid __ (fill in the blank)_ , and I turned out all right.”
The questions I didn’t ask were:
- DID I turn out all right?
- If in fact I did, was it because of, or in spite of my upbringing?
- Did my kids deserve a better version of me than they were getting?
While I mulled over these philosophical heavyweights for a few precious moments (Answers: Hell yeah, in Spite of, and Of Course), Linda kept digging. Over a year later, her digging led her to become a Certified Parent Coach. During and since that time, I had the unique opportunity to see the juxtaposition of (my) old ways and (her) new ways in action. Her approach, while sounding ideal on paper, was so radically different than my “instincts”, that this caused a lot of friction in our home. Over time however, it became apparent to me that what she was doing was actually working, and not in the manipulative “working” way that I sought in book club. She was responding to the kids, rather than reacting, which was my pattern. Each time there was struggle or conflict (before I needed to step in and do it “my” way), Linda’s methods would not only resolve the issue, but leave everyone feeling better, while teaching the kids how to resolve it on their own next time. As a result, she developed a closer relationship with the kids, and they began responding to her. Conflicts and struggles dropped off precipitously, and when they do arise they are ultimately viewed as a learning opportunity rather than a mine in a minefield to be avoided at all costs.
My Platform Is Burning
On the downside however, my own relationship with my kids was beginning to stagnate. I may not have been growing apart from them, but with Linda so much closer to them, I felt distant – like an outsider in my own home. While it was clear that what I was doing wasn’t effective in comparison, I didn’t have the tools to handle things they way Linda now instinctively did. In business, this is called a Burning Platform – when it becomes clear that continuing your current methods will certainly end with tragic results, yet you have neither a plan nor the knowledge to make a transition to whatever is next. You burn or you jump. Linda was Netflix. I was Blockbuster.
So, here I am, alone on my platform. I’m grateful for the awareness of the fire (after all, it was burning before, I just didn’t see the flames), but also grateful that somewhere down there, through the smoke, my wife and kids are holding the net for me to jump into.
Here I come babies…