I’m big on being thoughtful. I believe that one of the most important things that we can do to improve our satisfaction with life in all of its facets is to be thoughtful. Being thoughtful can mean many things, like taking the time to say something nice or render a small act of service to another human being in the flow of a busy day. It can also mean being fully aware of the present moment to the extent that choices are evaluated before being enacted. As a Man of Style and Substance, I strive to be both.
And some days I fail. Miserably.
Today was one of those days.
In the interest of helping you to potentially avoid repeating my failure, let me share with you how it unfolded.
Without meaning to, our family morning routine has begun to include some less than helpful elements. My two youngest children, aged 16 and nearly 13, are slow to rise, grumpy and combative about almost everything. Getting up, eating breakfast, getting dressed, grooming for the day, gathering completed homework, being ready for the carpool, almost everything has become a battle. Some days, these battles are handled with grace and humor. Today it was for a while.
Then I blew it.
My daughter, expressing the angsty teenage comment of “I don’t see the point,” became the recipient of a flippant and poorly thought out remark. A remark that I instantly regretted, hastily corrected, and apologized for.
My daughter began moving, going through the rest of the morning, as did I. My son then became the target of my momentary thoughtlessness when I said, “Your sister is parroting your behavior; we have to change that.”
At that point I left for work.
And then I had a moment where I thought, “I wonder, what if that was the last thing that my son or daughter heard me say?” I then thought, “What if, at some difficult point in their lives, the thought I just gave them was the one that came back to their minds?”
I then had a thought that pushed me over the edge: “Is it possible they are both parroting your attitude?”
And I lost it.
I had to pull of the freeway. I began to sob, uncontrollably. I felt pain in my heart and mind, so deep and so crushing that I could not function. I cried and prayed and cried some more, and yet the sorrow lingered, indicting me with a view of myself as an awful example of parenthood. I sobbed even more, as I called my daughter to apologize. I told her over and over that I loved her, that I was sorry for being thoughtless, and that I hoped she could forgive me. I called my wife to apologize for allowing a moment of frustration to produce a thoughtless expression that was potentially hurtful to our lovely little girl. I continued to feel the sorrow of that moment as I apologized to my son for trying to make him the inspiration for her bad behavior. I apologized the the other children in the house, our adult children, who may have overheard the exchanges. Even now, the sorrow lingers.
If I am being honest, this type of sorrow, the sorrow of having let my guard down for a moment and, in the process, let down my wife and children by not being a man of Style and Substance, cuts deeper than any professional failures, any missed business opportunity, any lost revenue or unpurchased doo-dad, trinket or ticket. This hurt goes far deeper and will take me longer to recover from, I think, than almost anything else.
But luckily, it is beginning.
I am fortunate to have a loving wife who comforted me and helped me find some perspective. She reminded me that, while the moment was hurtful, it was tiny compared to the decade-plus of support, love and laughter that my children and I have shared. She reminded me that she sees the intention of my heart, and that a momentary loss of composure is not an invalidation of a lifetime spent showing love.
I took the time to reach out to both of my children, reminding them of my love for them, apologizing for my thoughtlessness, and asking for forgiveness; this is a strength we are hoping to help them learn, and I am not afraid to model it for them. So far, they are willing to look past my thoughtlessness this morning.
I made a decision, while sobbing on the side of the road, that I would examine my attitude. I made a decision to be more thoughtful about the way I face the morning, what thoughts I express, what type of example I give to my children of how to handle the challenge of daily life. I made a decision to be more thoughtful of my words, choosing them carefully, using words that uplift and encourage and never allowing flippant or destructive thoughts to be expressed. I made a decision to be just as firm in my requirements of them to get ready for school, but to be much more thoughtful as I spur them on to action.
As men of Style and Substance, let us each strive to be thoughtful. For the absence of thoughtfulness, at least in my case, was crippling sorrow. I would spare anyone that sorrow! Be thoughtful!
Go forth and conquer!