When I was living and working in Europe, I had an experience that truly affected me. It was April 1995 and my wife and daughter Kelly were in the United States to celebrate Easter with family and friends. For some long-forgotten reason, I felt I needed to stay in Europe due to work issues. If you were to hold a gun to my head today and demand that I tell you what those oh so important issues were, I would not be able to give you the slightest hint. But at the time, they seemed pressing. So, I stayed in Europe while my wife and daughter were in Florida, visiting family.
I will never forget the trans-Atlantic conversation with my Kelly that Easter evening. I asked her about her Easter basket and egg hunt. She was so cute, excited and into it. She told me about coloring the eggs, how the Easter Bunny had taken them and hidden them in the back yard and how she and her grandpa had to find them all. They were hidden under shrubs, patio furniture, in the lawn, etc.
As I hung up the phone and I sat there in our empty silent home in Holland, all by myself, with no one around, no Easter dinner, no sounds of family, no laughter, no Kelly showing and sharing her Easter basket with me, the thought hit me:
Art, you will NEVER get this moment back. It is gone forever. Your daughter will never again do another Easter egg hunt while six years old. Poof. It is gone. You blew it big-time.
The sadness I felt was heartbreakingly real. Being alone was suffocating, as if the walls themselves were collapsing in on me. No matter how bad I felt or how badly I wanted to right the wrong, I could never get that day back — it was done. I remember mentally taking note of my feelings and vowing to do better.
Art, what are you doing? How are you spending your time? If she is important to you why are you sitting in Holland, in a cold empty house? If she is important, you will do what is necessary to be with her. But today, you used a pathetic excuse and excuses do not change results.
Fast forward about 20 years into the future.
I have four children, not just one. They each have their own unique and enchanting interests, personalities and talents. My youngest is Mary Ashely Coombs (aka Mac). Before she could walk, I could tell she was going to be the animal whisperer in the family. If it is furry and has four legs, Mac knows its language.
Annually, Mac and I will haul our horses south to what I call their horse-y winter resort. I will explain to my daughter that the horses like it down south more in the winter. They have furry friends down there and the weather is so much more agreeable. Both are true.
But you want to know the real reason? Selfishly, I am too much of a pansy to feed and muck in the snowy, frigid, dark, winter-y mornings. So south they go.
This is always a sad day for my Mac because it means no more riding for about five months.
The other day, I had the farrier coming to pull their shoes and trim their hoofs before we loaded and hauled them down to horse heaven. With the autumn weather turning brisk and the days getting shorter and shorter, there are fewer and fewer good days to ride. With my daughter in school and my busy work schedule, we are often limited to weekends.
So, serious time management is needed to maximize the gorgeous fall mountain colors if we want to enjoy the horse’s clip-clop as they cart us up a Rocky Mountain trail.
One of my favorite concepts about time management is encapsulated in a speech by Dallin Oaks titled “Good, Better, Best.” Basically, there are plenty of good ways to spend your time, but is there a better and perhaps even a best way to spend your time.
With that thought in mind, I called the farrier and pushed back our appointment to the afternoon. I then surprised Mac by telling her she was not going to go to school in the morning. And that I was not going to go to work, but rather, we were going to take in one more ride this year.
She was so excited and beamed from ear to ear. Now, we could all agree that school for my daughter and work for me are “good” ways to spend our time, maybe even a “better” way to spend our time. But for me at that moment, it was not the “best” way to spend our time.
Instead, she and I were going to go on one last daddy daughter ride before we take the equestrian pilgrimage down south. She was ecstatic. One might think that it is the fact that she was going to miss school that created her excitement. Perhaps this played a small role, but I promise, the excitement was much more about riding her horse with dad than missing school for a few hours.
So, we haltered and loaded the horses in the trailer, let the dogs jump in the back of the truck and then we were ready to go. Before we pulled out of the driveway, I asked Mac if she had a destination she wanted to ride one last time that year. She thought for a moment and then said she wanted to to go to “Chicken Ranch.” This is a favorite trail that starts at the base of Utah’s Mount Timpanogos and gradually climbs higher, overlooking the valley below. It is a scenic ride and easy on the horses and dogs.
After parking at the trail head, we unloaded, brushed and saddled our mounts. Mac jumped on her paint she affectionately calls Splash, and I swung myself into my big quarter horses saddle and up the trail we rode.
The weather was perfect, the fall colors vibrant, the horses calm, responsive, ready and willing. Our two golden retrievers Buddy and Piper seemed to be smiling with their tongues hung out and their tails wagging from side to side as they darted off into the brush and scrub oak, rousting birds and other varmints as they tagged along behind us.
One of my favorite aspects of riding our horses with my daughter is the time we have to talk. For some reason, she will verbally open up on various subjects that are often considered taboo any other time. There is an easiness about the time we share together. Perhaps it is the mesmerizing motion of the horses as they lumber up the trail. Perhaps it is the tranquility of nature that we feel when hearing the creek babble alongside of us, or maybe the rustling of the yellow, orange and red aspen leaves that line the path. Whatever it is, we just seem to ease into conversation and topics that would never happen any other time.
Now, we could debate long and hard regarding my decision to, again, place my daughter and one last ride higher on the priority list than school and work. But I assure you that if you ask Mac in 20 years what she learned in school on Oct 26, 2016, she would not be able to tell you a single thing. There would be no math enlightenment that changed her life, no English rule taught that helped her get accepted to Harvard, no science lesson learned that helped her solve global warming.
Nope — none of that happened. She would have recalled little to nothing from school that day.
However, if you asked her in 20 years what she learned on Oct 26, 2016, she will tell you that she learned that her dad wants to spend time with her and will place that at a higher priority than work or school.
She will tell you she learned how much her dad loves her.
What school lesson could possibly be more important? The lesson that her father will move heaven and earth to make her happy, keep her safe and wants to be with her is truly the “best” tutorial that could ever have been taught that day.
Now, what about my work? Did the company fall into the abyss because of my absence?
Not even close. Me closing another deal, editing another presentation or reviewing financial statements can wait.
When I first moved to Holland, a close Dutch friend reminded me that in much of Europe, people work to live, while in the United States, many live to work. There is a big difference. It can be cliché but needs to be repeated time and time again.
When you are near the end of your time here on earth you will not grieve losing a deal, perfecting a product or seeing another client. Yet, you will sorrow over time not spent with those you love.
Our children do not want the nicer car, bigger house or lavish vacations. They want our time.
Words are woefully inadequate to describe the joy this father fills when he sees a heartfelt, eternally happy smile on his daughter’s face. It truly overwhelms me and my heart wants to burst.
There is absolutely no defense in my playbook that is not utterly vulnerable to hearing my kids laugh or seeing them smile. The joy I feel is indescribable.
The contentment in Mac’s smile that day mirrored the contentment in my heart. My life is in utter harmony and balance when my life is filled with my children and their joy. Their joy is my joy and therefore I exist.
I feel most fulfilled, humble and balanced when I am physically close to my kids and I can tickle their back, tease them with a silly dad dance, hear them giggle and laugh, share with them my twisted sense of humor and watch them smile and love each other.
These are the times I live for. These are the moments I like to snap mental pictures in my mind so I can recall them in the future and resurrect those warm, peaceful feelings of heavenly joy.
Here is a promise. My father taught it to me and I will teach it to you. Every unselfish minute we spend with our children, from newborn to adult, will stay with them for life.
An ancient Greek philosopher once said, “time is the most valuable thing a man can spend.” If that is the case, we need to make absolutely sure we are spending our greatest resource (our time) on our greatest asset (our family).
I utterly blew it with my eldest daughter Kelly on that Easter Sunday back in 1995. While I am not perfect, I would like to believe that I am improving at this good, better best time management concept.
Now, test it and see for yourself. I dare you! Take a morning off work, unexpectedly pull your child out of school and go do something that they LOVE doing. Watch their smile and feel the love in your heart swell.
It will not be good, it will not be better, but it will be the best way you could possibly spend your time.Tags: Art Coombs, Chicken Ranch, Dallin Oaks, dogs, Don't Just Manage -- LEAD!, Dutch, Easter, Europe, global warming, Harvard, Holland, horses, leadership, Mac Coombs, Timpanogos, United States
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This post was written by Art