By Darrell Brown
The clock on the wall was just about to tick over to 3pm. Most guys I knew didn’t finish work until at least five; some didn’t get home until after seven. I was sitting in a boardroom listening to two men talk about the long hours they had been working.
One was sharp and young, a partner in an advertising agency I was doing some work for. The other was his client, the chief executive of a company that manufactures kitchen stoves and associated appliances.
The chief executive mentioned he had been starting work before 6am and not getting home until after 8pm. Not to be outdone, my agency friend explained that not only had he been working similar hours but he was also taking work home with him that he continued after dinner.
You could see they both wore their long hours as some sort of badge of honour.
My silence in these conversations probably said more than any words could. Instead, my thoughts drifted off in the direction of my two boys and what they might be doing right now without me. I looked across at the chief executive and saw a picture of his family next to the computer on his desk. His wife had given him five beautiful children. Knowing how much time I spent with my two boys, I knew that five must have been a big responsibility. I wondered if he knew his children as well as he knew his business.
My agency friend was also married and had two young children of his own. He had arrived that morning in his new two-door silver sports car. I had asked him somewhat jokingly how he managed to squeeze his two kids into the back seat. He had replied with a smile: “Only just!” I remember thinking how difficult it would be for their little faces to peer out of those tiny windows — the world rushing by and no way to see it.
Sadly, today many men are becoming more detached from their children when they are needed more than ever.
So many men now put corporate success before their family.
Somewhere, our culture took a turn down the wrong path, and I think we’re way past that point when we should all realise we are going the wrong way.
The clock moved towards 3.15pm, signalling my favourite time of day. I loved being home when the boys arrived back from school. It’s an experience shared by only a small group of extremely fortunate fathers. I could always hear their footsteps as they came running down the driveway and along the side of the house. If I timed it right, I could walk out of my office just as they ran straight into my arms.
“Daddy! Daddy!” they would scream. Their small, lightly framed bodies would catapult forward and collide into mine with a thud. Of course, it wasn’t the force of their little bodies that hit me; it was the power of love deep inside. Who would have thought love could be so strong?
It’s funny how nature can sometimes become a metaphor for your own life.
Sitting outside on the back porch one night, I found myself staring at a couple of moths dancing around a light globe. The moths appeared totally mesmerised by the light, the warmth, the brightness and the glow. They would leave the light momentarily to venture off into the darkness, only to return quickly and slam right back into the shining globe.
That was me. I was the light … and my boys were the moths.
If there’s anything more powerful in this world than the love you feel for your children, I haven’t discovered it yet. As with all experiences, you can’t feel anyone else’s love, just your own. Someone can tell you how much they love you, but all you can ever feel is the love you have in return. Since the boys gave me the opportunity to feel the deepest love imaginable, it felt natural to want to spend most of my waking hours around them.
To love this deeply is to find your life’s purpose. Anything beyond that is a bonus, and can only ever take second place. Even finding a cure for cancer wouldn’t measure up. Perhaps if we all could experience a love this pure, there wouldn’t be any cancer.
As a freelance cameraman, I usually would average about three to four days’ work a week. I liked it because I could make a good wage and still have plenty of time to spend with the family. Some people used to ask me why I didn’t start my own production company or expand my talents into other areas.
The truth is, I could never think of anything to do with my time that would be more valuable than being with my boys. Sure, the extra money would have been nice. But at the end of the day it seemed so insignificant compared with the responsibility I had taken on as a father. Many years stretched ahead of me, years in which I could make money. But time with our children is lost with every passing day. Besides, I had never heard of any father lying on his deathbed saying, “If only I’d had made more money.” More often than not, their biggest regret was that they didn’t spend more time with their children.
Now going on 16, my boys will soon be getting their driver’s licences and heading off on their own life journeys. The tiny frail bodies, so soft and subtle as little children, are now tall, strong and hardened with time. However, although their external frames have changed greatly, I feel their hearts have remained the same.
As their father, I still hug them as tightly now as I did back then. A handshake just won’t do. I still kiss them goodnight and tell them how much I love them, every day.
Those big bright eyes and beautiful smiles still remind me how lucky I am to be a dad. I know I can’t get back those early years: changing their nappies and washing those tiny little bums; waking up on Christmas morning to see if Santa and his reindeer had come; climbing up into the tree house and watching the world go by; hearing them coming home from school and then feeling them thunder into my arms.
Even today, I can still hear the distant echoes of laughter from Cody and Taylor, chasing each other down the hallway as fast as their little legs could take them. I can see it as clearly as if it all happened just yesterday. Is this what lies ahead for us? In some ways it doesn’t seem fair.
They say we hold our children’s hands for a while but hold their hearts for eternity. This thought warms my own heart and allows me to breathe a bit easier. I think of the many great years ahead and the possibility of grandchildren. Surely I will still have much to contribute as a grandfather? Maybe that’s another book. One I have yet to live.
I dearly hope that in raising our boys the way we did, Jules and I have given them both a childhood voice that will serve them well in later life. There are no guarantees, but perhaps the constant loving voices of an adoring mother and a strong emotionally available doting father will be enough. As parents, Jules and I were more than happy to be their “best bet”.
I think of two little boys with voices screaming as they ran towards me crying, “Daddy’s home! Daddy’s home!” and how those little voices inspired me to live the greatest life I could.
As a father of two young boys, I did my best to examine my own childhood and look at the things that didn’t work. I am now grateful for all those experiences, and at the same time I have made a conscious choice to change the things that didn’t work. In the end, it’s not what happens to us in life that counts, but how we deal with it. As new parents, we not only have the responsibility but also the opportunity to make sure our own children have the greatest start to life we can give them. Mostly, this comes from bathing them in unconditional love.
Edited extract from Raised By Our Childhood Voices: One Father’s Journey to Raise Confident, Connected, Compassionate Boys, by Darrell Brown.