The amazing lessons I learned from his mum
There is no doubt that the past year or two has seen a long overdue public discussion about the role of women in our society, highlighting the biases that all men, including myself, have helped perpetuate. Having been raised through my formative years by a single mother, I had always considered myself to be respectful and supportive of the women in my life and I feel I have actively tried to remove gender as an influence in any of my professional evaluations. I have however come to realise that some of my assumptions and language required correction and I am grateful to those who have provided this valuable feedback.
While I feel strongly about this issue, I have left public discussion exactly where it belongs, in the voices and actions of the many strong women who have created such incredible momentum on the issue. It is only as my wife and I welcome our son into the world that I feel that I have something of value to contribute.
The role of fathers is such an important influence on the future behaviour of their children, but this is especially true for boys. Although my father was not in my life, I had exceptional male role models and their influence is reflected in my values, choices and actions every day. So I would like to share this letter in the hope that it helps my son in the same way.
"You know your children are growing up when they stop asking you where they came from and refuse to tell you where they’re going." - P. J. O’Rourke
As I look at you nestled in the arms of your mother, forming your first thoughts about the world around you, I feel compelled by an urgency to tell you everything that I have learned, every mistake I have made and all the things I would do if I was starting over. I’m also acutely aware in this moment of how arrogant that thought is.
Instead, I’d like to share with you some of the lessons I have learned from your amazing mother and why we are both so lucky to have such a strong, intelligent and compassionate woman in our lives. One who has navigated the challenges of pregnancy and childbirth with grace and determination that is well beyond me, while showing leadership and empathy in perfect measures to all of those around her.
The 10 Year Challenge gives us a useful time frame for collective self-reflection, long enough to see meaningful change and share in a moment of presence, yet not long enough to overwhelm our capacity to contain our emotions and trigger flight from reality, and avoidance that there are serious issues which are not just going to go away.
As you grow into a young man you will make choices about how you treat, communicate with and form relationships with others and I hope you can define some value from these lessons.
I used this word many many times before I truly understood it’s meaning. I have often spoken with no other purposes than to demonstrate my own importance or to highlight my achievements. The reality is that recognition is most powerful when provided unsolicited by others. When you lead by example and through your actions without a personal agenda you will find the greatest fulfilment.
Be comfortable being you
I wish I could harness the energy I have expelled worrying about how others would view me, as I could have powered a small city. Learn to measure yourself against your own values, intellect and the people you care about most. You may not realise it, but the compromises you make to fit in will be the hardest to unwind, extending the time it will take to find comfort and confidence in yourself. One of the things that draw people to your mum is her unwavering authenticity and an unwillingness to change herself in any situation.
Be the role model your children deserve. Kids learn by watching their parents. Modeling appropriate, respectful, good behavior works much better than telling them what to do.
Save conflict for the things that matter
It would be unrealistic for me to suggest that you should avoid conflict, as it is present in almost all of our relationships at some point. While conflict is important in creating binary moments in the path to resolution, this is only true when it is the last resort. Don’t allow arguing or fighting to become a regular occurrence. These moments feel uncomfortable because they should be. Be open, honest and willing to listen and save your outside voice and furrowed brow for the causes that are worth fighting for.
Never be cruel
You may have an image of cruelty in your mind, perhaps harming an animal or forcing someone to work in appalling conditions and it is easy to agree not to behave in that way, but cruelty takes many forms. Whenever you take an action that has the sole purpose of hurting, insulting, belittling or suppressing, you are being cruel. These moments are the ones that weigh heaviest on us when the emotion has subsided and the implications or our actions are clear. Take these opportunities to educate and inspire and create a positive experience in a negative moment. In all the time I have known your mum, I have never seen her act with the sole intent to hurt and this is a virtue that I both aspire to and fail at regularly.
Be the glue
One of the things I admire most about your mum is her ability to bring together diverse groups of people in the most natural way. She has taught me that relationships are not something to be owned, but to be nourished and shared. We all have the power to be a unifying force and to help others find common interests and common ground. I have too often been a passive member of my social circle and missed the opportunity to break down the subtle barriers that we come across every day. This ability to be the glue is leadership in its most fundamental form and an enormously fulfilling trait to have.
But perhaps the most important lesson I can share with you is also the simplest. Whenever you are in doubt….
Be more like your mum
I know you will draw the same inspiration from her that I do each and every day.