I think the comedian Jim Gaffigan phrased it best when he described what it was like to have his fourth child. He told the audience to close their eyes and imagine they were drowning… and “then someone hands you a baby.”
Being a parent at Wharton brings unique challenges and it is certainly easy to feel overwhelmed or underqualified, but I have learned some incredible lessons by having the title Dad that I think apply to each and every Wharton student. These are lessons or principles that each of us probably are familiar with, but ones that we too often forget or justify a deviated course of action.
I have the benefit and blessing of having three beautiful (they take after their mama) boys who help me relearn these lessons on a frequent basis. Charles and Clyde (identical 3 year old twins) and Thomas (1 year old), along with their mother Mary Martha, are the greatest accomplishments I have ever and will ever achieve. Their love, support and energy give me the courage to dream, the strength to pursue those dreams, and the love to accept whatever outcome comes our way.
While very few of you can relate to my experiences as a parent I believe the lessons I am continually being taught could help each of us live a more fulfilling, satisfying and joyful life. As anyone who has ever taken a class with me can attest: I don’t know much, but here is what I know and what my children have taught me.
Live in the moment
As a parent, one of the easiest traps to fall into is looking ahead. I frequently think “can’t wait until I don’t have to change another diaper” or “it will be so nice when I can throw the ball with my sons.” This is such a trap of parenthood and can cause you to miss out on the wonderful joy that each stage of a child’s life brings. Children will grow, develop, and carry on with their lives no matter what we do—so we might as well enjoy each stage as it happens. Each stage is unique with specific challenges but more importantly specific joys.
As Wharton students we are trained to look ahead. We think to ourselves, “I can’t wait until I reach some job title or a number on my paycheck.” It is so easy to look ahead. Those moments will come (we got into Wharton after all) but don’t let the drive and determination to get there stop you from enjoying the path along the way.
Mark Twain said it best “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
If you ever want to get inside the mind of a child, go to a playground in Philadelphia. I love watching my three-year-old sons interact with children from every level of the socioeconomic chain, a vast array of races and religions. The children on the playground don’t care what you look like. They give little to no regard to age or gender—they are there to have fun and make friends. They love everyone as long as they follow the simple rules of being kind, sharing and including others.
Now we do a pretty good job of this at Wharton, but how often do we sit-down in a large gathering of students, or a social event and find ourselves surrounded by those who make us feel “comfortable”? As we grow, we look for ways people are different than us instead of how we are the same. My children continually teach me to look for reasons to love than for reasons to hate. Next time you find yourself in an unfamiliar setting at Wharton look to branch out, meet and learn from someone you don’t know. Look to love everyone.
Be quick to apologize
This one is simple. (They all are.) Saying sorry, for some strange reason, becomes harder with age. Children are quick to apologize, quick to recognize a mistake and feel true remorse for wrong actions. I am amazed watching my kids go through this process. I know I could be better, and I think most of us could of raising our hands when we make a mistake and just saying sorry. No excuses. No justifications. Just a sincere and true apology.
Be spontaneous/don’t be afraid
Fear is mostly a learned behavior. As parents we often use fear to keep our children from doing things that would jeopardize their safety. As we grow older we let social norms, bad experiences, and our own insecurities keep us from potentially remarkable experiences.
There is not a better place in our adult life to try something than Wharton. If you want to dance, DANCE! Even if you think you might not be good at it. If you want to climb a mountain, go on a Venture, (or should I say an “adventure”? Hah! Get it? It’s a corny dad joke. Yes, it happens. You become better at them the more kids you have so Brandon Muirhead (WG’16) and I crush the dad jokes.)
Don’t be afraid to try something new at Wharton. I have never met a more helpful, supportive group of people than my fellow students. I love the quote from Nelson Mandela “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
Reflect with gratitude
Being a parent is amazing. Having my kids run into my arms each day I come home each day is the best. That doesn’t mean there aren’t hard days. It doesn’t mean there aren’t times you feel inadequate.
As a parent, you become acutely aware of all those who have helped you become who you are. Parents, teachers and mentors have helped you throughout your life, often at their own sacrifice. So during this Wharton experience, don’t forget to reflect at how you got here and how you are getting through it. Remember those who have influenced and are influencing you. Thank them more frequently then you need to especially the ones who literally cleaned poop off of you, a lot. A lot of poop.
The biggest challenge of Wharton is balancing everything. My family, clubs, recruiting, leadership opportunities, and—goodness, I’m forgetting something—oh, classes. Schoolwork. Yup, that’s it.
Seriously though, it’s hard and I am far from good at it. I am constantly re-evaluating what I am doing and trying to understand where my time could best be spent. No success in school or work would make up for any failure I have in my own home. I am incredibly fortunate to have the best combination in a partner any Wharton student can ask for. My wife is supportive and capable. She supports any commitment I make at Wharton and is an incredible cheerleader. Mary Martha also makes up for my lack of ability as a parent. Wharton has frequently taken me away and she gracefully parents our children. Balance is tricky and changes, but I have found it incredibly helpful to stop, evaluate and adjust frequently.
Being a dad is awesome. Going to Wharton is awesome. Being a dad at Wharton is incredible. I count myself as one of the lucky ones. I’ll end with one last quote. I hope no matter if you are, will be, or don’t have any plans to be a parent, that you will take the message to heart.
“It’s not only children who grow. Parents do too. As much as we watch to see what our children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours. I can’t tell my children to reach for the sun. All I can do is reach for it, myself.” — Joyce Maynard