I sat in the birthing room, tapping the keys on my laptop, hurriedly trying to complete a story that March, as my wife lay at a hospital in the early stages of labor with our unborn son.
I don’t remember the story. I do remember my wife looking at me as if to say, “Seriously?”
I also remember thinking my editors a bit insensitive to insist that I file a less-than-urgent story at such an urgent time in my life — in my family’s life. But such is the corporate world. Such is life.
I did my best to comply — to meet the demands of both worlds — understanding that I needed one to make a living for the other. And I needed the other to live for something worth working for in this vaporous cycle that too soon vanishes like a wisp of smoke. But I have long understood that family is first.
Long accepted that even if I might somehow succeed in saving the world — if I neglect, by default or consciously, my own children and home — then I have failed. I learned this by watching my grandfather George Hagler.
It was less his preaching and more his dedication to work — his leather U.S. mail satchel slung over his shoulder as he came whistling home.
It was the way he treated my grandmother. The love he expressed for his grandchildren — all 15 of us. The way he stayed by Grandmother’s side until she departed late one winter’s January night, after 65 years of marriage.
Grandpa was not flawless. I have learned no man is. And it is with knowledge of his faults and with a better understanding now of the travails and trials of manhood — its unrelenting, unforgiving weight and responsibility — that I hold even greater admiration for the man that Grandpa was and still is, even at 93.
He and other men taught me many lessons. Among them: Be responsible. Don’t wallow in your sin or sorrows. Accept your imperfections. Acknowledge your mistakes, repent and move onward and upward. Forgive yourself.
How to change a tire. How to tie a tie. How to catch with a glove. How to hit a baseball.
But no lesson was greater than this one from Grandpa: Love family. Give your life for it.
It was for me a bittersweet lesson amid my abandonment by my own father. And yet, it is one I embraced, even as some friends and associates bemoaned parenthood. Even as I have witnessed some chasing career dreams at all costs. Even as I have seen others place money and stuff above people, above family.
Truth is, I may never win a Pulitzer. I may never write a best-seller or receive critical acclaim.
But this I know: It is more important to have been there for my children’s births. That it is more important to endeavor to be a good father — to be a presence rather than an absence. That the kind of fatherhood initiative most needed today is for fathers simply to take initiative. No excuses.
I can’t help but wonder how many other boys — and men — have gotten this lesson.
This much I could tell them: I cannot remember the story I was writing in the hospital birthing room that March, 12 years ago this week. But the joy of laying eyes on my newborn son, of cutting his umbilical cord, and the privilege of being his father: Unforgettable. Priceless.