Family is Not First

Posted: January 26, 2010 in A Day in the Life, Family

You never know where your lessons will come from on any given day.  This morning, it was from a digital file folder.  As a course of procedure (procedure being a very new concept for me this new year), I was spending a few moments organizing files and thoughts about life, family, and goals as I began the day.  Specifically, I was organizing the information on my laptop.  You see, I’m a self-employed type (or as a friend calls it, “self-unemployed”).  So my laptop contains a basic snapshot of all of life’s facets for me:  work, personal, family, spiritual, creative,…you get the point.  My attentions this morning fell to organizing the folder which I had named “Family”. 

I must confess, this folder has been on my desktop for quite some time; years, perhaps.  It has become the catch-all receptacle for those numerous items which relate to my family.  The real confession here is that “receptacle” is the most apt description for the attention this file has received over the years.  Whenever I received or produced a document which had any bearing whatsoever on family, I would dump it here.  Today, as I was organizing this folder, I realized for the first time what a complete and utter mess it was.  It wasn’t content I was lacking, but rather care for the content.  Miscellaneous files lay strewn about on the virtual floor of this folder.  “How long has it been since I’ve looked around in here?”, I wondered.

Now, you may see where I’m going with this and think, “come on, you’re way overanalyzing this.”  And it’s true, I do have a tendency to over-analyze many areas of my life.  But I don’t think so here.  If anything, I’ve way underanalyzed this area of my life for far too long.  That was pretty evident from one glance at the chaos.  As I put the files into their proper places, my lack of attention here was confirmed by the rather obvious thoughts that began to flood my head and heart.  As I would come across documents which had no home, I would create a special place for them.  As I glanced at other documents, I would immediately think “now how long has it been since I’ve updated that?”.  Soon, I had a small, but significant list of questions and to-do items relating to things such as health insurance, retirement savings, finances, life goals…those sorts of things.  And while I felt good about my new punch list, it occurred to me that my new list was pretty obvious; that any guy that had given more than 10 minutes to the task would have thought of these things. 

Now I am a passionate guy.  I love the art of music, writing, singing, and other creative endeavors.  They are at the very core of me; one of the most true and essential things about me.  But for years I have given myself over to those things to the exclusion and neglect of my family.  I didn’t realize it at the time.  I, in fact, continue to realize the extent of it often, like seeing the mess on the floor of the digital filing room this morning.  So while it’s true, I am a passionate guy, have I really been passionate about those things in my life that I profess to love so dearly?    Have I given them the passion and attention that I’m so willing to give to other things?  What about family?  Have I really been so disengaged and distant?  Remember the saying, “family first”? 

Before I go on, let me say that I’m not about to beat myself up over this.  I’ve already done that for years.  These are not new revelations, but instead fallout that I’m able to see clearly now that the dust has settled.  The “dust” is years of unawareness and indifference.  And I stopped generating new dust a while ago.  Now, I’m simply sweeping up the mess.  And were I to write these words even just a year ago, I would have been asking myself, “yeah, what about family first?”.  But today, following this lesson that I  relearned during a simple organizing session, here’s what I’ll say with absolute conviction:  my family is not first.  They’re not even second or third.  In fact, they’re nowhere to be found on my list.  Nor should they be.  For my family is not an item that belongs on a to do list at all.  Rather, they are off-shoots of me, a part of me that is not to be put on a list like a “to do” item.  They are not to do; they are to be enjoyed; lived and loved right in the middle of life.  A life, by the way, where the items that do belong on the list are knocked out.  And not just knocked out; knocked out together

Lest you think this distinction is a silly one, may I ask a question?  If family is first, then what happens once you’ve “done” family?  Can you ever “do” enough family such that you permit yourself to move on to the next item?  Of course not, because long after family time, they’re still your family.  They still need you and you still need them.  It’s the how we need eachother that counts.  It’s the way in which we view one another as integral to our lives, a very part of us that is to be enjoyed as life is lived out.  And you and I both know, life is difficult enough without adding each other to a list.  To get through the good days and the bad days, the joys and disappointments, we need one another.  Right next to us, side by side.  I need my family by my side, and they need me by theirs.  Not on some list. 

So, what of the passions and pursuits that are unique to you and me?  Do we pursue them?  Of course we do.  It was not long ago that I saw this as a “this or that” proposition.  I can “do” family, or I can “do” writing.  But today I am reminded that my love for artistic endeavor, music, writing – all of these flow from the deepest part of me.  And it is precisely this deepest part of me that my family needs.  And so I fervently take my wife and children off my list and commit instead to stay side-by-side with them.  And instead I keep those endeavors firmly planted at the top of my list and pursue them more passionately than ever.  But this time, I won’t be pursuing them alone, for my family is with me, and I’m with them.  Together we’ll encourage and strengthen one another as together we learn how to dream, laugh, cry, and  most of all live.  Right next to one another.  And not on any lists.

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