Leading at home: What being a single dad taught me about leadership

June 16, 2017 | (88) Comments

In honor of Father’s Day this Sunday, I thought I’d share one of my favorite blog posts from a couple years ago about two incredible people I adore – my children. I’m grateful for the lessons they taught me and for the honor of being their father. 

About 23 years ago, I became a single dad to my two young children, Emily and Ben. Emily was 11 and Ben was 9, and I was just 38.

I sat them down, and I said, “Look, guys, let’s do this. We’re going to be a family, and we’re going to be a great family unit. I will do everything I can to be the best dad and mom for you that I can possibly be. It’s going to be just the three of us together, and we’re going to make this work.”

And with that, I made them a promise. I promised that I was not going to remarry until they were out of high school. With all they were already experiencing at the time, I didn’t want them to be concerned about a new person joining our family.

They said, “Dad, that’s awesome. That sounds like a good plan.”

Well, Emily graduated from high school, and she went off to Stanford. A couple years later, Ben graduated and headed off to the University of Oklahoma. And the day I took him to college, after I had gotten him all moved in and was about to leave, he turned to me and said, “Dad, you’ve done what you promised Emily and me. Now, we want you to find someone for you.” And fortunately I did, and Shannon and I were married in 2003.

It was really quite touching. As a young adult, Ben assumed that it might have been a sacrifice to make such a promise to him and Emily so many years before. But what they may not have fully realized was that working hard to be the very best dad I could be for them also helped me to be a better man and a better leader.

When I became a single parent all those years ago, I had recently joined Texas Children’s as the CEO. It was an incredible learning and formation period for me as a leader. And having such a significant transition in my personal life could have potentially impacted me and my leadership positively or negatively. It was really up to me.

You know that one of my maxims of leadership is “We lead in our professional lives and our personal lives.” I was getting a firsthand lesson on that through my children, because in my efforts to be a successful parent and to help maximize my children’s success as young people, I, too was growing.

One of the most important things I learned from them was how to listen. Taking on the role of both mom and dad meant that I had to really refine my listening skills. They were smart, ambitious children who were curious about life and asked lots of questions. Tuning in to their individual needs and feelings and really learning how to listen to them helped me become a better leader by becoming a better listener.

Through my personal experience, I learned how to listen to the organization. Having the ability and willingness to listen to the organization is critical to being an effective leader. It means I must make sure I’m approachable and accessible for all of you so I’m aware of the big issues, as well as the subtle nuances. My children taught me that.

I believe if you have children, there’s not a more important leadership role for a man than being a father. Applying my leadership skills to being the best dad I could be to Ben and Emily helped me in return. And I’m so grateful to them for the lessons and experiences of fatherhood.

Whether you are a dad – or a mom who’s wearing both hats – Happy Father’s Day to you. There’s no greater responsibility or reward than growing and learning with your children and leading your families.

88 Responses to “Leading at home: What being a single dad taught me about leadership”

  1. I admire parents who do everything to ensure their children the best. As a person who grew up with no support from both of my parents, I feel happy when I see stories like this. No doubts that you are a true leader to all of us. Not only at work but also as human being.

  2. ” As we teach our children about life, our children teach us what life is all about ” Sir Mark,congratulations for being such a wonderful father to your kids and for being such a great Father here at TCH. I wish you more years of great leadership, good health and abundance of happy moments with the people that you love. BTW, your kids are so beautiful and you look dashing in that picture. You must have had a hard time keeping single or keeping your promise all those years..:)..Happy Father’s day Sir !!!

  3. As someone who grew up in a Single Parent Home With Only My Mom & Myself, I understand the sacrifices of being The Lonely Only Parent. Your Kids Have Been Blessed To Have Such A Caring, Sincere Father. God Bless You(& Very Blessed & Lucky Shannon) & Have A Wonderful Father’s Day:-)


    I became a single parent in 1991 through divorce. My sons, Eddy and Kerry, were 7 and 5 at the time. It is a very difficult and rewarding job to be a single parent household. It is with great joy I can say how well my sons have done. They are loving men to their families and are productive, moral men in society. I admire your dedication to your children and the leader that you are here at Texas Childrens. Happy Father’s Day!

  5. It’s funny how we never know what each of us has gone thru and by knowing more about a person helps us to see what has created their character. Self sacrifice is the utmost gift a person can give. Well done.

  6. Mr.Mark great experience. Thanks for sharing it. No doubt that was a great sacrifice. Philipians 2:3,4, not seeking your own interests, but also for the interests of others (your kids). No doubt you have been rewarded for your self sacrificing spirit.

  7. Chermaine

    Beautiful story Mr. Wallace, I know that your children appreciate the fact that you kept your promise to them. Being a single parent is a tough job but you made it work. Happy Father’s Day!!

  8. Heather

    What an inspiring story and message to all parents!
    As a parent we should all make decisions to enhance the life of our children, and not only to benefit us. It takes a strong individual to accomplish all that you have, but most importantly to have raised happy, well-rounded, and successful kids on top of that! Hope you have a wonderful weekend and enjoy your family Mr. Wallace! Happy Father’s Day!

  9. Gina Marrinucci

    Incredible to have the responsibility of being a single parent as well as taking on the role of CEO….you are admired. Happy Father’s Day Mr Wallace.

  10. Sharyn

    Wonderful story and amazing message. I grew up in a divorced home and there were promises made and promises broken. What a wonderful and amazing role model, parent and friend you are to your children then and now. The example you set for them will be treasured by them.
    Happy Father’s Day, Mr Wallace!

  11. Vanessa Blackstone

    Phenomenal Story, Great Father, Great Leader! In 1998, I worked in the Administrtive Suite when you visited my office after my divorce and you said to me, “read these scriptures and you and the girls will be just fine.” I thank God for sending a great man in my life that Loves me and my daughters.

    Texas Children’s is fortunate to have such a great PRESIDENT and CEO that cares about the patients, families and employees! For that, I salute you, Dr. Mark A. Wallace!!

  12. Garrett Nguyen

    What an inspiring story you shared with us! Mr. Wallace, your story tells alot about how wonderful a man,father and a leader you are. I grew up without a father and a mother by my side had made it so difficult to prepare for my adulthood. Lost a sense of life directions, did not know where to begin to start my own life with wonderful choices that the world had to offer. The accoumplishments I have today are the result of being a husband and father of four children whom have taught me so much. Happy Father’s Day.

  13. Vanessa Voldbakken

    Mr Wallace Thank you for sharing a bit of your life with us. I was blessed to have a wonderful dad who taught my brothers how to be good men and taught me, by the way he live his life, what a good man looks like. Good men are becoming a rare jewel these days. God bless all the TCH daddies, may God keep you all in his strenght and love. Happy Father’s Day!

  14. Cassandra Fernandez

    What an inspiring story to all those who are parents including myself. As a parent, it is very important to our children the choices we make. This is such a wonderful story you have shared. For me it really shows all things are possible when being strong is the only way to be. I can say your promise to your kids have made a huge impact on their lives and they will forever cherish everything you did for them as both a father and mother. Becoming the CEO of Texas Children’s during everything you were already doing, was I’m sure one of the most amazing things accomplished. Thank you for sharing. I hope you have a Happy Father’s Day!

  15. Jill Fragoso

    Mr. Wallace, thank you for allowing us to learn more about you as a man and father. You truly looked at the challenges you faced not as obstacles, but as opportunities! They shaped you into the amazing father, grandfather, and leader you are today. Happy Father’s Day!

  16. Kimberly Vetter

    What a wonderful philosophy: “I believe if you have children, there’s not a more important leadership role for a man than being a father.” Congratulations on being a great dad and Happy Father’s Day.

  17. Terri Fitzgerald

    Thanks for sharing this story. I never knew you were a single parent. I was one myself and can appreciate both the struggles and joys. Wishing you have a great Father’s Day!

  18. LaWanna Meade

    This story brought tears to my eyes! I never realized you had been a single dad and now I understand how and why TCH is such a GREAT organization and why there is such a “connect” with you and all the employees of TCH! Everyone voices the same sentiment and that is of what a GREAT leader you are! (those upclose and those who only see you from a distance) but you are always so assessible and hands on with everyone, which is also why TCH is #1 in my book.

    I too am a single mom and this role is very difficult to juggle at times because you are responsible for yourself and your dependents and this is not always easy. Also, this story changes my perception and also my own interaction with my own children, from this day forward. I always thought I was listening to them but, this story has inspired me to really “tune in” and to realize that soon they will be off creating their own paths and understanding and being reminded of the role I’m playing now, has given me some new wings. THANK YOU, Mr. Wallace! These are nuggets of gold, and you just added richness to the future of my children and myself. God bless you!!!!!!!!!! Happy Father’s Day, indeed!

  19. Achim Scheurer

    Happy Fathers Day!
    A great story, and it touched me. I will be in two weeks a daddy the first time,
    and all the experience, and to learn to listen when it is so important to listen, will help me a lot, to be the best daddy for my Son.
    Thank you for sharing this amazing story.
    All the best wishes to your Family.

  20. Angela Hudson

    Mark, I loved this story, and I appreciate your sharing it with us. It’s a firm reminder of how the way we approach what life hands us makes all the difference. You worked to make this transition a positive one, for your children, for you personally and for our entire organization. I think Ben and Emily (and Shannon!) are very lucky to have you. I hope you have a very blessed Father’s Day weekend!

  21. Darna Villanueva RN

    What a beautiful story. You are an amazing person , a true leader and a great father.I hope everyone will learn from your blog.Happy father’s day and wishing you a healthy long life!!!

  22. Hanna Uhrova

    What an inspirational story. I’m sure it must have been difficult, yet you turned a bad situation into a learning experience and profited by it. And it appears that your children and Texas Children’s profited with you.
    You are an inspiration and we truly appreciate your openness and desire to make our hospital the best. You’re a great “Dad” to us and our patients. Happy Father’s Day!

  23. Pamala Pennington

    What a testimony! I’m sure that your children appreciate you for being available to them as you taught them to be responsible young adults.
    Happy Father’s Day Mr. Wallace!!

  24. Wyonona R. paris

    Mr./Dr. Wallace…congrats on your well-deserved honorary degree!

    Wow! What a testimony…

    All I can say is, “The steps of a good man are ordered.” Your transparency and ability to love and be loved is what makes you unique and predestined to be in our lives. I too am a single parent, via an adoption nearly 10 years ago, and it’s no easy task; however, the plan for our lives is not ours to know but to instead carry out. I’m grateful to witness that greater is truly in you and your light shines brighter than you could ever imagine. We’re truly blessed to be in the midst of a model father, a loving husband, and the most extraordinary leader EVER!

    We love you and keep pressing toward the MARK!!!

    Happy Father’s Day!

  25. Suzanne Wheat

    As the daughter of a single dad (from age 10 for me), I have to say that I admire the job you did. My dad, similarly, had a sit-down talk with me and my younger brother (almost 8 at the time) about how it was going to be. He shaped us in untold ways to be the successful adults and citizens we are. Hats off to you and all dads who are there for their kids through the tough times and the good. And, I’m sure there were some tough times as your daughter went through puberty. (I know my dad didn’t have a fun time during those years.) Have a beautiful weekend and thank you for sharing. Happy Dad’s Day!

  26. Mr. Wallace,
    Thanks so much for sharing this very special story. I have been here for 24 years and did not know these things about you. Knowing them now inspires me to work hard and sacrifice as a single parent of teenagers! Your dedication to both your family and TCH is truly amazing and encouraging! Wishing you a Happy Father’s Day and many more years of health and prosperity!

  27. Caressa Gaviola

    Happy Father’s Day to you, Mr. Wallace! If I couldn’t admire you anymore, your personal story just tipped me over the edge! Your family is sure blessed to have you as a father and we are blessed at TCH to have you as our leader! You truly exemplify what a great leader is! God bless you always, Mr. Wallace!

  28. Newshia Augustine

    Happy Father’s Day to you, Mr. Wallace. Thanks so much for sharing this very special story. You truly exemplify what a great leader is! God bless you always, Mr. Wallace

  29. Mary Lee Pruzinsky

    Hi Mr./Dr. Wallace,
    Happy Father’s Day, and Congratulations for receiving an honorary doctorate! Thanks for sharing such a personal and inspirational story. Best Wishes to you and your family!

  30. Amy Jones

    Mr. Wallace,

    Thank you for sharing such a personal story. I have worked here under your leadership for 18 years and now I know why TCH has grown and flourished. Thank you for your leadership.

  31. Delilah Sonderer

    I have seen so much great change here at TCH since I started in 1979 all because of the great leadership skills your children have taught you. What a wonderful tribute to your children and family. Happy Fathers day Mr Mark Wallace!

  32. Paula Zimlicki

    I am just now reading this on Monday morning, one day past Father’s Day. I hope yours was wonderful. How wonderful for you to share your story about a challenging time in your life–employees here are the fortunate beneficiaries of your leadership skills. Thank you!

  33. Karen Stephens

    Thank you for sharing. As a single parent I truely appreciate what you did. It isn’t easy and when they mention how you missed something because you had to work you feel terrible inside and only hope they understand that you with them even when you are not physically there. My parents didn’t participate in many of my events as a kid and as an adult it does affect you. I realize that now and work through it understanding they did the best they could.

  34. Opera Wagner-Ross


    It was nice to read your backstory. It’s nice to know a little more about you. I hope you had an awesome Father’s Day!!! Keep being the approachable and cool person that you are.


  35. Keith Garcia

    Mr. Wallace, thanks for sharing your journey and the impact it had on you as a father and leader. It’s true that the best lessons of life begin at home.

  36. Annette

    Happy Father’s Day to all whom has had to fill the shoes of both parents. I’m sending out a very special Happy Father’s Day to my mother , who has been both for past 40 years (father passed away 2 months after I had enrolled in college) to me and my 2 sisters.

  37. What a touching personal story. Thank you for sharing Mr. Wallace. I have always told my daughters, it’s not my duty to raise children but to raise responsible, kind, giving and compassionate adults. If you lead them they will follow. Happy Father’s Day to you and to anyone else privileged to be a parent! – Katie

  38. jackie

    What a beautiful testimony, just when you think your kids are not listening nor watching us, they really are, and we must set a positive example in their lives. Happy Fathers Day and May God Bless.

  39. Paul W. Zarutskie MD

    What a wonder and touching Father’s Day inspiration. Thanks for sharing. Mark, I am honored to know you, to be able to work with you and the wonderful team you have created. After reading your note, I truly can say I now see how your “Father leadership” role has resulted in all the acomplishments the TCH team has achieved. Your comments also have helped me, as I celebrate my Father’s Day , to reflect on the role my Dad had in shaping me and my children, and know his leadership will not be forgotten.

  40. Mr. Wallace…what an inspirational Father’s day message. You set a positive example in your children’s lives. The best things we as parents can give our children is respect, truth and keeping your word. Thank for for sharing and hope you had a wonderful Father’s day.

  41. Ashlye B

    Some of the most important lessons we can learn come from children because have no conditions on love. As you stated, we end up learning so many things about ourselves, and discover those parts of us that are hidden and surface because of the unconditional love children have. It makes us look at ourselves because they are so much like us. Thank you for sharing your life experiences with us. We could all stand to take a good look at ourselves, who knows what we may discover?

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