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.