About My Dad…. And Happiness

ABOUT MY DAD….
AND HAPPINESS

A REVISED NOTE FROM A DISCUSSION WITH MY LATE SWEET DAD

‘REFOCUS YOUR PRIORITIES, BUILD THE LEGACY YOU NEED… BUT NEVER AT THE COST OF GIVING UP YOUR JOY OF LIVING’

One of the things I realised later on in life, possibly around my mid 20’s, is that success does not equal happiness. What a strange concept to think about when we’re brought up from a young age and conditioned to chase success at any cost.

Thinking back to your childhood, do you remember anyone telling you that abundance was found through happiness? Do you remember any of your teachers ever teaching a single class on the pursuit of happiness? If you do, I hope you listened carefully and applied that lesson to your life, because that was probably some of the best advice you’ve ever received. For most of us however, the lesson was that you find happiness through materialistic abundance. If your job title was worthy of a corner office with grand city views, if your pay-check could afford you a lavish lifestyle, if your university diploma could lead you to a top executive position in a firm; you’d be as successful as can be and therefore, happy…

For as long as I can remember, I believed that happiness was a by-product of success, and in order to reach that pinnacle of success, I’d have to do whatever it took. Thinking about it, that’s a lot of pressure to process as a kid. Even back then, during my ‘Nesquik-for-breakfast-days’, I was already making choices about my future career in relation to what would afford me the most successful lifestyle. In fact, a lot of my thought processes as a kiddo were influenced by what I saw around me. I looked up to my dad as an idol, I witnessed him putting all of his energy and time into his job and thought that that was my destiny. I distinctly remember the airplane smell on his suits when he came home from work trips – which was most weeks. I was so impressed by this lifestyle, and related it to success. At that age, it hadn’t dawned on me to question whether he was even happy living the way he did, I suppose since he was good at his job and it compensated him handsomely, there was no way he couldn’t be happy. I assumed that for him, the fact that his family lived a comfortable lifestyle and that he provided this for us, meant he’d naturally feel fulfilled and pleased.

I’m now 34 years old. I’m a husband and a father. I’ve been married for 7 years, and have three sons – the eldest is 5 and the twins are 20 months.

I honestly don’t remember much of my first year as a dad, other than the fact that I felt lost. The transition from being a young and energetic couple living in central London to becoming tired parents was a difficult one. Anything I thought I knew about being a dad went out the window, and this uncertainty made me panic. Before my wife got pregnant, I was trying to make it as an actor. I’d graduated from drama school and worked part time as a personal trainer on the side to sustain some kind of a living. As a man, I knew I wouldn’t be able to provide adequately for my family once my son arrived, so I made the decision to quit acting and enter the corporate world. Oddly enough, becoming a dad made me realise I wanted to be an actor for all the wrong reasons – fame and fortune – and as such it wasn’t too difficult to move on from that. Subconsciously, I was already slowly figuring out that success, does not in fact equal happiness. I established myself in the TV industry and made it my goal to triple my salary over the next 5 years. Being able to provide financially for my family was at the forefront of my mind, and climbing the corporate ladder fast was my answer to that goal. I jumped from company to company a few times, and attained my goal within 3 years, 2 years early. But at what cost?

Coming back to my first year of fatherhood, and to that sense of panic – not knowing how to handle myself as a dad, I do remember consciously deciding that I’d be of more use and have a bigger impact outside of my home. I began travelling for work, a lot. If I was in the office more than a few weeks in a row, I’d be looking for the next possible work trip. And that went on for some time. It was back-to-back for a couple of months at some point.  It was much easier to escape through my job than have to confront my shortfalls as a dad and the criticism that came with them at home. My job was the perfect excuse to not have to face any of that. But hey, I was providing, right?  Before I knew it, my son was almost one, and I’d hardly been present at home. I’d even kidded myself into believing that I wouldn’t be able to provide and be present at home at the same time. And providing was the priority. But what was I truly providing? How much of a provider was I, really?

Everything started to catch up with me, fast. My trick of making myself unavailable at home due to work demands was starting to fail me. Suddenly that sense of guilt settled in. Frustration, anxiety, even more confusion. Not to mention, the romance in my relationship with my wife was suffering more and more. I was estranged from my wife and my kid… This was not OK with me. There had to be more to life than this.

I started to think about all of this. What I was doing. About the kind of dad I wanted to be, the kind of husband I wanted to be. Was it even possible to be fulfilled at home and at work simultaneously? Was there enough time in the day to fill my own cup, as well as my family’s, all the while still providing by doing a job I was passionate about? The kind of success I was experiencing was certainly not leading me to happiness. But it was such a familiar situation… I started to recognise a pattern I’d seen before… 

About My Dad and Happiness Main Image

My dad raised me incredibly well, he did everything he could, as best he could, with the tools he had. He showed up for our family in the best way he knew how and set an incredible standard for all fathers out there. His drive and his passion to provide for his family were immeasurable.  Yet, I don’t remember seeing much of him growing up, and from my 10th year onwards, the intensity at which he lived his life set him on a course that would be incredibly difficult to recover from. He excelled at his work, and he truly enjoyed making use of his talent to produce results. He got salary raises and promotions, through which he gifted us an incredible lifestyle. He moved us from Dublin to New York and finally to London. He gifted us unforgettable vacations, a top education, and an exposure to cultures that most can only dream of. But he just wasn’t around to enjoy it much at all, or to see his family enjoy it, and when he was around, he wasn’t able to switch gears and adapt to be fully present at home. He was incredibly overwhelmed, disconnected from his family and felt trapped in his life. His determination to provide for his family and his loyalty to his work influenced every other department of his life. His relationships at home were at times pretty mediocre, his emotional and mental health were being abused. Even though he placed a lot of importance on fitness, his workouts were so intense that they ended up being unhealthy. His temper was out of control, he lacked patience in every situation, he longed for joy but he simply couldn’t get a grip on it. Even though he’d certainly have realised the kind of damage he was causing to himself, he didn’t see any other option but to keep pushing harder down that same destructive path. Giving up the intensity, re-aligning his career to his values, finding better work-life integration would mean risking everything he’d ever worked for. In his eyes, it would mean failing, and possibly letting his family down. To him, it would mean stripping himself of his integrity and manhood. He felt he had no choice but to go on in this way. This is what he truly believed. 

Eventually, he worked himself into an early grave, and was told he had 3 months to live; brain cancer. He fought this disease with the same intensity he had done everything else in his life with and against all odds, he survived. But it badly broke him. As a result of the disease, he lost 90% mobility on one side of his body and lost his peripheral vision. He stopped working at 51 years old, grew older much faster, and continued to live in a state of perpetual exhaustion and confusion. The hope of ever healing faded after 5 years, and every day that passed by was a reminder of the choices he made, especially in the last 5 years before his illness. For some time, he questioned what he could have done differently. Could any of this have been avoided? Perhaps. It’s possible he would have gotten sick regardless of his lifestyle, but could the time he had before the cancer struck been spent differently? Could he have enjoyed his life and his family more, before it became too late? Absolutely.

At heart, my dad had always been a family man. He’d always been so in love with his kids and his wife, yet in so many ways he stripped himself of his family. A family man somewhat estranged from his family.

I asked him a couple of years ago what he’d tell me if he saw me going down the same path he had. What would he say? His answer was: STOP. Don’t do it. Find a way to refocus your priorities, build the legacy you need, but never forget to have joy in your life. When asked if he’d do it all over again, knowing how he’d end up, he told me he’d have chosen a quieter life over the one he led, closer to his children and the love of his life, building beautiful memories and making choices that would have led him to more joy. While his career would still have been of huge importance to him, as well as his need to provide for his family and his desire to excel at a job he loved, he’d have worked harder to find a way to fully integrate work and life and make sure nothing was sacrificed. This is the kind of success that equals true happiness.

I’m so grateful for my father, and his journey has taught me so much. I think about him daily as I raise my sons and do my best to show up for them. It took me over a year to figure it out, and even though I won’t ever perfect fatherhood, I will continue to show up in the best way I can for my family and for myself. Despite how difficult my father’s fight has been, for him and everyone else in my family, especially for my hero mom, I take immense solace in the lessons that were gifted to me from it all. Had it not been for the front row seat I had to his life, I certainly wouldn’t be here, writing this. I’d be far down my very own destructive path, feeling trapped and clueless about how to stop myself, before it became too late.    

The day my dad passed away in November 2022 was the saddest day of my life. It took me months to come to terms with the reality of his disappearance, and hours of reflection upon what his life meant, how fragile our existence is, and how it is our responsibility to live in a way that best serves ourselves and those we love. His death is a strong and undeniable reminder that life truly is short, and that we must live it on purpose as much as we can, by staying focused on what brings us joy and peace. When we move on from this world, we don’t bring our job titles to the grave with us, or any of the materialistic things we’ve acquired over the years. It is the legacy we leave behind that will remain forever, and the memories we participated in creating that become the gifts we leave behind for others to reflect upon and smile about.

SHARE THIS POST

Ready to get elevated?