I felt terrible. My four-and-a-half year old daughter, Madeline, was literally begging for my attention. As Madeline teetered toward a fit, my wife suggested that she vent her frustration by drawing her feelings. Great suggestion, I thought.
Madeline proceeded to tape frowning self-portraits throughout our apartment – maybe twenty in all. Message received; point taken. Now I was sad, too.
At this point in my life, I feel strongly that my three most important jobs are being a good dad, a good entrepreneur, and a good husband. Over the past year, I’ve found that it’s incredibly difficult to excel at all three simultaneously. Perhaps, for people better than I, it’s an easy task. I’m not a member of that club.
Situations like the one with Madeline are uncommon. I rarely compromise on being a good dad. Working from home most days affords me the luxury of spending a ton of time with my kids. Each morning, I do the early shift with Lucas, my sixteen-month old son. I often make Madeline’s lunch and walk her to school. The kids get healthy, daily doses of wrestling and cuddling. Madeline and I draw together, build Lego cities, create wildly imaginative role-play, and discuss all the things a sophisticated pre-schooler wonders about. Being a good dad is my number one priority.
Like many entrepreneurs, I initially pursued my idea late at night. After getting the kids to bed, I would work obsessively into the early morning, sometimes until 3:00 am. At the end of October 2010, after about seven months of working nights, I left my job with IBM. It was equal parts exhilarating and frightening.
My cofounders, partners, and fellow entrepreneurs are surely better judges, but since then, I believe I’ve been a good entrepreneur. We have books that are carried nationally at Barnes & Noble and lots of other retailers throughout the country. I’ve presented to students and faculty at Columbia University and Boston University. We were among a select few startups chosen as Battlefield companies at TechCrunch Disrupt NYC 2011. Our iPad app launched last week. I support my fellow entrepreneurs and hold my team in the highest regard. We’re working incredibly hard on a big vision that’s already having a positive impact on parents and children. I rarely compromise on being a good entrepreneur.
Unfortunately, and it pains me to admit it, I haven’t consistently been a good husband. The maniacal focus it takes to be a successful entrepreneur doesn’t always seem compatible with giving the attention a supportive spouse deserves. After all, the work demands attention; we’ll surely fail otherwise. The kids demand it too; I perceive them as more vulnerable than my wife.
Far too often I’ve verbally greeted my wife, Becky, without removing my eyes from my screen. I’m ashamed of this. I haven’t done the small things.
When my wife was pregnant with Madeline, I wrote her a thoughtful note every morning and stuck it to the bathroom mirror. Becky approached each day confident of my love and support. I didn’t make similar efforts during her pregnancy with Lucas. Lately, dates are rare, spontaneity even more so. Time moves so quickly, and we’re not sharing enough of it with each other. We’ve been together almost eight years, and, by a wide margin, 2011 has been our most difficult year. In the marriage domain, compromise has come too readily, my attention shifting to work or kids.
Despite my shortcomings, our relationship fortunately remains strong. But my wife deserves better. We know that this year’s challenges will be different but not necessarily fewer. And with that, I can no longer finesse my husband job.
Reflecting on the past year, it’s abundantly clear that to be the best dad and entrepreneur I can be, I also need to be the best husband I can be. What I lack in that area ultimately affects everything I do. A curt interaction with my wife stays with me, compounding as I try to work or to play with Madeline and Lucas. I have plenty of room for improvement, and no good reason to compromise here either. The importance of balance cannot be underestimated.
Here’s how I’m going to make this year better:
Date Nights: Cliché, I know and I often cringe when others reference it in this canned way. However, it will be a welcomed (and necessary) calendar entry for us. We don’t even need to go out; we just need to unplug and focus on each other.
More Rounded Openness: I’m quick to share successes and good news but often reserve my anxieties and stresses. When they are revealed to her, they might be delivered with pent up frustration, my sharing too defensive. In my mind, by keeping stresses close, I’m protecting my wife from feeling them. But, she, more than anyone, deserves full disclosure. We’ve bootstrapped to date; she’s shareholder and stakeholder number one. Perhaps, through more openness, she’ll feel more stress, but the tradeoff is that we’ll be better connected.
Support Her Interests: Being an entrepreneur can be so self-centered. My wife has interests and talents, too. Sure, I’m on kid duty when she goes to her writers’ group every other week, but I need to spend more time engaging with and supporting her pursuits.
Do Little Things: Creativity is a strength of mine. I should use it to show my wife how often and highly I think of her. I need to remember those mirror notes, for one.
That’s my plan. I’m looking to go three for three.