Teachable Moments: From Son to Father

Sometimes, the teachable moments you’ll ever have with your kids that resonate most… don’t come from you. I was reminded not long ago that our kids have much to teach us, and that I still have a lot to learn as a dad.

Three weeks ago I had a milestone moment in my life, the significance of which I was sure would not be lost on my nine year old son Anthony.  I’ve been fortunate enough to get a book deal (published this coming fall), and for most of the past half year I have spent weekends holed up in my study, writing and revising and researching. It’s become a running theme in our house: what are we doing this weekend? “Well, Daddy has to write.”  Three weeks ago, I typed the last sentence, hit save for the last time, reviewed everything one final time, and hit “send” on the email to my editor.

With great fanfare, I paraded out of the office to the great room where my wife and son were watching TV. “Guess what?” I said to them. “I… just… finished. The book is done.”  My wife smiled, knowing how much work it had been and how much I’d put in, and said “Congratulations, honey.” My son jumped up and down excitedly, shouting “Yaaaaaaaayyy!”

I started making the mental markers in my head about this moment, the things I thought my son would take away from this achievement. The value of setting a goal and not quitting, for example, or how you can do anything you ever dream if you set your mind to it.  I started searching for whatever wisdom I would need to impart so that my son would always remember the lessons from the time Daddy wrote the book. “I think you’re even more excited than I am, buddy!” I said. “I guess this makes you happy?”

I stood back and waited for the admiration that was sure to come my way, that pride a son takes in his father and his shared glow for the fact that ‘my dad wrote a book.’ I started picturing him bragging to his friends at school about being able to go into a Barnes and Noble and finding his old man’s book on the shelves. I smiled in anticipation of this shared moment with him.

And then, he hit me between the eyes.

“It’s just that…”  He trailed off.  “Well, it’s just that now maybe you and me can spend some more time together.”

In that split second, my son reminded me of the most important thing about being a father. This moment, the one I was sure he would remember and learn from, ended up being one where he taught me.

There are many important things you can give to your kids as their dad. You can give them confidence and self-esteem; you can instill a good work ethic. You can give them the things they want in life because it makes you happy to see them happy. You can take them on trips to see the country or the world or Nana’s house, and you can teach them the value of being honest and having manners. You can give them wisdom you’ve gleaned in all your years before they came along, so that they might learn from both your mistakes and what you’ve gotten right. All these things are important and have their value… but they pale in comparison to the thing they want most from you.

Give them your time.

All the Legos or toys in the world don’t mean as much to my son as my taking a few minutes to talk with him or do something with him that interests him. What my son wants most isn’t a dad he can brag to his friends has a book or is a big success or is famous; he just wants his dad to spend time with him. I’d been so busy “setting an example” and focusing on the value I placed in achievements to show him that I’d forgotten that the most important thing of all is simply showing them that you think they’re worth your time. You want teachable moments? My son gave me the best one we’ve ever had together.

The next day, we went out into the front yard and played catch for 30 minutes. We’ve started a new tradition of going, after his hockey practices, to Buffalo Wild Wings together for a “boys’ night,” during which we play the trivia games and eat unhealthy food together and just have “our” time.  He comes into my office after school, now that I am working from my home office, and does his homework while sitting on one side of Dad’s desk while I work from the other side. And I’ve gotten a reminder that no matter what else I have to offer my son in this life, the most important gift I can ever give him doesn’t cost a cent. Time may be free, but it’s more valuable than gold.

Who would have guessed that the best thing to come from writing a book would be the wisdom of a nine year old boy?

I’ve known Christopher for about 3 years now.  We worked together at GM and I certainly owe much of what I know to him.  He is a trusted mentor and friend and I’m honored that he was willing to share this awesome story about being a dad to his son Anthony.  Chris recently started a new job at Voce Communications as SVP of Global Programs.  You can follow him on Twitter at @cbarger.

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Best of Future Midwest ’10 (#FMW10)

Continuing with my Future Midwest recap, I wanted to give you a snippet of some of the great content that was shared last week.  These are just some of the many quotes that I feverishly took as they were spoken from the stage.  I’ll also give kudos to Southfield, Michigan’s very own Jay Adelson who gave the keynote on Friday night.  His message followed the Future Midwest opening video which you can view here.  It was the perfect combination to motivate and inspire everyone in attendance!

  • There is no next big thing.  The next big thing is now. ~ Joseph Jaffe
  • Every community has an Oprah, someone with tremendous influence. Your job is to find the Oprah and arm them with what they need to influence the community. ~ Christopher Barger
  • You have one mouth and two ears…use them in that proportion. ~ Requoted by Scott Monty
  • Build community around what you are passionate about. ~ Blagica Bottigliero
  • Engagement is a generic term for not doing the diligence you need to…be specific. ~ Ken Burbary
  • Success means never letting the competition define you.  Instead you have to define yourself based on a point of view you care deeply about. ~ Tom Chappel, Tom’s of Maine from Scott Hauman

As you can see, lots of great information to help you build your social web and marketing strategies.  I’m confident that if you take these approaches, most of your projects have a greater chance of succeeding.

On to Jay Adelson…his message was simple, “We need crazy.”  Don’t accept the limits that are around you.  He said, “Limits aren’t real…look for limits and break them.”  His presentation was short and to the point…take risks and fail forward.  Given what this region went through the last 18 months, what do we really have to lose?  Pardon the cliche, but it can only get better!  Below is an interview Jay did with The Hub right before going on stage.  This should give you a great representation of his message to the crowd at the Royal Music Theater on April 16th.

There you have it.  That’s my recap of Future Midwest 2010.  I’m sure the organizers have even bigger things planned for 2011 and I can’t wait to be a part of it!

One final thing…look out for the challenge that Bryan Willmert and I are going to pose to all of you!  It’s going to be great!

Thanks for your time!  Feel free to leave comments below!  Would love the feedback!

It’s not a bull horn…

I really needed to think about the point I wanted to make with this one.  In a previous post, I encouraged you to think that Social Media was all about building relationships.  I think what got my head thinking on this was a conversation I had with Christopher Barger, director of social media at General Motors.  The discussion we had, albeit brief, was eye opening and got my mind thinking about how you change the  use of social media from a bull horn (just pushing out content) to a tool that builds relationships and engages with your consumers, fans, followers, etc.

What are you / we doing as a brand in the consumer market place that encourages discussion?  The playing field has changed for GM on this.  With a second chance (and I realize it’s not widely accepted that we were loaned money to survive) we now have an opportunity to radically change perceptions and leverage new technology and tools to get first hand feedback on what consumers are saying about us.

I guess we also need to prove that the investment in our company was worth it…which by the way, I believe it was.

So how do you do this?  One example that I’m interested to see play out is the Pepsi Refresh Project.  If you aren’t aware, Pepsi decided to forgo a Super Bowl commercial for the first time in 23 years.  Instead, Pepsi will be spending $20 million on a social media campaign and allow consumers to submit ideas to Pepsi for ways to “refresh their communities,” making the world a better place.  Consumers are participating and talking with Pepsi on their ideas.  Will it work?  I don’t know, but at least it’s something new.  It’s something with a purpose.  I like it.

What does this mean for me?  Well…I’ve tried to connect and build relationships with people that can influence decisions at GM and provide ideas to them for consideration.  I’ve learned on my own time how companies successfully use social media to positively impact their brands and I do this because this communication medium is a passion of mine.  I also believe that everyone can play a role on how a brand communicates to its consumers…just be educated, transparent and honest.  Listen.  Learn.  Relate.

I contend this is pretty simple strategy to making social media work for you.  What do you think?