“Okay sweetie, that’s it” I said. “Good night and remember I have to leave early in the morning and won’t see you for a few days.”
“Aww, c’mon Dad” my daughter pleaded. “Can’t you read just one more chapter?”
“No,” I returned. “It’s late and you need your sleep. We’ll get back to it when I get home.”
“Pleeeeease Dad,” she pleaded.
I started getting aggravated because I was missing the beginning of “my show”, I said “that’s enough. Now go to sleep.”
I walked out and closed her door and lumbered down the steps and plopped onto the sofa with a long sigh of relief.
All throughout my grueling days, I longed for this moment, the moment of freedom on my favorite place in the world.
But, I couldn’t relax as normal because tomorrow I wasn’t going into the office. Tomorrow, I would begin a four-day journey with my CEO … a journey that was to begin at 6am … ugh!
We were visiting five clients starting in New York, then to Connecticut, then to Boston, then New Hampshire and wrapping it up with a seven-hour hellacious drive back home to Philly.
Now, don’t get the wrong idea, I like being on the road and meeting with clients. It’s one of the parts of the job I like most.
I just would rather do it alone. My boss is a hard-driving SOB, a great person in so many respects, but very difficult to work with at times. I once heard a perfect explanation for him: “He is 90% good and 10% bad and sometimes that 10% … well, let’s say it can trump the 90%!”
Other than business and sports, we don’t have much to talk about so those long hours in the car can really drag on. And he loves to take the opportunity to drill me on everything we are doing and expects me to be able to give a full account on every project and sales prospect while my hands are positioned at 10 and 2 and my eyes are focused on the other cars flying by me at death-defying speeds! Anyone who’s ever driven 95 through New York can attest to the stress level navigating this treacherous stretch.
In other words, it’s much more stressful than just going through my day in the office where I am secluded in my cushy space.
Not only do my reflexes and my mind need to be in sync while the other travelers on the road try to kill me, but I also have to tactfully handle my boss’ inquisition, which is nearly impossible since he is the ultimate contrarian and no matter how I answer, he finds a way to tell me how stupid I am (nicely of course).
After our first day of meetings, I lay in my hotel room wishing I were home and reading to my daughter.
Then it dawns on me that the very thing I am longing for, I had the night before, but instead of enjoying every minute of it or prolonging it, what did I do? I rushed it along so I could gork out in front of my TV.
That’s when I realized I needed to rearrange my priorities, and so I vowed to never rush through our precious reading time again. That’s when I vowed to spend as much time with my family as I could. There would be no more Saturdays and Sundays when I rushed to the golf course, disappearing for six hours just to satisfy my need to relive my youth with my buddies.
And, in that moment, I came to realize one more profound fact. The fact that my daughter was getting older, not younger. She is ten, and I am the center of her universe. Her hero, her best friend. But, in just 3-4 short years, that will no longer be the case. I will go from hero to zero in a matter of seconds as far as the grandfather of time is concerned.
So, I had a clear choice that fate presented to me at that moment as I lay there waiting for sleep to set in and another grueling day of meetings and criticisms from my boss.
I vowed to make a change. I vowed to live every moment with my daughter as if the very next day would be the day she would rather go to the mall with her friends than read with me, or play Nintendo or play tennis or go surfing with me!
And, this is why I started this blog … to share my experiences but hopefully to get other men and women to share theirs. I named it FreeByForty because I am 39 and in the eight-month countdown to the dreaded 40th.
When I was an ideological 20-something, you would never have convinced me that I would one day have an office job, a house in suburbia and a family I love more than anything.
But here I am. Content, but not overly happy or satisfied with my career. And, so, as the stresses of each day piled up, I began thinking about what is most important. I kept coming back to family and the love we have for one another. Longing to be on my sofa watching my show or longing to be on the course with my friends suddenly felt insignificant and selfish.
How can I be free by forty, not needing to answer the bell for the man each and every day, was a question I began asking. Although a seemingly insurmountable goal at this point, I remain optimistic and this blog will be an outlet for me and others who choose to participate. It doesn’t have to be freebyforty for you. It can be by thirty or fifty or sixty or seventy and beyond! It’s a way to express what you want out of life and how you plan to get there and for those who have achieved freedom, we want to know how you did it.
Share your success stories. For those who have ideas not yet implemented and are looking for advice, join in as well! And for anyone else looking to vent or simply tell us how stupid this blog is, well this is America and it’s still a free country so post away … just remember, I have ultimate control and can moderate anything I don’t like …
At the moment I arrive home from my four-day tour de force, I collapse onto my bed. It’s midnight and the room is spinning I am so exhausted and still reeling with stress. I kiss my wife and I see her smile in her sleep.
At that moment I am free, and I realize that I may not ever be free by forty, but I can have moments of pure freedom where I lay in the dark surrounded by my own four walls and my own thoughts about life and nothing can take that away! Surrounded by my family
The next night I tuck my daughter in and open our book to pick up where we left. My favorite show “The Americans” is on in 20 minutes. We finish the chapter and I say good night.
And, being the ultimate staller, she calls out to me as she normally does.
“Wait, Dad,” she says. “One more chapter please?”
I look at my watch and say, “sorry sweetie but my show is about to start.”
She pouts and rolls over and I kiss her forehead and leave. Laying on the couch, my show rolling through the previous episode, I suddenly feel ill at ease like something’s wrong. I scan my brain and the last few days flash through my head like a newsreel on rewind.
Then my profound moment from four nights ago comes to me and I realize I did exactly what I vowed not to do. I hit the DVR and pressed record and headed right upstairs to my daughter’s room.
“How about one more chapter honey?”
“Yeahhhh!” she exclaimed clapping her hands and we read two more chapters until she was out like a light snoring peacefully on my chest.