Like most people when I got married, my plan was we would stay together forever. My parents were married for 57 years before my mother died and her family had never experienced a divorce. We were very happy, at least I thought we were. We had two daughters who are my everything. Professionally things were very good. On the surface, we looked like the poster family for a successful marriage and family.
There were demons lurking for each of us. These demons were more than we could handle. Let’s take a step back. Let me tell you my story.
I was a military medic at the end of the Vietnam war. While I was not a combat medic, I did see a number of things a 19-year-old shouldn’t see. My military experience led me to become a hard-charging Type A person. I witnessed people whose lives were forever altered through no fault of their own. I promised myself that I would not become a victim.
I had a very short marriage while I was in the military. We were both too young and had no clue. I hurt but I was not going to be a victim. If she wanted to leave, she could leave.
Upon my discharge from the military, I went back to college. I did very well, graduated with honors, and quickly found a job in the high-tech field. I was a few years older than most of the people I started with and my four years managing and directing personnel in the military separated me from the younger “frat boys.”
I moved up quickly, was promoted, and relocated where I found the woman of my dreams. We dated for a while. I was sure she was the one, but she didn’t immediately feel the same. She told me that she struggled with bouts of depression and felt we should put everything on hold. We didn’t date for 18 months. During that time my career continued to rise and I found myself travelling extensively both domestically and internationally. When we did get back together, I was still convinced she was one and this time she was ready to commit.
We moved for a job from California to South Carolina quite a change for a New York boy and California girl. My travelling increased and she would use my frequent flyer miles to go back to California if my trips were longer than a week. It was like a jet-set marriage.
By the time our daughters were born, I was a senior-level manager. Money was great, but with a senior role comes more responsibility and more travel. I wasn’t much help at home when I was on the road, and when I was home, I was “Disneyland Dad,” which added to her stress and depression. The job started to consume me. When my wife and I were alone, my mind was on the project in Australia or the deal in Texas. I wasn’t present. I thought I was handling things. I was professionally but the personal life seemed to be drifting apart.
I became a CEO for companies that were failing. We were about to turn them around. I always made time with and for my daughters but I was so tired I didn’t have the energy for my wife.
One of the biggest challenges I faced as a CEO was finding someone, without an agenda, to talk to; to bounce ideas off; to discuss financial and personnel issues; to discuss how they addressed some of the issues I faced. I didn’t look very hard because I believed I could handle it myself. I was extremely good at what I did; I trusted my judgment and I was competitive enough that I would usually win the deal. I felt I didn’t need or want an advisor or a sounding board, so I put all the burden on myself. Well, that burden started off as a little ripple and over time it grew to a tidal wave that negatively impacted every area of my life.
My temperament changed to the point where I didn’t even like me. I drank too much, was angry, frustrated, and depressed. I felt like I was on a treadmill that keeps going faster and faster. No matter how hard I worked, I couldn’t keep up.
My marriage of 24 years failed. You would think after 24 years I would have figured out how to keep a happy and thriving marriage. I didn’t talk or share my struggles with my then-wife and I guess she got tired of living with someone who wasn’t present.
I lost patience with my staff and dealing with my customers and my business became an annoyance. It was not a pleasant time in my life.
When my wife left, I had custody of my two daughters who were 10 and 15 at the time. I could not stay in the high-tech field due to the extensive travel. I bought an insurance agency so I could be a full-time Dad. Now moving from a proactive world of hi-tech to the reaction world of insurance for a Type A person is like dying and going to hell.
Now add on top of a major career change, relocating to a new state, and a major drop in income, I was now a single father.
Raising two daughters as a single father was both the most challenging yet the most rewarding experience of my life. They impacted me far more than I impacted them.
They taught me how to listen; to understand that they did not want me to step in and fix things, but rather to talk about and validate their feelings. Not easy for a Type A person. It did however help me to become acutely aware of the obstacles women face in many areas, be it health care or career choices or job advancement or funding a business.
I had to change. There was no way I could raise my daughters alone when I was suffering from, what I now know is toxic masculinity coupled with clinical depression. I had to make sure my daughters saw that men were able to talk and discuss issues in a calm, non-judgmental matter. That men could be counted on for support.
I could not run a business and raise my daughters without help. I started working with professionals, who helped me understand that it is not a sign of weakness to fail as long as I learned from the process; that I was not less of a man to seek and ask for help.
Something had to change. But what?
1. I had to be open and willing to talk with and listen to my daughters
2. I had to talk about their and my fears
3. I had to learn how to validate their feeling
4. I had to learn I cannot fix everything
Oh my God—for many men, this is our worst nightmare.
My daughters both graduated from college and have become confident and secure young women. They both have promising careers and are making a positive impact in the world.
When my youngest daughter graduated, I sold my company and dedicated myself to helping business leaders and their organizations thrive both personally and professionally. I have teamed with Susan Golden, Marc Porter, Ph.D., Tom Crea, and Nicole Bendaly because if I can help just one person or organization avoid the land mines that I stepped on, then I have made a positive contribution.
One way I am trying to make a contribution is through my weekly radio show on the voiceamerica.com network called Life Altering Events. The show has had a number of women guests who talked about obstacles they faced with both personal and professional relationships. My guests have included author and TV show host Mel Robbins who described how her “Five Second Rule” helped her move from near professional and personal bankruptcy to the most in-demand female speaker and television host of the Mel Robbins show. We had author Latachia Morrissette Harper who discussed the challenges women face as they pick up the pieces after divorce. Susan Golden, the President of Golden Leadership, LLC, who holds a series of workshops and seminars around the country helping women elevate women professionally. Dr. Maria Artunduaga talked about the obstacles she has faced and is overcoming as a native of Columbia trying to make her mark as an inventor in the heavily dominated male medical field.
Recently we had Rev. Patricia Cagganello and Kathleen O’Keefe Kanavos the authors of “Moving from Chaos to Clarity” to discuss real-life stories of people who have accepted and are growing from change. When I was asked if I would be interested in doing an episode regarding a man’s perspective on relationships, I was intrigued. Let’s face it, this is a topic that doesn’t get much press or exposure mainly because men don’t openly talk about their emotions or fears or insecurities regarding relationships. For those of us who are old enough to remember, the Ideal Man was the Marlboro Man (a rugged individual, out working alone, riding his horse, who didn’t need anything or anyone).
Believe it or not ladies, the vast majority of men want a deep and meaningful relationship. They want someone to share their life, hopes, dreams, and yes fears. One major problem is we don’t know-how.
Much of the culturalization of males going back to the cavemen days, is hide your emotions, don’t show any vulnerability, fix things yourself – even when all your partner wants is for you to listen, not fix the problem. I know because that was me.