Walking through a small French ski town I noticed a simple, perfect metaphor for something I’ve been struggling with: leadership in the family context.
There was a father carrying his skis on one shoulder, walking slowly and carefully down the sidewalk. He stopped at a crosswalk, awaited the walk signal, and crossed the road to arrive at the ski lift base. Behind him were two small children, both carrying skis in a similar fashion, following carefully in their fathers’ footsteps. This man could have saved himself a lot of time had he left the congested sidewalk, hopped some snow piles, and walked down the road like many of the other skiers. But he didn’t. He couldn’t. He was leading his family. The children were mimicking his every move, and he had to model what they needed.
Since the beginning of my wedded bliss I’ve always said that the hardest thing about marriage is that I’m no longer thinking and acting for one. Every decision, every action, affects my wife just as it does me. Maybe in a certain situation I’d be happy to sacrifice my own comfort, but I can’t just snap to that decision because I’m not the only one sacrificing. Sometimes I speak too quickly, before I think through every side of a response and how it affects BOTH of us. As it turns out, rippling consequences multiply even more so as my family grows.
Now I have a wife, two kids, and we live far from every comfortable memory and familiar face from the first 25+ years of our lives. More than ever my family needs me to be a leader. So I drive and direct, I do finances, I deal with legal paperwork, I even make hard family decisions. But that’s not leading, at least it’s not all of it. I spend time with my kids, I do chores... all good things, but still not what my family needs of me.
I need to walk the path that I want my kids, my wife, my whole family to walk together.
Diverge for a second... allow me to explain why something so simple is so hard for me. I have this weird complex about hiding the ‘good’ things I do. Not exactly hiding, but sort of shielding. It’s like this strange attempt at running from pride that I’ve ingrained in myself. I nearly always make gifts for my wife surprises, because I don’t want her to have even a hint that I’m doing something nice. If I’m home alone I make that my time to clean the house or wash an extra load of dishes/laundry, all because I don’t want to look like I’m begging for praise... or something. Instead of openly declaring a time to study the Bible, I find times that are blank spots in the day where no one will notice if I disappear for 30 minutes. Yes, I’m strange.
But that which I have always done is the opposite of what my family needs right now. I must sacrifice my own preferences and ticks to walk the walk that my family needs to walk. I need to stop doing worthwhile things in secret, and start doing them in front of and amongst my family. I must do it not for myself, but for the value that will be learned and adopted by those that love and respect me. I need to interpret the needs of my family and do exactly those things.
I should get up early, even though I don’t want to (or think I need to). I ought to organize and streamline in a way that makes sense to someone other than just myself. I have to deal with the discomfort of living my life as an open book, which must include the good things. I have two beautiful children that already imitate everything I do. Lead by example, right? It’s not that hard.
And then there's this:Where does he get these ideas?!