Earlier this week, I was at a park with Atlas. As he played in the playground, I noticed a woman carrying an orange balloon while she walked up one of the paths. Early in the morning, it seemed like an unlikely time for somebody to be walking with a balloon, and I was curious to see where she would go with it.
A few months prior, a young man was shot and killed at this park. Erected in his memory was a small memorial filled with small trinkets, flowers and photos from loved ones. Despite my curiosity, I assumed this was where the woman was headed.
Instead of stopping at the makeshift memorial, the woman walked with the balloon and headed into the woods on the walking trail, still carrying the balloon. At that point, I was somewhat surprised. Atlas continued playing in the playground, and I resumed what we were doing – which involved chasing him around and showing him the musical instruments featured inside of the playground structure.
A few minutes later, the woman emerged from the trail – sans balloon. As she walked toward the parking lot, I picked up Atlas and walked up to her, and said:
”Excuse me, do you mind if I ask who the balloon was for?”
Somewhat surprised, she turned to me and I could see the tears welling in her eyes before she spoke a word.
“They’re for my Dad. He passed away two years ago today.”
”I lost my Dad, too…over 16 years ago. May I give you a hug?”
Without hesitation, she nodded and embraced the two of us. At this point, we were both shared tears.
I asked her what her Father’s name is (not was) and shared with her some of my own reflections that I’ve had as somebody on a similar path, just a decade or so ahead of her.
“The pain never goes away – and it isn’t supposed to. But they’re always with us, just in a different way….”
We continued to talk for a few minutes with Atlas occasionally chiming in with his own little words. As I held him, I realized just how much all of us are on our own journey in life, and our stories interweave with each other like puzzle pieces – which occasionally feel like shards of broken glass as they’re handed to us.
This evening, I chatted with several of my family members, and we all shared memories about Dad, agreeing that he would be blown away at the technology we now have in our world and what you can do with it.
Were Dad still here, I have no doubt that he’d be working right next to me on the graveyard shift at his computer, also plugging away at his tasks and using the latest tools and technologies available – as I now do to accomplish my work.
In some ways, I’ve come further than him. He never really cracked the nut of how to replace himself with a team, which is something I’ve nearly turned the corner on accomplishing. If he had, I have no doubt that he would have spent more time with all of his kids. Yet, it was his distance – at times – that instilled in me a desire to build my company in a way that it could operate largely without my direct involvement.
I often think about the movie TRON, as the main character wrestled with his Father’s obsession with work and the late hours it demanded of him before engulfing him entirely. It was that disappearance that led Sam to eventually dive into the computer where he would once again meet his Dad, and discover the truth about his absence.
“It’s a whole new world in there…you’ll always be on my team, son.”
Now that I’m a Dad, I find myself saying similar things to Atlas, while also reminding him about the job I have as his Father.
“What’s Dad’s job?”
”Safe.” He says.
“That’s right, Atlas. It’s my job to keep you safe – with my very life.”
I often ask Atlas this question as he watches me strap on my gun before I put on my pants, or when we’re driving on the highway and I need to focus on the road instead of give him a toy. In many ways, Atlas seems to understand the role and responsibility I carry as his Father.
It isn’t a Dad’s job to be some badass with heat. Rather, it’s my role to lay down my life for Atlas if the situation calls, and step up to the plate to take every measure necessary to ensure his safety, from predators to distracted drivers, I have a duty to keep him out of harms way and stand in the gap between anything that may cause him harm.
It’s one of the reasons why Atlas never leaves my sight when he’s with me. Not because I’m some overbearing parent, but because I know there’s nobody on the plane[t[ that’s more qualified or capable of keeping him safe than me, and I do not allow a moment to pass without my direct observation unless I know he is safe. The only exception to this rule is when I entrust the caretakers at our church to watch him for an hour while I sit in the service, less than 20 yards away from him.
Not many parents take this approach with their children, and I understand the difficulty one faces when a similar measure of care isn’t given by both parents to maintain this 1-1 level of care for their child.
See, a lot of parents create distance between their involvement with their children; thinking they’re doing something for their kids when they stick them in the hands of a sitter and go to work, citing a lack of choice. You always have a choice, and a child will never be impressed with a business you build if it means being passed off to somebody other than their parents to love, care for and play with them.
That’s why I work when I do – which is during the hours where I’m not with Atlas. By making the most of every hour, our time together is spent as it should be; together. Each time Atlas returns to me, I show him what I’ve been working on, or the surprises I’ve gotten for him in his absence, rather than greeting him with a hangover, as many single parents bequeath their children when they pick them up from the other parent.
I know that someday I will pass away and leave Atlas behind. At least, that’s how I’ve seen life work. I hope that I live my life in such a way that he’ll carry a ballon for me, ride a motorcycle in my memory, or find his own unique way of connecting what once-was with what-is.