One of my favorite movies is “The Pursuit of Happyness” which follows a man on a mission to discover a better life for himself and his son. Will Smith plays the lead character, Chris Gardner, and I think it’s one of his best films in his career.

The movie is painfully hard to watch, as viewers witness a progressive life beatdown of Gardner as he desperately tries to make a better life for his family – with little to no success. A salesman, he prospects offices with a medical device, which he had to personally drag around from office to office in hopes that he would sell the actual unit.

*Pausing here* – I have to thank my parents, because they taught me to write the ‘theme’ of most movies I watched as a child, and I now find myself doing that…as an adult. A. S. D. F. J. K. L. ;. Thank you, Mom and Dad.

Behind on his rent, Gardner has one single device left to sell, and his family is depending on him to do so. It seems like things can’t get much worse, when suddenly that machine is stolen by a man on the streets and Gardner has run out of luck.

You see the pain, tears and frustration in his eyes and he realizes his machine – and thus, his hope to get caught up on his bills and feed his family – is suddenly gone.

I’ve had a lot of moments like that in my life, including several this year. Even as I write this, I’m owed several months of retainer payments from multiple clients that have dodged my calls, text and emails. As a result, I’ve had to drum up my Rolodex and source new work, which I’ve been successfully able to do – though it’s been an uphill battle at times.

By a stroke of luck, Gardner discovers the thief and is able to retrieve his machine. Yet, after several days of being in the streets, the device is now in disrepair and it’s up to Gardner to fix the machine so he can sell it. He takes on the task, working late at night to get it to work again. You see the spark of hope in his eyes as it eventually powers on and he’s once again able to go back to try and sell it to an office.

In my life, I’ve had a lot of these moments, where I feel as if I’m working against time, bills and an additional mouth to feed as I work through difficult challenges to get my ‘machine’ working again. In some cases, that means staying up late to complete client projects, as I did last night after Atlas fell asleep. In other cases, it means working odd hours to work alongside my team and provide them with the support they need in order to get their job done for Tripleskinny.

Through the ups and downs, I’ve learned one thing; living a value-based life is far more important to me than obtaining any measure of financial success. I don’t have any dreams or aspirations of making more money so that I can buy a bigger house, fancier car or clothing. None of those things matter, and will eventually fade with time – if not, become more of a liability as I acquire them.

What does matter to me is spending time with Atlas, and I’m willing to do anything to have more time with him that isn’t muddied by stress, client work or obligations that take me away from him. As a man who buried his father nearly 17 years ago, I can assure you that what mattered most to me was the time that I spent with my Dad.

My parents weren’t rich. In fact, I now have a better understanding of the level of financial difficulty our family faced, as my Mom now tells me stories about moments where we struggled. I remember one morning, she woke all of us up and told us we were going to the athletic club for an early swim. In reality, our gas had been shut off and she didn’t want us to have cold showers that morning. Instead, we toted our gym bags into Sawmill Athletic Club, played in the pool, and felt like were were doing something special that morning. We had no idea that the gas was shut off.

My parents could have chosen a different path; one where our bills never pile up, utilities turned off, or cars beyond secondhand. That path would have involved both of my parents working and placing us kids in the public school system. They didn’t – and I’m eternally grateful for their sacrifices, as well as ability to work as a team that effectively raised six children, all of which have managed to go into the world and single-handedly become successful, each in our own right and way.

Now that I’m a Dad, I realize that even a single Dad has a choice in how he’s going to be one. It would be substantially easier for me to find a babysitter and take time away from Atlas in order to take on more client work, grow my business and spend more time in front of my computer doing what I do best. However, I chose (and choose) not to go that route because I’ve realized one hard truth; one day, Atlas is going to be an adult and I believe that every second is precious in getting him to that point of his life.

Additionally, one day I’m going to be dead, and all he’s going to have ‘left’ of me is the memories that we create together, and the 944 I plan to give him when he’s old enough to drive responsibly. I have vivid memories of my life as early as two years old, and I have a feeling that he will likely remember these moments we share now – even if they’re fragmented moments, I always want him to look back and know that Dad was there for him.

Atlas has given me a new sense of purpose in my life, and it’s been far more satisfying to be his Dad than any measure of financial success I’ve ever gained in my life. He means more to me than building a digital empire, having a ritzy marketing/design agency or even owning a large house that I’d have to slave away in order to upkeep and pay off for 30 years.

Earlier this week, I realized something that hit me square in the face; nobody on this planet spends more time with Atlas than I do, now that I share equal custody. Atlas isn’t passed off to a sitter, left with anybody else or stuck in a daycare. That realization was the most affirming thing I’ve discovered since becoming a parent – because it’s an indicator that I’m providing him with the one thing that matters most; time with his parent(s).

When I moved to Lewisville, I made up my mind that I would find a home where he could be comfortable, safe and happy. I also made up my mind that he would be driven in the safest car that I could find. While my townhome is a far cry from a Highland Park mansion, I always remind myself that were I to live in this home in a city like San Francisco, I’d feel like I was living in a palace – and probably paying $6,000-8,000 as opposed to the $1,800 I now pay for a 3-story townhome + 2 car garage. For the two of us, it’s all the palace we need.

While I abhor the monthly payments, I love the car that I drive (Volvo XC90) and am confident driving Atlas around in a vehicle that’s safe, well-equipped for our adventures, and has enough bells and whistles to keep both Dad and Son fully entertained, safe on the road and comfortable.

Happiness and success are something that many people chase. I think far more people have financial success than peace and happiness, and those are two things that money can’t buy. What I found interesting is that when I stopped chasing money, it finally caught up to me and started coming in ways that I didn’t before, and continues to.

For me, financial success is having a team that works hard to deliver projects I can deliver to my clients, rather than having a lot of clients where I’m solely responsible for being the one doing the work. As a result, I have peace, contentment and the joy of knowing that our shared efforts feed not just one, but four families every single month.

I think that every parent hopes to give their children a better life than the one they had, as well as a better life than the child themself lived while under their parenting. In my case, I am thankful that my Dad worked tirelessly to provide for his family, but it also came at the cost of being able to spend the sort of time with him that I wanted to as a child. As a result, I knew that it would be important for me to get my team to a point where they could manage a bulk of my client deliverables and work while I’m asleep – which they do effectively.

As a single Dad with no family for hundreds of miles, my greatest challenge has been in feeling like I have the direct support and time with the ones I love. It’s also a mental struggle at times to put in the work to keep my home in order, or do things like wrestle with changing stroller wheel inner tubes with nobody to cheer me on other than the paintings on my wall. However, this journey is one that I’ve had to embrace, accept and somehow find the silver lining between the moments when I’m alone – and there are a lot of them.

There’s a part of me that feels like a loser because I’m home on a Friday night writing this blog, rather than out somewhere. Yet, I feel and know that my priorities are in alignment with my values, and that I’ll be a much better parent on Monday when I pick up Atlas after putting in a weekend of work, practice on my instruments and picking up his room so that he can thoroughly destroy it when he’s back with Dad.

It’s all worth it. Every. Single. Second.

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