Practicing Availability:

May 17, 2011 in First Year Fatherhood  

Practicing Availability:

I almost never get embarrassed. I’ll put my foot in my mouth and move on before you can point fingers at something dumb I’ve done or said. It’s just something I’m used to.

However, recently I felt very embarrassed, and it struck me.

I was in my old hometown in the bay area California, getting some drinks with my brother. As drinking nights with brothers tend to go, we got nice and saturated, ready to get into the deepest and most important parts of life. We started talking about him being a new uncle, me being a new dad, the brevity and mystery of life, good friends, etc. And then he kind of dropped a bomb on me.


Brother: You know… You’re not involved enough with your kid, man. And your wife too.

Me: What?

Brother: Yea, I’m serious. I was talking with mom about it and you’re totally becoming that typical workaholic, not interested or invested in your kid, always on the computer, always doing other shit.

Me: What? You and mom talk about this often?


At the moment I just sort of took it on the chin and moved on, but, holy sh!t did it ever hurt to hear this. Partly because I felt like Mom and him were a bit too quick to pigeon-hole me, but mostly because I knew it was true.

In fact, I had already been thinking about it: I’m 28 with a 3 month old son, and I’m already living in a rhythm where a lot of my passion and attention is focused outside of my wife and child. Given my personality and history, that’s actually not too much of a surprise.

Me vs. The Enthusiast

I’ve loved self-help/self-dicovery stuff for a long time. I’ve always tried to figure out exactly what made me tick and what I was made of. I’ve studied and completed all sorts of those personality type tests; Myers-Briggs, Strength Finders, Facebook Mafia, etc. So I’ve analyzed my “personality” intensively over the past 5-10 years.

The most helpful tool I’ve found is called the Enneagram. I think Madonna invented it. It’s new-agey and Kabbalah-ish, but it’s incredibly insightful; it will tell you what you day dream about.

Here’s where I land in the Enneagram’s framework: I’m “The Enthusiast” (a 7 with a 4 wing if you know what I mean). I get passionate and fired up about stuff and am great at getting others fired up as well.

FYI: The book I recommend is called The Wisdom of the Enneagram. It not only blows your mind with who you are and what makes you tick, but it also helps you understand what you look like healthy, unhealthy, etc., and gives you some interesting ideas to move towards health.

The Enthusiast’s greatest strength is getting people excited about something. I do that really well. But an unhealthy Enthusiast is flighty, uncommitted, and schizophrenic. An unhealthy me is worried about what I’m missing, so I’m constantly looking over the shoulder of the person/project I’m with. Think Robin Williams at a subdued cocktail party, and you’ve got an image about how I move around through life.

My brother’s words called me out as being in an unhealthy place, too much flighty, too much uncommitted, too much schizophrenic attention outside of what matters most.

So, WTF (Why The Face)?

I’m driven, enthusiastic, entrepreneurial, and young. If there was ever a time to pursue side-projects and businesses, it’s now. But I’m also a husband and a father, and contrary to my recent behavior I’m deeply committed to building romance and intimacy with my wife and being interested in and involved with my son.

I was driving the other day with a sagely and experienced man. He told me,

“The thing about being a man is that we build and build and start and grow and build (our businesses, legacies, etc). You go from work to family to work to work to kid’s soccer practice to work to early morning to family dinner to work… And then you sell the company and you don’t have any friends.”

Nobody wants that. Nobody wants to sell the company, or finally arrive at a successful career and realize the family is broken, the wife doesn’t trust you, the kids don’t need or want you, irreparable damage has been done.

We’re all very capable of mucking things up like this. We are. And we’re all very capable of winning this. We are.

Practice Availability

So, here’s what I’m learning: I need to practice availability. I need to get better at setting aside focus on project x, y, or z, and attune myself to wife, child, and friend when necessary. I need to do this so I don’t end up the lonely king of some mole hill.

How can we practice this availability? I’m sure I could use the word “boundaries” somewhere in an answer, but I’m not sure in what way. So, let me solicit your help, dear reader. How can I/we practice availability in small, meaningful ways now so we don’t regret the damage we’ve done later on? Do you have any tips for shifting attention from work to family? Let us know!

Please Comment & Add Your Voice!

Jason Harris May 17, 2011 at 8:31 am

OMG – you have no idea how many levels this blog post hit me on.

I’ve read and analyzed my self using the Enneagram book and I’m much like you in traits and being pulled in different directions is something I struggle with also.

Chase, thanks man – you rule.

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chasereeves May 17, 2011 at 9:11 am

Hope it hit you in a good way (not a bad way). Thanks, Jason! I really appreciate it.

garrett a brown May 17, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Talk about a time to read this. Couldn’t have been a better, worse, time. My wife and I just had a come to jesus conversation about my tendency to check out. Makes me jealous to have had a brother like yours. That was a big risk for him and “wow” what a family to have noticed, discussed, and done something about it.

When the wounds are there they are so hard to heal. It takes so much capital to fix past mistakes that it is almost an impossible struggle and battle. Keep you head and feet moving forward (check from time time that you are still headed where you want). That’s all we can do.

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chasereeves May 17, 2011 at 1:18 pm

Ha! You probably wouldn’t be saying the same if you knew the fam! I kid, I kid. Thanks Garret!

Portland Dad May 17, 2011 at 12:23 pm

I think there is a growing disconnect from being there and being available. We mistake time in the same room with people we love for time spent engaged with them and this isn’t just an issue for The Enthusiast. I spend my entire day with my kids but the amount of time that I am available and engaged is a tiny fraction. Sometimes I settle for the good of quantity instead of the Best of quality.

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Josh Hall May 17, 2011 at 1:16 pm

Chase. Ouch. Great post my friend. Your honesty is always refreshing. This is something I too have been thinking a lot about lately with my wife and 2 y/o.
A few of the things i am practicing:

1. Unwinding before I get home. At the end of the day or a particularly busy attention draining week I have been trying to give myself 30 min-1 hr of time to go somewhere and do something that will help me disconnect from work and be ready to fully be at home i.e. Not ignoring my son or pretending to listen to my wife while i am thinking about something at work or some initiative I am working on. Going for a short walk, a drive, the bookstore, the driving range, whatever i need to decompress a little.

2. Separating my work/home environment a little more cleanly. I realized that wouldn’t come into the office everyday and spend my first 2-3 hours each day playing with trains on the floor with my son, or having a long involved conversation with my wife, or shopping online for the best deals on diapers and fruit snacks. Not because I wouldn’t actually rather be doing things like this, but because i have work that needs my attention. Unfortunately, I don’t always realize that at home it is equally as crazy to spend my time following up on emails that can wait, or working on projects outside of the office while my wife wants to talk, and my kid wants me to get on the ground and wrestle. To help with this I have been keeping my iphone and macbook at my desk in my room, that way when i am working at home it is obvious that i am disconnected from my family. I work much less in this case than when I’m on the couch with laptop and phone pretending to be present.

3. Creating a healthier rhythm with connectivity. I am working on “going dark” from all email, phone, and social media after 7 pm and before 9 am as part of my daily rhythm. I am also going off the grid entirely one day per week which is the day that I am home with my family. This is helping.

By the way I love the Enneagram as a tool for self-insight. Richard Rohr has some great resources on it. I am a classic Type 5: The Investigator. I have to work on putting aside my desire to think, learn, read and observe at the expense of giving of myself and getting my proverbial hands dirty, especially as it applies to raising a son! (They are after all dirty little buggers!)

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chasereeves May 17, 2011 at 1:23 pm

Boom! Good words, Josh. As the good lord says: “Make it count, mutherf&#ers.”… Naw, that was Tupac, definitely Tupac. :)

Jason Feffer May 17, 2011 at 5:21 pm

My practice (though if I am honest, I am doing a pretty terrible job these days) is Sabbath. This is a fairly simple (and incredibly challenging) practice, and whatever your spiritual or faith orientation it can do wonders. All you need to do is take one day each week to stop doing all the crap that drives you to the kind of busyness that distracts you from those things that are most important. Put down the phone, laptop, ipad, ipod, and remote. It’s just one day. Seriously, is it that important to know that distant acquaintance is at Chik-fil-a for the third time this week (and other world shattering tidbits from Facebook/Twitter)? Can the work email really not wait until tomorrow? Do you really need to subject yourself to another heartbreaking Cubs loss? And while you cease all the distractions, an interesting thing happens. You suddenly discover that there are in fact enough hours in the day to love on your wife and kids. So take that newfound time and engage in all those things that are really important. Personally I think it works best to take the same day each week because it creates an incredibly healthy rhythm, but that’s up to you. Anyway, that’s my $0.02.

Chase, thanks for getting this great site up and rockin. You’re one of the few blogs I check in on regularly. (Oh, and you ou didn’t hear this from me, but on occasion I catch my wife checking in too.)

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Chris Neiger May 17, 2011 at 6:24 pm

This is one of those things that scares me the most. Spending too much time and energy on something other than my wife and 3-month-old son. I work full-time, have a really consistent freelance job, and have a number of other projects in my head that I want to do. Even after four years of being married I’m still trying to figure out what the correct balance is. When is it alright to spend the whole night writing, when do I need to just pack it all away and go for a walk with the family, etc.

So far, I’ve found the most helpful way for me to gauge it is by just flat out asking my wife what she thinks (she’s pretty smart). I’ve gotten myself into some pretty intense freelance work situations where I had zero time for her and was braking my fingers getting it all done. So before I take a freelance gig, I get her opinion first. How busy does she think I am right now? Does she think the pay for this is worth the time I know I’ll have to put into it? If she’s skeptical, I know that at least part of that is her telling me that it’s going to take too much time away from her and the little guy.

So far, it’s working out pretty well.

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D Price May 18, 2011 at 3:56 pm

I asked a 60 yr old sage about the decade of the 30’s as a man. “What do I need to do to get it right?” His reply, “All I can tell you is this – The stakes are not as high as you think they are.”

He was referring to all those ways I’m trying to succeed, to achieve, to build, to get ahead of the curve. His words made my ambitions feel like hot air.

Character before Kingdom, Mr. Reeves. I’m in it for the long haul if you are. (Well, as long as you keep mixing me great cocktails…)

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chasereeves May 19, 2011 at 8:50 am

Indeed… Get back in your room… we will talk more about this later.

Shane Arthur June 6, 2011 at 11:54 am

I would suggest working on projects only after your kids are asleep. If you do the 9 to 5 thing, be with family until the kids are asleep, then go to your business. Turn off the bleepin’ television too. This will save you hours per day that you can shift to your business. Win, win, win.

I once read an analogy about this using picture-in-picture as the analogy. When you’re with your kids be with your kids. You can still think about work, but make sure those work thoughts are like the small picture-in-picture window in the corner. Don’t have your work thoughts in the big window of your mind and the present interactions with your kids in the small window on the side.

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Chase June 6, 2011 at 1:14 pm

Good words, Shane. Good words.

Collette March 23, 2013 at 9:56 pm

If I could give you any advice its to be aware of the toll your energy may take on others. I am in a long term relationship with an enthusiast and let me tell you, his energy can take its toll. When he becomes fixated on something, it does a number of things. Often the fixation can be on something completely opposite of what is currently taking place. An example, “let’s move to Louisiana.” And once you’re there, he begins talking about opening up a business and is researching areas where opening up shop can be the most beneficial. This makes you unavailable. Since the enthusiast is often a dreamer, (whether it involves your current position in life or a “possible” one) it makes communication very hard. If we speak out, we are the dream dashers, the nonsupportives. It is hard to find a balance of letting them dream and voicing ones own opinion. So my advice is this, be mindful of your energy and the toll it may take on others. And also, be open to reason when it comes to your focus. ASK FOR ADVICE. Then we don’t feel so much like we are rearing up to point out all the holes. Ask for advice and then take the time to dwell on it and whats realistic and what isn’t. Then, if you can, involve them.
Here’s the catch: if you’re at home, you’ll be thinking there is an experience at work to be had. If you are at work, you’ll be thinking about being at home. Enthusiasts biggest issues is appreciating what is in front of them. They struggle to live in the now. I promise you that if you IMMERSE yourself in family time when you are with family, your wife will feel better about your time spent at work. She will feel like you have been available while with her and your son and therefor not seconded when you take off with work. I hope this didn’t reach you too late for advice, I know I’m a bit behind here. Hope this helps
Collette

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