Monday, May 14, 2007


There are many "beaten paths" in the realm of the Autism blogosphere. One path that I have found to be only rarely taken is the one that discusses the delicate balancing act performed by parents between having a successful career and having a happy family. These terms, in some minds, are mutually exclusive. To other minds, they are akin to necessity. In mine, well ... let's just say they do not conform to traditional paradigms.
I have, by many definitions, a "successful" career. I am pleased and relieved by this. If I had to pick a word (which I don't, but for the sake of argument...), I would settle on 'fortunate' as the best one to describe my 13 years in the floral industry. I am the beneficiary, the porter, the trustee, the caretaker, and the workhorse (mind you, a workhorse is only 1/2 species removed from an Ass) of the Family Business. Our business procures and distributes fresh flowers to a very diverse customer base throughout North America. Our pleasure and pain lie in dealing with a beautiful, fickle, fragrant, perishable, emotion-driven, price-sensitive, color-saturated, margin-bereft product that would just as soon expire in the cooler as flourish on someone's dining room table. Oh, the drama!
So anyway, I wake up each morning (just like you), thoughts brewing (just like yours) on the various topics of my own personal life and its inevitable clash with my professional life (schedules, trips out of town, preschool graduation ceremonies that clumsily overlap important meetings, a complete breakdown in personal energy and motivation coinciding with a complete breakdown of one of our trucks' transmissions). And, like all of you reading this, I strap on my boots (or whatever footwear applies in your circumstance) and march out to work.
Now I would like to head off this diatribe by quoting a passage I just read this evening in a book by my Very Favorite Author. The Very Favorite Author is Mark Helprin. If anyone reading this blog has not yet discovered the pure joy of reading this man's literature, I suggest that you run - run! - to the nearest bookstore and purchase any one of his books. They are so damned good, they will forever recalibrate your opinion of what you thought you knew was good.
The setting: An old man - late 70's - and a young man - 17 - by happenstance end up walking together 70 km from one spot in Italy to another over the course of two long days. The old man, full of wisdom, is just getting the measure of the young man in this passage:

"I'm going to tell you something that you may or may not understand, and I want
you to memorize it and say it to yourself now and then, until, someday, you do
"Is it long?"
"Go ahead."
"Nicolo," Alessandro said.
"Nicolo," Nicolo repeated.
"The spark of life is not gain."
"The spark of life is not gain."
"Nor is it luxury."
"Nor is it luxury."
"The spark of life is movement."
"And furthermore..."
"If you really want to enjoy life, you must work quietly and humbly to realize your delusions of grandeur."
"But I don't have them."
"Start to have them."

Now I'm not going to sit here and proclaim that I have gathered every hidden meaning and potential nuance contained in this short passage, but I will say this: To me, it means that no matter what you thought your goals were when you started the journey (read: career, parenting, etc), the very fact that the goal has transformed to something else while you thought you were watching intently is what, by extension, gives meaning to our day-to-day existence. I know as well as you do that to wake up, tighten the proverbial bootstraps, and head out for another day's work is not easy, but it is in our commitment (not the "gain", not the "luxury") that we find our color, our movement, our love.
And therein lies the balance between career and family. It's not about reaching a career goal - how could it be, since the goal changes more quickly than we can conceive of it for even the briefest moment? The endpoint changes (movement), the value of achievement changes relative to immediate concerns (color), the joy experienced from the process shifts from topic to topic (love). Too much gain on one side, too much luxury on the other, and the balance is lost between the two. Having a child with special needs, for those of us who are so destined, means that our scales have more weight on both sides - the reward side, and the challenge side, and the balance struck between the two has been - at least in my case - just perfect.


VAB said...

What a wonderful post. I, too, run a business and therefore am able to fit a somewhat flexible career in with the extra demands of parenting an out-of-the-ordinary child. I have recently given quite a bit of thought what is happening to my career, as I have down-shifted a number of times to make room for about 20 hrs a week of daytime commitments with my guy. I like way you put it. I am a man whose life is rich in change and that is something to be grateful for.

Anonymous said...

Succesfull carreer indeed, that seems to be something way beyond my ken and I am not even a parent so what is my excuse then?

I see this as yet another north american blog.

Hell I am from the UK and a whole lot more priveleged than many in what is called the third world, but really the USA is due for a big fall a big truth realisation some time soon.

It can't go on forever, there is just not enough of anything to go round and even those who have the lions share will find that out the hard way.

Steve D said...

VAB - Thanks for your comment. Downshifting is not in the cards for me right now. "Downsleeping" seems to be the onlt choice right now.
Anonymous - What are you talking about? It sounds as if you are referring to material gain as the definition of "successful career". Did you read my post? And are you seriously predicting the downfall of the U.S.? Wow - you must know something I don't. My worldview indicates that when you combine a rather open society and economy with an individual who wants to apply their talents to building a career, family, or anything else, then good things can happen. Not to say the U.S. is the only place this happens, but it certainly fits in that category.

kelly said...

when a husband has his own career,he will become busier,so he has no time to stay with his family. But the wife hope that they can have more time together,but not more can we banlance this two aspects? Should the husband give up his career?

kelly said...

If there is someone who can give me a hand,I hope you can write me an E-mail. My address is you!

Steve D said...

Kelly -
You are asking a very complicated question - you are asking strangers to offer advice on a situation that we know very little about.
Look at it this way - the career/family issue is one that predates Western civilization - looking at it in a historical perspective, your feelings have been echoed throughout centuries. The power lies within you and your husband to find a balance that works. Good luck.