My wife described our first three months in Austria the best: She compared the craziness of it all to the first three months after the birth of our triplets. That precious human messiness that changes your heart and soul forever – beautiful and brutal at the same time!
At times we wanted to cry (and did!) and at times we laughed and laughed ‘till our bellies ached (we did that too)! But probably the most beautiful thing I have learned from our new Austrian friends so far, is the concept of “egal”. It is usually used in a sentence like: “Es ist egal” meaning: “It is all the same” or “it really makes no difference.” But for me, there is a deeper meaning to “egal” and the way it is used. It also means “let it go” – almost in the same way that Elsa meant it in “Frozen”. It is like dropping a small twig into a stream. A gentle but intentional act. You are letting go of the twig by opening your hand and letting it slip out. You see it dropping into the water and watch as it is slowly carried away, going further and further, being carried away with the flow of the stream until you see it no more. It is gone.
A child drops her melting ice cream into the grass beneath her feet and begins to cry. “Es ist egal”, her mother says softly. Let it go – it is not that important.
A businessman just heard he’s been retrenched. “Es ist egal”. Just let it slowly drift away. For when it is gone, it can do no more harm. Things can only get better.
I am standing in a room full of people, alone with my glass of wine. I take a sip every now and then whilst glancing at the people around me. My eyes meet those of a beautiful stranger, also standing alone, seemingly entertained by the buzzing noise of the people around her. I quickly look away, knowing that someone so gorgeous wouldn’t be here alone. I wouldn’t want to intrude. Later, I see her leaving. Alone. My assumption was wrong, but now she’s gone.
Sometimes we make a lifelong, life changing choice in a moment. Very often, that choice is based on assumptions, which are based on our frame of reference – our experience. We don’t realise that it is life changing right there at that moment, but we still make that choice – for better or for worse.
Do I make the call to him or not? If I do, he may reject me. Maybe not even answer the phone. The story ends right there.
However, if he shares my infatuation with him, it may be the beginning of a lifetime of shared experiences – a lifetime of magic!
We make these choices all the time, not knowing that the consequences of each of our choices open up, or close countless doors of opportunity. Every opportunity not taken, ever person not met, every experience not experienced ends the magical wave of possibilities which could have grown from that first encounter, right there.
It is better to do, despite the fear of failure. Do it anyway!
Better to try than to shy away. Better to hope than to live in hopelessness. Better to move now than to wait for the right moment.
That moment may never come. Do it right now!
A week or so ago we went to a holiday resort with our kids. The resort has a big water-slide – about three storeys high. Two of our kids were instantly excited about this cool ride! But the other two… not so much.
Facing your fears and overcoming them is something often talked about, but the programming begins at a very early age. Very early in our lives, the connections are formed. We start telling ourselves that we are able to do scary or difficult things. Or we tell ourselves that it’s just too difficult. That we won’t be able to pull it off and therefore shouldn’t even try, as the risk of failure and humiliation is too high.
My eldest wouldn’t go on a water-slide since he was old enough to understand his own fearfulness. For years we would try and convince him to at least try. We would beg, offer to accompany him and try to explain what he was missing out on, but to no avail. He just wasn’t ready. And to force him was no option. It would break the trust between us.
But this time was different. He watched his sisters come down the slide a couple of times and then went up with them to investigate. It took him years, but he was ready to look his fear in the eye. When he came to the top, he hesitated: this was tougher than he expected. But he decided to do it anyway! And when he came to the bottom of the slide – he’s laughter said it all! He probably went down the slide another thirty times after that first “breaking the ice” experience that day.
Then it was our youngest boy’s turn. He’s two years his brother’s junior and had absolutely no interest in trying. It seemed way too scary and he was happy watching from down below. But I knew he would love it if only he tried! So I tried a little psychology: No. More psychology: No. A portion psychology with a hint of positive guilt: Nope. Okay, so I needed another approach: Psychology (to face the fear) plus reward (to make it worth facing the fear) and… voilà! He conjured enough courage to try the slide once, and then spent the rest of the day enjoying the thrill of the adrenaline rush, as prophesied. By the time the reward became due, it was already irrelevant. The real reward was the gift of leading him through his fear, enabling him to “show his fear who’s the boss”. We discussed this concept with our kids when debriefing on the day’s events (as we usually do).
It is so important to instil a mindset of “I have what it takes” in the early development stage of a child. It is commonly known that the first seven years is a crucial time from a “programming” perspective. This is the time when the most important connections are made in the brain. It is therefore a decisive phase to start showing Fear who’s the boss. If this life skill is mastered at an early age, the benefits will manifest exponentially throughout the life of the child.
This morning I woke up late – the perfect way to start a morning on a bad foot! As with most mornings, I try to cram too many activities into one morning, despite being late: Prayer and meditation (the day will be even crappier without it), some prioritisation of the tasks ahead (otherwise I’ll get nothing done), replying to overdue emails (before office hours for extra effect), doing a few stretches before my shower (my back kills me if I neglect this) and having a few words with my wife whilst preparing our breakfast protein shake (a quick chat is even more important than the protein shake!). I grab my briefcase before I run out to jump into the car. By now I am really late. Wifey gets a quick kiss and the kids will have to do with a “Enjoy your day guys – love you!” for today as I head for the garage in a frenzy. Once inside, I start the car and head for the driveway. Just then, my one daughter (5 years old) comes running out from the front door. I didn’t give her the hug that she is used to this morning and she’s on her way to demand it! I contemplate a clear and distinct wave as a consolation to her before I drive off – I’m really late and my first meeting starts in 20 minutes! Just as I lift my hand for that cowardly wave, she trips and falls on the hard paving underneath her. Looking up at me, she starts crying – tears running down her cheeks. There and then I stop the car, park it and get out. I run to my daughter, grabbing her into my arms and holding her tight whilst wiping away tears and telling her everything is alright. I slowly drop down to sit on the driveway – legs crossed with daughter on lap – just being with her for a while. The tears start to fade and after a while a smile replaces the frown. We sit there a little while longer, breathing in the fresh morning air, connecting with each other and enjoying our moment as if the world around us does not exist. When I eventually get back into my car, I notice that five minutes have passed. Only five! That’s the time it took to reconnect with my little girl. Was I late for the meeting? Yup – five minutes late. But that five minutes meant all the world to her. I prioritised her over anything else when she really needed me, and the five minutes late at the meeting was forgotten five minutes after the first agenda item was announced. Many a time, five minutes is all it takes to mend a heart or to break it.
Many a time, five minutes is all it takes to mend a heart or to break it.
My father was a military man. I loved him to bits. He was a man of stature; both physically and in rank. I was very proud of him and I can remember specific occasions which made me feel even more proud than usual. Like the times we would drive to his base camp in his big old Mercedes-Benz. We would be saluted by the guards at the gate and by everyone else in uniform as we made our way to the main building where his office was. Once there, we would walk into his big office at the end of the corridor – an office befitting to the senior rank he held with flags on both sides of his huge wooden desk. The walls were decorated with honorary awards of all kinds. Throughout his office, there were all sorts of interesting artefacts: Spent cannon shells, bayonets and scale models of military vehicles. Photographs of friends and foes with a story to each them scattered throughout. His office kept me busy for hours.
He was a senior officer, and I was the senior officer’s son – a title I keenly assigned to myself as if it was a rank in its own right. I believed that my dad could conquer the world! He was able to order the mobilisation of tanks and cannons and other armoured vehicles in a matter of hours. The politics and authorisations around doing was unknown to me, obviously. The way I saw it, he had what it took to move and shake the world! And because I was his son, I believed I had that too.
But I didn’t always feel this way about my dad. He did not always act honourably and principled. There were times when his short temper would get the better of him and he would take it out on me. There were times when he would say things without thinking. Things that he didn’t really mean and would not have said had he thought it through.
One specific day – I must have been about nine or ten years old – my dad said to me: “Why are you not more like so and so?” He was referring to a friend of mine. I can’t really remember what the context was, but I remember that he wanted me to be more like someone else’s son. He wasn’t happy with the way I was put together – with the only me I knew how to be. Or at least, this is how I felt. From that moment on, I could sense my “not having what it takes” in almost every interaction with that friend of mine. In that very moment, my self-esteem was gone – stolen unintentionally.
Although he probably only said it to me once on that specific occasion, it kept replaying in my head, over and over a hundred times. It became like a broken record – something I wasn’t able to stop that kept on repeating itself in my mind. It became part of my inner voice. In my mind, I declared that I did not have what it takes. Why? Because my dad said so. The guy in uniform – my ultimate figure of authority. If he said so, it had to be true.
You may wonder how it is possible for me to still remember that incident of so long ago. But we all have incidents like that. Just get over it, dude! Well, I believe I have. But it probably took me three decades to figure out that I DO actually have what it takes – in so many ways! Ways that are totally unique to me; that taps into my traits, abilities and personality to create a package of valuable service to those around me. I discovered that I could be of great service to man and God alike – very fulfilling experience!
I believe that my dad probably struggled with the same burden I struggled with. I wonder if his father ever took him on his knee and told him that he loved him and that he had what it takes – that he was so proud of him. I doubt it. I never asked him about it because he died when I was 15.
How can a man’s heart be big enough to support the needy and strong enough to defend the weak if he does not know that he is loved? And how can his character be strong and steadfast if someone didn’t tell him that he has what it takes? But there is someone very special that can make magic happen in a little boy – someone who can make him believe that he has what it takes – better than anyone else. That someone is his daddy. No one else will be able to say to him – with more effect and credibility – that he has what it takes. No one else can do it like dad. A son yearns to hear it from his father.
We can share with our boys what it takes to be a man. We can guard and direct their minds so they can grow strong and resilient with a moral compass. We can pray with them daily to teach them where their Strength lies. We can teach them to work hard and play hard and to be brave in the face of danger. We can encourage them to stand up for what they believe in. But all of these concepts will only blossom in a young man whose dad took him on his knee and told him that he has what it takes.