Although he is happy with the strong, loving family he raised with his late wife, retired CEO Jim Shepard of Finning International and Canfor, reflects on the sacrifices associated with his professional success and the second chance he’s getting now that he’s a grandfather.
As a child, I had a strong family upbringing — until I entered my teen years, when I lost it due to my mother’s death, and my father’s escape into an alcoholic haze. I saw how fast a family can dissolve when alcohol takes control of a household. My childhood began in a good home, and ended as homeless teenager, wandering in and out of alcohol-sodden rooming houses as my father wandered in and out of beer parlours. My strongest memory as a teen was how much I missed my early family home.
I think that explains why I married my high school sweetheart, Dianne, just 10 days after university graduation. Our happy marriage lasted 42 years until my dear wife’s passing at age 65.
Dianne and I built a strong, loving and stable family with two wonderful sons that subsequently led to the happy arrival of three grandsons. My two sons both graduated from university and each have built their own unique and successful business operations. I am very proud of them. My three grandsons have all been straight-A students, with the oldest now attending Western Ontario University.
I must confess that although I was committed to being a good parent, I didn’t truly appreciate the deep value of parenting until I became a grandfather. It sounds weird, I admit, but I had to become a grandfather in order to understand the huge responsibility of fatherhood.
While my two sons will say I was a good Dad, I believe I could have done so much better for my sons, and eased the pressure on my wonderful late wife.
So what was missing in my role as parent?
The answer is fully explained with one word: time.
Due to my penny-less teen years, I became obsessed with being a good provider for my family. I succeeded by rising from salesman to Chair and CEO of a multi-billion dollar international company. I was able to provide a solid economic foundation for my family, a nice home in good neighbourhood.
But I paid a significant price for success. I was absent from the occasional birthday party, stage performance or soccer game, and the fishing trips we spoke of but never took.
Looking back, I could have done better. I could have placed the vital childhood moments of my sons at the top of my schedule and not at the bottom after I met my business demands.
After I retired and became a grandfather, I realized how many of these precious moments I had missed with my sons.
I take some comfort in my son’s parenting style; this eases my sense of loss when it comes to my own sons’ childhood. He really understands how to balance the time demand of business success with being an accessible father.
I am now in my golden years, which gives me a viewpoint with some clarity.
That clarity reveals a few nuggets of wisdom about my family that can perhaps be insightful for others. For what they are worth, here they are:
1. My early, happy childhood memories drove me to find a way out of my homeless teenage reality, and back into a stable loving family.
2. The time I sacrificed with my sons to build my business ultimately allowed me to invest more substantially into the well being of my grandchildren. (Maybe that is nature’s way of giving a father a second chance — by applying what he missed with his children to his grandchildren.)
3. I took advantage of this second chance by providing my grandchildren with the best education available at a local private school (something I could not afford for my two sons). I also provided each with their choice of a trip anywhere in the world before their 12th birthday. That took us to neat places like Crete, Rhodes, Athens, Paris, Normandy, London, Barcelona, New York and San Franscisco. We even visited a campus or two such as Oxford, Sorbonne and Stanford.
4. My one condition was that my grandsons take full advantage of the opportunities. They have rewarded me with their superb academic performance and a continuing appreciation of their fortunate situation. They are all very committed to giving to back to the community including fundraising for the Nanook Child Care facility for the less fortunate.
5. Another mutual initiative I launched with my grandchildren was writing books. My youngest grandson, Charlie, and I have just published a book titled Flight Checks. (You can purchase it at all major online retailers.) It tells the story of Jake, a poodle-cross who plans to become an airline pilot and to learn to speak Parisienne French. The book’s message for young readers is that anything is possible if you aim high, and never give up on your goal.
Looking back on my life with so many blessings, I have to say that my family was the greatest blessing of all.
This is #1000families post number 222. Do you have a family story of your own to contribute to the 1,000 Families Project? Or do you know a family that might want to do so? Learn more about how the series got started and how to get involved here. You can find all of the #1000families posts here.
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