On Travel & Tradeoffs as a Dad

October 4, 2019

I couldn’t believe I was crying.

It was 11 PM and I was standing on the sidewalk on Boylston St. in Boston as people were filing past me on both sides and here I was with tears streaming down my face.

I had been glued to my phone all night. The Lake Travis Youth Association 10U Dodgers were playing in the Championship game against the Cardinals, which hadn’t lost a game all year. I had been the head coach of the Dodgers that year and both of my sons, Luke & Brady, were on the team alongside the sons of many of our best friends. It was the final round of the playoffs and we had already lost a game, which meant we had to beat the Cardinals twice to win (and they only had to win one).

Those who know me well know I’m the kind of head coach whose week rises and falls with each game. Not the wins and losses as much as the results. Did the kid we’d been working with on hitting all week finally make contact? Did they 2nd baseman we’d been coaching on getting his glove in the dirt run off the field with a smile on his face after snagging that ground ball? Did my boys do their best and build confidence? Did I make a coaching mistake?

This was one of my favorite teams of all that I have coached for many reasons but mostly because they punched above their weight-class in terms of age and skill. They were gritty and tough and I was proud to be their coach.

Yet on the biggest night of the year – the championship – I wasn’t in the dugout or on 3rd base coaching – I was glued to my phone in a booth at Atlantic Fish Company in Boston, MA as my good friend and assistant coach, Steve Gordon, led the team to the championship. I had committed to speak at a Harvard Medical School conference 9 months earlier that, as bad luck would have it, fell on the night of the championship game(s). I have never been so close to doing so but I couldn’t back out of my commitment to speak.

So instead of showing up at the “Field of Dreams” in Lake Travis I spent the evening at staring at my iPhone. I was getting play-by-play updates from Gretchen Yax, a good family friend whose son, Spencer, was our ace pitcher all year, throughout both games. Luke made several plays at first and everyone was playing well but we were hanging on by a thread to a slim lead in the last inning. I can remember tightening up with nerves when Gretchen texted me that our youngest son Brady, who was pitching, had the batter in a 3-0 count with two outs and the bases loaded with the time expired and a one run lead for us. Then 3-1 and a bit of hope. Then 3-2 and now was I standing. Then a strikeout. I can remember putting both hands in the air letting out the kind of cheer that should be reserved for 4th & 5 at the Rose Bowl – one that craned many a New England neck that night in that restaurant. I was smiling back at all of them like I had just won the lottery because I knew the kind of confidence that comes from delivering in a big moment like that can last a lifetime and I was so happy Brady would have the ability to draw on that for decades to come. It was a big time pitch and he delivered.

I ended up pacing up and down Boylston for the entire second game – a combination of being too nervous to sit still and too obnoxious with my cheering to be in any establishment. The boys went on to win game two and my assistant coach and good friend, Steve, face-timed me to give a post-game speech and I did my best. When I hung up I looked up into the sky and starting crying – mostly tears of joy & pride but, if I’m being honest, a few tears of regret for not being there. I missed it.

I was reminded of that bittersweet night in Boston on a few trips this fall, as I have been glued to each and every update I could get as Luke & Brady played their respective games. Clients, EO buddies and colleagues have had to put up with my play-by-play over-sharing of what was happening back on the ball field in Lake Travis. I’m on the road but my heart is right there on that field with the boys.

Thanks to our high-motor 3-year-old, Paige isn’t quite as good at pitch by pitch updates as Gretchen was but I rely on one of the best inventions ever for traveling Dads – GameChanger. The app relies on a parent on the team to update it but it provides pitch by pitch updates – along with a corresponding video-game style visual – that keeps me as plugged in as I can possibly be from a thousand miles away.

Tradeoffs are a part of life and for those of us who travel as part of what we love to do (which for me is speaking) have to learn to deal with them. Most of these tradeoffs are minor inconveniences but I can tell you among the worst tradeoffs that exist for a Dad are the ones that cost you time with your wife and family, particularly trading nights at the ballpark for nights in the Champions Sports Bar at the Atlanta Airport Marriott (which, admittedly, is more awesome than it sounds btw).

One of the tradeoff ‘hacks’ that I’ve been really diving into over the past few years is starting to take the boys (and soon, Sadie) on the road with me to steal time with them and start showing them the entrepreneurial ropes. I got this idea from my mentor & one of our partners, Clint Greenleaf, who casually mentioned that he had taken one of his kids on a speaking trip with him for a client event. I remember asking what did the clients you were meeting with think about it? He said something along the lines of “I’m wasn’t worried about it” but that they thought it was super cool. It hit me like a shovel to the face – why was I projecting that it would be an issue to bring the boys with me on business trips? My experience over the past few years is that not only is it an incredible learning and bonding experience for the boys but that clients, conferences and others actually think it’s pretty cool to have the kids there. If you have never tried it, I encourage you to give it a shot – you’ll be glad you did.

The frank reality is that there’s no way around travel for many of us and that travel requires us to be willing to make tradeoffs but I’m learning as I get more experience that we have much more control over what those tradeoffs look like than we used to.

How about you? For those other parents who travel out there, what other tradeoff ‘hacks’ have you discovered?



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