Is life full of second chances? Or do our bad choices doom us to live with ugly consequences? Maybe the second chances are always there. Maybe we tend to doom ourselves.
It seems as though we’re all going to make serious mistakes, but life frequently gives us chances to make better choices later. If we learn from our mistakes and choose differently, we can break out of ugly patterns. But if we refuse to learn — if we blame everyone else and keep making the same mistakes instead — we end up suffering consequences over and over and over again, even though we have the power to change our own lives.
I’ve been thinking about second chances and life’s tradeoffs over the past four days, and it started with a happy family that I saw at dinner Wednesday night.
I’m not sure what caught my attention about this family. Maybe it was because they all seemed happy and the parents were both strongly engaged with the children and with each other. There were three young children in addition to the parents, two young girls and a slightly older boy. For whatever reason, they were the very picture of what I want for myself.
When I got married years ago, I was eager to have children and build a happy family, but I soon realized that I wasn’t ready. I was afraid of making the same mistakes that had left me unhappy with the family in which I grew up. I felt damaged and psychologically unready to be a parent, so I waited. And waited.
We eventually divorced. She remarried and they had a son. She’s happy today and I don’t have anything bad to say about her, but I clearly failed at my first attempt at a family. Other than the cats and dogs, I was completely alone.
I still had a lot to learn about myself. I did a lot thinking and self-examination. I went through counseling with a very good psychologist. Then about six years ago, I had another chance at building a family. I was engaged to a woman and we both seemed to want the same things. But something still wasn’t right. I backed out. Some of the issues were mine. Some were hers. I came to regret backing out, so it took me years to get over it — enough time that it felt like another failed attempt at family.
I spent more time working on myself. I went through much more counseling. I came to understand even more about my past. I slowly became a more emotionally healthy person. But I was still alone.
The most important decision a parent ever makes for his or her children is who the other parent will be. I’ve believed that for a long time, but I’m more aware of it now than ever. As I’ve been looking for a partner lately, it’s been with an eye toward finding a woman who would not only match me — and my own idiosyncrasies — but who would be the perfect mother for the children I still desperately want.
And I’m hopeful that life is going to give me another chance to say, “Yes,” to this woman.
As I watch happy families, it makes me desperately want to be raising children with that right woman. It makes me want to have children who reflect both of us and our values. It makes me eager to have children who know what it’s like to be loved and cherished and valued by both of their parents for who they are as individuals. I want this right woman all by herself, but I also want the happy and emotionally healthy family that could be the best of what we could be together.
As I watch happy families, I’m intoxicated by the anticipation and love that I feel imagining that. I want another chance to finally get family right — and I think life is going to give me that chance.
I realize now that I can’t have everything I want in life. I have to choose. I can’t devote myself relentlessly to a career and also to a family. There was a time when becoming financially successful and leaving a mark on the world was a big deal to me. It would still be nice, but it’s no longer my top priority. Mentally, I’ve already made a choice.
In his book, “Investment Biker,” financial guru Jim Rogers talked about the tradeoffs involved in pursuing big dreams.
“Most of us don’t have the discipline to stay focused on a single goal for five, 10 or 20 years, giving up everything to bring it off, but that’s what’s necessary to become an Olympic champion, a world-class surgeon, or a Kirov ballerina,” Rogers wrote. “Even then, of course, it may be all in vain. You may make a single mistake that wipes out all the work. It may ruin the sweet, lovable self you were at 17. That old adage is true: You can do anything in life, you just can’t do everything. That’s what Bacon meant when he said a wife and children were hostages to fortune. If you put them first, you probably won’t run the three-and-a-half-minute-mile, make your first $10 million, write the great American novel or go around the world on a motorcycle. Such goals take complete dedication.”
Rogers had complete devotion to everything except love and family. He had two failed marriages and he didn’t have children. He didn’t want children, because they weren’t his priority. He wanted to be successful and wealthy. He wanted to drive a motorcycle around the world. He wanted a number of things, but a family wasn’t among them.
But he eventually changed his mind. He met the right woman to be his wife, someone who was also the right woman to be a mother for his children. Life gave Rogers another chance to get family right. He took the chance and he’s a very happy man as a result.
“I thought children were a terrible waste of time, energy, money – I felt sorry for my friends who had children,” Rogers told CNBC. “I thought it was something I would never do. I was terribly wrong.”
My dreams have changed over the years. I once wanted to be president. (Seriously.) I once wanted to build a major newspaper chain. I have half a dozen or so dreams that don’t really even matter to me anymore. Now, my dream is the right wife and happy children.
When I die, I’m not going to regret giving up on the idea of politics. I won’t care that I was never president. I’m not going to care that I never built a newspaper empire. I’m not going to regret giving up a number of dreams that seemed significant at one time.
If I have a happy and emotionally healthy family, I will feel that my life was a success. If I have a wife who respects me and believes in me, I’ll be happy and feel successful. If I have children who love me and believe I’ve given them love and the emotional preparation to be healthy adults, I’ll feel as though I’m living beyond my own years.
A biologist would say there’s something in our genes the makes having children an imperative for us. Maybe he would be right. But I’m more in the camp that sees the desire for children as being a desire for love — to express love and receive it. For me, the fact that my genes persist beyond that is secondary, so maybe love is at the heart of what genes or God intended to perpetuate humanity.
I’m waiting for life to give me the chance to say yes to the right woman. I understand how important she is. I understand the value of the family we can create. I’m emotionally prepared.
I’m ready for another chance. I’m going to grab it this time and never let go. I’m finally ready.