Let me get this out there: this week my beautiful, 35 year-old daughter, Casey, has had a preliminary diagnosis of muscular dystrophy.
You may have just gasped. You intrinsically understand the gravity of the situation, imagining yourself in my shoes facing the prospect of having my daughter, my vivacious, comical, sarcastically-optimistic-in all-situations daughter facing a life in a wheel chair and most likely, living the last years of her life on a vent in extreme pain.
As a parent, this is the unbearable cross.
That one of your children, who you’ve fought for against unimaginable odds because of your own choice for a life partner, the partner who turned out to be a nightmare in sheep’s clothing, the one that just doesn’t go away. The nightmare that just keeps coming around and around again and again, each time with more consequences than your 22-year old brain could have ever imagined. And… that she’s inherited the autosomal genetic trait that will put her in a wheelchair from him.
You may ask: leadership? What has this to do with leadership?
Being the head of a family that has faced hardships that could make a hit movie because no-one-could-make-this-stuff-up teaches you, through the school of unbelievable hard knocks, that family leadership is about leading people… your children… into an abyss with a positive attitude and hoping to God that it’s not going to be as bad as you envision. You do it with positive determination that you will find a way to protect them from the things you have no idea are coming at them. And you assure them that it will be okay.
You develop relationships with outsiders who just might be able to help you in your darkest hours. You pray to God again that you never need to ask for their help, but it consoles you to know that you have people you can count on when the chips start to fall.
You keep a positive attitude and make sure that she understands that you’re there for her, for her family. That the worrying you do, you do in private because it’s where you can think and look for solutions that may not be immediately apparent. You tell her that it will be okay because no one can work, live or breathe under the pressure of knowing that it might not be.
These are my leadership experiences. They don’t show up as appointments because people with these kind of life challenges don’t have spouses who hold down the fort while you’re out creating a career path. Your career path is holding your family together, making a life for them and making sure everyone grows up to be a productive individual where the life mistakes have truly made them stronger and more caring individuals.
There aren’t many leaders who come with that kind of track record. And they sure as hell aren’t 35 years old. They’re like me. They have a full toolbox because they’ve had to fill it as they worked their way through all the stuff that life has thrown at them.
And if you’re lucky, you’ll have an opportunity to bring her in to help you take care of your school, because that toolbox she brings with her is what will bring her into work, above the fray, every day. She knows how to keep her eye on the horizon. She knows the work is deep and there’s a long way to go. But she keeps her eye on the horizon for those who need her energy and her vision. They need and want her confidence that the horizon is out there and that she’s going to get them there.
You see, you know they’ve faced the bumps and bruises and show up every day with a smile because it’s the only way to get through and let everyone become productive individuals where their life’s mistakes and misfortunes have truly made them stronger and more caring individuals.