One year before the men's ACC championship, the assistant coaches were tasked with each giving an inspirational speech to the guys. My friend Marty Hamburger stepped up to the plate big.
His speech, which I will paraphrase because this is kinda sorta a family blog, came down to one thing. There was a big difference between talk and action. You could talk about doing something, or what you wanted to do, but doing it was something other entirely.
Marty had two sons. He had done it. I'll let you fill in the rest.
The speech lightened the mood for everyone on a tense evening, and I was thinking about him last week when my son, our second child, was born.
Four and a half years ago, when my daughter was born, I was head coach of a Danish swim club. I had just been selected (and declined to attend) a meet with the Danish Junior National team, because the meet was in Iceland and I didn't want to be far away if my wife went into labor.
I got a little flak from my colleagues at the time. Little did I know that would only be the beginning of the road I would have to navigate in my new dual role. This was Denmark, the land of parental leave. So I had fourteen days, which I won't complain about since many of my American readers probably experience going to work the very next day after their child is born.
I didn't get the fourteen days, however. I got called in a couple times, including interviewing and hiring a new coach just three days into my daughter's life. After that, it was back to the grind. I was coaching almost every morning and every weekday night.
During the first year, I would sleep away from home for 65 days, including several stretches of approximately 10 days. I remember I was in Croatia when my daughter crawled for the first time, struggling to watch on crappy wifi.
There was an essential conflict in what I did. The more successful I got, the more time I would be away from home. Shannon Rollason, a man I greatly admired for balancing his family and elite swim coaching, didn't sugarcoat it for me. I remember him telling me that with the Olympics approaching that time at home was going to grow even more scarce for him.
My own father hadn't taken an active role in raising me. He had, basically, just worked. He was an outstanding provider, and I grew up very well off. I emerged from an expensive, private liberal arts school with no college debt. I am not ungrateful for any of that.
He would often leave for work before I woke up. He would return for dinner from 6:00-:6:30, then go back to work. He worked Thanksgiving, Christmas and most other major holidays. When I started swimming I missed a lot of those dinners too.
It wasn't the path I wanted to follow, not the relationship I had chosen when I decided to marry my wife. I felt constantly pulled in two directions.
At one point, I remember returning from a meet, a frustrating weekend. I broke into tears at the kitchen table. I was exhausted, and I felt like I was failing at both of the things I wanted to be excellent at. I certainly didn't have a road map for either.
In September of 2015, my life changed. I stepped away from the grind and came home. Life was still stressful, to be sure. My mother was slowly dying from a brain tumor. My wife was starting up a new job.
But I had time to focus on doing one job extremely well- being a dad. I was home every morning and most nights. I walked my daughter to and from school, and made most of her meals. I had my weekends back.
To this day I'm extremely grateful that fate intervened and sent me home. I could have missed out on so much. I realized the simple truth that kids really benefit from a lot of time with their parents- my daughter was happy and thriving and our relationship grew stronger and stronger.
My greatest fear, of course, was that somehow my coaching skill would atrophy if I didn't spend all my time poolside. That was far from the truth. First off, parenting a small child gave me a lot more empathy for the children (and their parents) that I worked with every day.
I got patience that I never had, in spades. I relearned how to teach someone something. I got really lucky in that a swim club offered to let me work for them part-time, and basically define my own role. "We want you on the team" they said, and offered to let me do whatever I felt I was best at.
So finally, I learned to stop trying to be everything to everyone and just focus on a few things that I knew I could do really well.
Which leads me to today. I founded this business on that principle. I was not going to try and do anything that I was ok at, or pretty good at. I was going to stick to a few things, and do them really well.
I thought there was a niche to carve out, one that could lead me to continue to do what I love (coach) and still be a father to my kids and the loving husband I wanted to be. I think that there are a lot of coaches with the same goal, trying to chart a similar path in a world that isn't always quite set up to make it convenient.
I got to make up for lost time with my first kid, with the second I won't have to. Later today, I'm going to leave for a little bit, stand next to a pool, and help some kids learn to do it a little bit better. It's a simple thing that I won't take for granted this time around