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What I'm reading: What's important about our work.

About two weeks ago, I was at a hotel in London with my girlfriend. We had just had dinner with a well-known journalist friend at one of our favorite restaurants. We discussed plans for the following day; shopping, lunch plans, attending the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child play, visiting one of her friends, and so on. We discussed upcoming plans for my birthday (Dec 18) and visiting my family in California for Christmas.


Suddenly, she received a text from a family member indicating that her aunt (who raised her from when she was one month old until age seven, and whom she regards as her mother) had unexpectedly died.


We cancelled everything.


Birthday plans and Christmas plans. And bought last-minute plane tickets to see her family in Malaysia. She urged me to make plans to leave Malaysia on Dec 23 to see my family. I declined, saying it was more important to be with her. She asked if I would be okay not seeing my family for Christmas. I said it is no big deal. I went the first 7 years of my life not really celebrating Christmas in any real sense and then the first 6 years of my adult life never visiting home for the holidays (that is a source of regret for me; I tell this story in detail in my book). My girlfriend lived with her aunt for the first seven years of her life. And then moved in with her birth parents. This is not an uncommon arrangement in some Asian countries, where family members care for children for a few years.


She and I can connect on this because both of us were taken in by a family at a very young age but the depth of feeling is not as pronounced as it would have been had we lived with the same family from birth. Her aunt took care of several other children in her life, and I met them (in adult form) at the funeral rituals.


During the funerary rituals, I realized that while I will do all I can to take care of my adoptive mother, it is more of a feeling of intellectual duty to her than a deep emotional connection. I will ensure she’s cared for because it’s the right thing to do. That’s about as far as it goes, though. I strongly doubt I will cry at her funeral. There’s a difference between intellectual duty and emotional attachment...


At the funeral in Malaysia, another thought surfaced in my mind.


It's something I've dwelled on for a few years now-that the reason I am striving so hard for success is in order to ensure that my adoptive family and my future family are cared for.


All of the work I do seems insignificant compared to the more important work my girlfriend's aunt did in her life. Caring for babies and young children so well that it cultivates feelings of love and devotion that endures decades after leaving her care. All of the work any of us do is in the service of the kind of work she did.


Photo of Rob Henderson Sitting

Rob Henderson

 

A few weeks ago my wife told me a friend was quitting her job to stay home full time with her kids.


"Really?" I asked, "Why?"


"She told me anyone could do her job, but only she could be mom to her kids."


I often act like my job is important, but if I died tomorrow my clients would find another counselor. My kids would not find another Dad.


Makes you think about what's really important.

 

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