Recently I attended a meeting with a large group of employees at a new client. When I was introduced, I was informed about a company tradition. As a kind of icebreaker, when someone new joined the group, they told about their “spirit animal” – the animal that mostly closely embodies your characteristics. The leader of the meeting shared some examples for others in the room. She told of spirit animals like eagles, panthers and wolverines. In a corporate atmosphere, not surprisingly, many of the people identified with animals of strength, courage and the like.
Put on the spot, I needed to think quickly. It didn’t take long. I am proud to say, my Be There Dad instincts quickly kicked in. I knew who I was. I responded, “My spirit animal is a pack mule.” In my role as their corporate lawyer, many in the room were surprised, so I heard giggles and saw some bewildered looks.
I went on to explain.
I am short and sturdy, not too good looking, but sure-footed and reliable. As a father of two, I have often carried the load. When arriving at the beach, while the others bolted to explore the surf and the sand, I willingly followed behind, carrying duffel bags, coolers and chairs. As a coach, I chased stray soccer balls and tried to stay out of the spotlight. I baited the hook so my son could catch fish.
I ran a half marathon beside my daughter on her quest to get the “13.1” sticker for her car. When moving furniture, I still wind up on the heavy end.
MY SPIRIT ANIMAL
I am a pack mule. I love that moniker. I have tried to be a servant to my family and other kids. I haven’t always succeeded, but nonetheless it is the calling to which I aspire. I don’t want to be a stately lion, a cunning wolf or the swiftest thoroughbred.
When I finished my introduction, the puzzled looks turned into smiles of admiration and the chuckles to scattered applause. Perhaps others were rethinking how they fit into the spirit animal kingdom. As I reflected upon my response, I was comfortable in my Be There Dad motivated description. Regardless of where I am, first and foremost I see myself as a husband and a father. Being the pack mule in our family is a role I cherish.
Interestingly enough, even in my professional role, I try to approach my relationships and pursue objectives in the same way. Helping others succeed. Perhaps seeking the spirit of a Be There Dad has made me a better lawyer, too.
Two weeks later, I listened to Joe Ehrmann speak. Joe is a former NFL player turned pastor, youth football coach and author. He spoke about men and fathers focusing on the important things in life. He told the gathering that the two most important things should be the relationships we sustain and the purpose we pursue. He said, above all we will be measured by our relationships – as fathers, sons, brothers and friends – and we will be honored for the things we did to make the world a better place – what we did for others.
Joe says that men should take more time to reflect on those two questions to become comfortable with our own stories – regardless of our successes or shortcomings. Then, when we teach our children, we can be honest about who we are. Identifying my spirit animal helped me to reflect on my own narrative once again.
The bottom line is not whether I am a pack mule, but that I aspire to be one – focused on others and supporting their needs. I see many other dads acting in similar ways every day. They carry equipment for football practice. They bring snacks and teach Sunday school. They haul books to read to schoolchildren. They jog at the boys’ pace during Let Me Run practice. They carry the tents they will sleep in on Cub Scout outings. They sit quietly and hold street clothes as the only fathers watching dance practice. They pay college tuition. They support and enable children.
Pack Mules. Be There Dads do the heavy lifting until children can manage on their own. Pack Mules. Showing children how to serve others. Pack Mules. Men who are willing to “bring up the rear” so that the others can get to the finish line. Pack mules carry an abundance of supplies – life lessons, experience, and values – which they transfer to children’s back packs along life’s journey. Although different dads may have their own sprit animals, most Be There Dads have at least a little pack mule in them.
Recently, the father of a good friend passed away unexpectedly. I thought of my own father who passed fifteen years ago. The original Be There Dad, he was my pack mule. He supported and enabled me on my journey to where I am today. I miss him. But, he showed me how to carry the load for my own family. So, his spirit lives on.
Among my clients and business colleagues, my animal likeness may not rival those who call themselves eagles, lions and dragons. But I have taken Coach Ehrmann’s advice. I have reflected on my life and asked the questions. Who is important and how can I make a difference? I am focused on the path I chose to follow. I know what I aspire to be. Hauling the supplies of life for my children [and others] until they can carry their own seems to be a noble calling.
What spirit lives inside of you?