I traveled with my father when I was young. To Australia, to Japan, to Spain. He went there to talk to people about his passion: electrophysiology (the study of heart rhythms). They asked him to come. Paid for him, even. And he brought me along because he thought it would be a good experience. It was.
I didn’t learn as much about the cultures as I could have, but I did learn a lot about what it means to be thought of as valuable. I learned what it meant to be someone in the room that requires a handshake. I learned what it meant to be someone in the room who’s child you had to at least fein an interest in.
I am glad that I am not in medicine. While my father’s reputation would have opened a great many doors, it would have been nearly impossible to get out from behind his shadow. I would have had to either fail spectacularly or have run in a drastically different direction to make a similar impact. And that is heartening and discouraging at the same time.
I believe that my father loves what he does and that he creates new things on a daily basis because of it. He collaborates and pushes his insitutions to be better in every conversation he has. And each one of these contributions creates a larger shadow.
And I am sitting directly in the middle of it now. The Heart Rhythm Society‘s annual conference is in Denver this year and I just went and received my credentials to attend. At first, they aked me if I had already paid the conference fee. Then someone behind the booth figured something out, and redid my whole entry so that I could have a Master Pass rather than a “Comped ticket”.
I’m quite certain that this didn’t have anything to do with me. It had to do with the fact that my father is on the front page of the Heart Rhythm Society newpaper. While I am presenting on Friday regarding social networks and collaboration, I didn’t have to submit through the rigorous process usually saved for unknown upstarts. I just sat in my father’s shadow and it worked.
The majority of what I do, does not require me to sit there, but for this week, that is where I am. I shake hands as my father’s son, and struggle to come up with something interesting enough to warrant being remembered as something else. I get double takes when people look at my badge. And then, perhaps just a bit, I get a knowing glance. An understanding of why and how I am here is being shared.
And for as much as my father has the best intentions for injecting me into this world, it still isn’t my world. As much as he thinks that I have something to offer and to teach the people that inhabit this world, it is only because of his shadow that I can sneak in and make my own impact. And, for the most part, I am okay to do this for a week.
I am fine to sit here and make a small contribution. It is great to talk with interesting people and try and find out a little bit more about my father. It is wonderful to see him interact on my behalf and see what it is that I can help create with him. It is great to collaborate with my father, seeing as how I talk about finding mentoring relationships in any place we can.
I just couldn’t do it forever. At some point, my fathers shadow would prove too dark. I would crave the sunlight. I would wish to venture out and find truth on my own.
And that is why I hope I don’t make a shadow too big for my own son. While I don’t believe I will be taking him around the world as my father did for me, I do think that there are certain circles that I am passionate enough about to simply monopolize the discussion and the creation within. It is my sincerest hope that I don’t cause my son to run away from what I am ambitious about for fear of not measuring up.
I’m not sure that is exactly why I didn’t become a doctor, but I think that is part of it. If my son feels as though there isn’t enough space to find relationships on his own, he will leave. And I don’t want him to leave. I don’t want it to take us 20 years to come back to the place of mutual benefit, to have our exploits dovetail perfectly.
But, that may be the way that all father-son relationships are. We want what is best for our sons, but we are striving for ourselves all the while. When one gets in the way of the other, which one wins?
The shade that my father is providing this week is cool and comfortable and wonderfully temporary. I hope that my son feels the same way about mine.
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