Facebook Twitter

ValueSpeak: Being engaged as a parent

SHARE ValueSpeak: Being engaged as a parent

Editor's note: This was previously published on Joseph Walker's website, josephbwalker.com.

Nile isn’t a good speechwriter — he’s a great speechwriter.

He works in an industry that isn’t really known for elegant syntax and passionate prose. The people with whom he works are super smart and amazing at being able to figure stuff out. But put them in front of an audience to explain that stuff and they tend to be rather — what is the word I’m looking for here? — dull.

Which is what makes Nile so good at speechwriting. He is a master at taking dry, complex and dare-I-say-boring information and making it seem lively and approachable. He uses words, graphics and interesting illustrations to breathe life into presentations that might otherwise be mind-numbingly tedious. Thankfully, his bosses appreciate Nile’s rhetorical magic, and they take good care of him.

Oh, and they always expect the next speech to be better than the last.

That’s the price Nile pays for being good. And he welcomes the challenge, although it can be a little overwhelming at times. Like last Tuesday, for example. For a lot of reasons that I won’t go into here, he was really feeling the pressure of those expectations when he finally came home from a long day at the office. His backpack was bulging with notes and papers he needed to study, and his mind and body were weary from the burdens of the day. He was looking forward to a nice dinner and a little relaxation before he dug into his work for the evening.

And then he saw Alora.

Alora is his bright, talented 15-year-old daughter, who has grown tired of finishing third or fourth at oratory competitions as part of the school debate team. Since her father is such a brilliant speechwriter, she reasoned, surely he could help her create a winning oration. So she asked him for some help, which he had previously agreed to provide that night.

Of all nights.

“I’ve got to be honest: My first instinct was to ask Alora if we could wait until the next night, when I was sure I would have more time,” Nile told me over lunch later in the week. “But there was this look in her eyes that made it clear she was really counting on this — right then. So I shut off the TV and put the cellphone on the charger. Then we sat down together and I engaged.”

By “engaged” he means that for the next two hours he focused all of his time and attention on Alora and her oration. He didn’t check his email or Twitter, and he didn’t keep one eye on the basketball game on TV. Rather, he brought his skill and experience to the table on behalf of his daughter, guiding and counseling and suggesting without actually doing any of the writing for her. And by the end of the evening, Alora had a pretty good oration.

“I was actually energized by the process,” Nile said, “and I think Alora was, too.” That was verified the next day, when Nile received a text message from his daughter, saying: “I love you, Dad."

“I even got an emoticon — you know, one of those little heart-shaped texting symbols,” Nile said, smiling at the memory. “I think that means she was really pleased.”

And so was Nile. Sure, all those things that Nile was worried about were still waiting for him later that evening. There were pressures, deadlines and hard decisions to make. But for two hours at least, Nile was there for his daughter, right when she needed him.

No, that isn’t quite right. More than just being there for her, which is a good thing, he was engaged, which is better. He was in the moment, totally focused, and giving the very best of himself to something that was important to her.

Which turned out to be pretty important to Nile, too.

“There’s a lot going on this week,” he said. “But I can tell you right now that no matter what else happens, my favorite memory of the week is going to be the two hours I spent one-on-one with Alora.”

Being a dad. And being engaged.

To read more by Joseph B. Walker, visit josephbwalker.com. Twitter: JoeWalkerSr