It was, to say the least, a shock when I found out my daughter thought I was a deadbeat.
And in the process of being told I was a worthless husband and provider and that if it wasn’t for mom we would be all living in a cardboard box, I learned a valuable lesson about perception.
In his book, In Search of Excellence, Tom Peters makes the point “perception is all there is.” It’s an old observation. Around our house when I was getting older (“growing up” is a different concept altogether,) I heard “you never get a second chance to make a good first impression.” Also true.
About the deadbeat observation:
When Joanna was 4, Rebecca had to spend a couple of days in the hospital. Nothing serious. I knew why she was there. Joanna knew she was in the hospital, and that’s where sick people were. Rebecca and I had patiently explained that the hospital stay was routine and that Mom was not on death’s door. But, as is often painfully true, there is a broad difference between what is said and what is heard.
I had recently escaped from the advertising agency business and was working from home as a freelance writer. Most of my clients were people I had worked for before. Many came by the house and were no stranger to Joanna.
Joanna and I were driving home after a hospital visit. Joanna was quiet for a long time and then she started sobbing.
Quickly becoming the understanding and caring father I said “Honey, don’t worry. Everything is fine. Mom will be home tomorrow.”
She shot back: “I know that!”
“Then what’s wrong?”
Angry and accusatory: “What are we going to do about the money?”
Me, confused: “The money?”
Frustrated that I was such an idiot: “The money! If Mom doesn’t work she won’t get paid! That means we won’t eat and be able to buy stuff!!”
Patiently, lovingly: “Sweetheart, I work.”
The truth comes out: “No you don’t! You just go downstairs and write stories for your friends!!”
There you have it. My daughter no doubt was telling everybody that I was staying at home goofing off with a bunch of buddies while Mom slaved to put food on the table. Not only that, Mom was stuck on the lowest rung of the economic ladder in an hourly job with no benefits. Joanna had decided we were barely above the poverty level.
It was a struggle not to go to her school, wave a fistful of currency, and point out that my daughter was mistaken about our current economic situation. But the reality was that my audience of 4 year olds would side with Joanna.
The trauma of impending economic ruin passed quickly, and, by the time we got near home, Joanna wanted to stop so I could buy her a cookie. I didn’t point out that 15 minutes earlier she thought I was broke.
Heaven knows what she had said about my business trips.
“Joanna, where is your dad?”
“He’s gone to Greenville to see a woman.”
“Oh. That’s nice.