Family priorities are the foundation of a successful family. Of course we’ve all been taught that family priorities should be our first priorities, but sometimes, it’s hard.
There isn’t a holiday or birthday in our family that I haven’t missed at least once. I couldn’t count on one hand the number of times I’ve called Amy from Tokyo to tell her happy birthday while attending the annual semiconductor equipment tradeshow in Japan. It isn’t that family priorities came second at that time. Feeding a family comes at the top of a list of family priorities and I was expected to be in Tokyo at that time. I didn’t schedule the tradeshow. Although Amy had told me I could miss anything but Christmas, I missed that one, too. It had to do with family priorities. I flew to Las Vegas to help my cousin’s children bury their dad, after his unexpected death, right before Christmas. Those aren’t times that I feel like I had my family priorities out of order. Those were times when I felt like the right thing to do was fairly clear.
The hard part in keeping family priorities straight is when everybody in the family has a “number one” at the top of the priority list and there aren’t two “number ones” that match.
I think my son, Jack, who has Down syndrome, taught me most about the hard choices when it comes to family priorities. It’s kind of hard to explain, but the gist of it is that in family priorities, number one shouldn’t always be number one. Jack would move everything that didn’t make someone happy to the bottom of the list.
Everybody in a family has their own priority list and many of those priorities take other people to accomplish them. That’s where the difficulty comes in. My dad had a stroke a few years ago that left the right side of his body pretty much useless. Number one on my dad’s priority list is fishing. That sport always ranked highly on his lists but it’s even more-so that way, now. Fishing— or shopping for fishing gear, is about all that he really wants to do. Six days a week, my dad spends most of his time alternating between hunting and fishing channels, John Wayne movies and reruns of M*A*S*H*. Mom does get him out for a drive or a trip to the grocery store, but my dad lives for a once a week fishing trip, or walk through an enormous sporting goods store when weather is bad. My dad doesn’t have any problem at all justifying his favorite pastime within family priorities. He’s going fishing with his boys! He’d be willing to do that more times a week than there are days. And that’s the problem.
I have to tell you; for me, fishing would never make it to number one on my priority list. I think I could speak for my two brothers in saying that they feel the same way. Still, when Dad had his stroke, one of them coughed up the cash to buy a new pontoon boat that Dad could get on and off of with his electric wheel chair. The three of us take turns taking dad fishing, or when weather is bad, trying to find the single piece of fishing tackle of which my dad doesn’t already own multiple copies. That, for me, is the hard part in keeping family priorities straight; when everybody in the family has a “number one” at the top of the priority list and there aren’t two “number ones” that match.
To Jack, family priorities means that someone’s number one is happening at any given moment and that each person gets a chance.
Jack’s number one priority is watching a football game. Celeste’s number one is shopping for clothes. Annie’s first priority is horseback riding. Mine is usually work related in one of several forms. Lucky for us, we have Amy as the mom in our house. She’s the one who makes sure that family priorities win out. Amy helps us to understand when someone else’s number one needs to go above our own number one. That’s the hardest thing in family priorities. Even though, on its own, fishing would never make it to the top of my priority list, because it’s at the top of my dad’s, sometimes it needs to be at the top of mine. Amy helps my children to understand that sometimes, work-related international travel takes priority over dad being home to watch candles being blown out.
Then there’s Jack. He just loves to see everyone (including himself), happy. To Jack, family priorities means that someone’s number one is happening at any given moment and that each person gets a chance at being as happy as he is while watching the Denver Broncos beat any other football team. And I have to tell you… football, on its own, would never make it to the top of my list, either.
Overall, family should always come first. I guess the best way to keep our family priorities in order is to always make room at the top of our priority list, when our own number one shouldn’t be number one.
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