I'm borrowing Tom Brokaw's book title, "The Greatest Generation", to refer to the generation that fought in World War II and started to build their lives and the lives of their families in the 1950's. In 1939, my father-in-law came to this country as a 15 year-old Jewish refugee from Germany. When the war came to the U.S., he tried to enlist but was turned down because he was German. The irony is that a few months later he was drafted, made a citizen and was sent to fight in the Pacific. He was one of the first Americans to arrive during the aftermath of Hiroshima and was also awarded a Purple Heart.
This man went through two hells before the age of 22. These past six years of suffering seem so unfair, but we take what life gives us. His illness was what drove me to push hard for better awareness of Eldercare issues and I believe that this was one of the reasons I was asked to join my company's Global Work-Life Council.
There will be many people speaking and honoring this man at his funeral tomorrow. But today, I'm writing this eulogy/blog entry to bring a work-life perspective that goes back a generation.
Work-life challenges and decisions back then were not the same as today. No cell phones. No computers. No stay-at-home Dads. Very little work at home.
Work was your commute plus your job. Typically 9-5, but my father-in-law was in retail and that required Saturdays and more. Career/life tradeoffs could be made and no one really thought about the father working all the time while the mother raised the kids. But not in this case.
For this man, everything outside of work was life - where life meant family. Not a skier, my father-in-law would wake up early, drive his daughter (and friends) three hours to skiing, read The New York Times in the lodge, and drive home at the end of the day. He was, of course, also at the ready for hot chocolate breaks and lunch.
It was about education, trips, museums and more. I often talk about not forgetting what you should give to yourself, but for this man his children were an extension of himself. He was there to give. If it wasn't work, it was time for the family.
It didn't have to be that way. The leisure market was developing and he could have learned golf or tennis. I don't really remember the fathers in Leave it to Beaver or Father Knows Best doing much with their kids other than give out sage advice. But to fully engage was the choice made by this great man.
In this cluttered, challenged, 24/7 world we are faced with so many choices. But those of us who care about family owe a debt of gratitude to people like my father-in-law, who didn't even know the term but lived a world of kindness, charity, and true work-life success.
Photo: Sears Roebuck employee photo, 1985