What you are about to read is a fable of sorts about a man who had it all, yet he wasn’t fulfilled. It’s a story of misplaced priorities, wasted opportunities, heartbreak, forgiveness, love, and ultimately, redemption.

A familiar tale, perhaps, but it goes like this . . .

The sun shone brightly that September morning as the brothers stood next to the grave of their late father. Just a few minutes before, they had been surrounded by family and their father’s business friends, and their ears had been filled with the kind words of Father Benton, their parish priest. The words of praise about their father’s life left them feeling empty and uncomfortable as they stared at the coffin in the ground.

“I can only say this to you, but I don’t know how I should feel right now,” Mike declared to Greg as they walked back to their car. “Dad spent our entire lives on an airplane, chained to his office or playing golf with his buddies on the weekend. I feel like we didn’t even know him. I know this sounds selfish, but I feel cheated!”

Greg put his hand on his brother’s shoulder. “Come on, Mike! he said. “It wasn’t that bad. Dad had a lot of responsibility. He took good care of the family, and we never lacked for anything. He would have been around more if he could.”

“Greg, you have always defended him, even when you hurt as much as I did when he missed our baseball games and Cub Scout camping trips. He even missed your high school graduation because of business! What about Mom? How did she feel all those years? Did you see her sobbing on Aunt Mary’s shoulder during the funeral? I wonder what she’s thinking about the future now that Dad is gone. We’d better get over to Aunt Mary’s for the wake and look in on her.”

The brothers were lost in their own conflicting thoughts as they got in the car and drove to their aunt’s home. Sadness . . . regret . . . and perhaps a little bitterness dominated their emotions as they joined the large crowd inside. There were hugs and sympathetic comments, and quite a few people encouraged them not to be sad and instead celebrate their father’s life . . . which only made things worse in light of their recent conversation.

Then their mother beckoned them to join her in Aunt Mary’s guest room upstairs.

“Boys, we need to talk, and we haven’t had much time for that since your father’s heart attack. The last few days have been a blur for me, and I can only imagine what this has been like for you.”

Mike spoke first, “Mom, Greg and I have been trying to wrestle with all of this, and it’s hard. Since we have been in college, we have been even more distant than usual from Dad, other than the occasional phone call and holiday visits home. I know everyone expects us to be crying right now, but we can’t help but remember a father who seemed to care more about his job than about us. Maybe that’s not fair, but that’s how we feel.”

Tears welled up in their mother’s eyes as she hugged her sons and asked them to sit down. “I know how hard it was for you growing up, and I tried my best to compensate for your father’s hectic life. Your dad was a good man, and he felt he was doing the right things for our family. But there was a recent change in him you weren’t aware of. Over the last few months, your father started going to Mass with me again. We also had a few short conversations recently about his desire to do things differently with the rest of his life, and I could tell he had a heavy heart. He was coming to some big decision points about his life. Here’s something I found next to the computer in your dad’s study the morning after he passed away. Greg, will you please read this aloud for us?”

Greg nervously took the pages from his mother’s hand and saw a typewritten letter to him and his brother from their father. It was dated September 12—the day before he was found dead of a heart attack on the running trail near his office. Greg began reading . . .

September 12, 2011

Dear Mike and Greg,

I look forward to seeing you both during your Thanksgiving break from school. I have never written you boys before, so this may appear a little strange to you. My intention is to share a few important things that have been on my mind lately and discuss them when we are all together again.

I have been reflecting a lot lately on my life and the kind of husband and father I have been. It is probably no surprise to you that I give myself a failing grade. I realize very clearly that I have not been there for you and your mother over the years. It is easy to justify and rationalize our actions, and I have done that for years. I convinced myself that our big house, nice cars, great vacations, and the lifestyle I provided for us was worth my slavish devotion to my career. I thought this justified all of my absences and the sacrifices I forced our family to make over the years. I now realize that I was wrong.

Your mother is a saint, and she deserved much more from me in our twenty-four years of marriage. I have always loved your mother very much, but I rarely told her and thought I was showing her my love by providing a great lifestyle. I was a fool, and I am committed to making it up to her. She has been the bedrock of our family, and you boys are who you are because of your mother’s great influence.

Greg . . . Mike . . . I owe you a sincere apology for not being there over the years. I really mean it. I have come to realize that all the stuff we have is worthless compared to the lost opportunities to be a meaningful part of your lives. I hope you will forgive me and give me another chance when we sit down at Thanksgiving.

I am hopeful that in the years ahead we will become closer—the way a family should be. I have started to reconnect to my faith and experience the joy I have seen in your mother’s eyes when she talks about her own faith journey or attends Mass. Serving in the community and giving back to others is also high on my list of new priorities.

I want you to promise me something: Please learn from my example! Be a better father, husband, and steward of your gifts than I was and don’t waste the years ahead of you. I wish someone had gotten my attention when I was much younger and helped me not waste the greatest years of my life. I hope to do that for you in the years ahead.

I have seen the light, and I hope to make amends. Again, please find it in your hearts to forgive me.

I truly love you more than you can ever know.


Tears were streaming down all their faces. Greg and Mike hugged their mother as the anger and resentment they had felt gave way to genuine grief.

Mike spoke first. “I only wish we had time to have that Thanksgiving together—to truly get to know each other and start over. I would have liked to have known the man who wrote this letter.”

Greg was clutching the pages tightly as he whispered, “We need to pray for Dad and also pray that we will learn from his mistakes and pass these lessons on to our own children. It’s strange that at the gravesite I thought his headstone should have read, ‘He Had a Great Career’ and now I want it to say, ‘Loving Father and Husband’ to honor his dramatic change of heart.”

Their mother responded, “Boys, please don’t wait until the end of your lives to make amends. I have no doubt that your father would have done what he said, but you can’t wait like he did. Start living today like it is the last day of your lives.”

—The End—

Some of us may know someone like the man in this tale and the unintentional misguided priorities he or she pursued in their lives. I know this character very well because . . . I am the father in this story. Let me explain. In December 1999, I left a very successful career as the Vice President of People for a national multi-billion dollar restaurant chain, where I was responsible for the company’s recruiting, training, and diversity efforts. As a thirty-two-year old senior leader and officer of the company, I had significant responsibility, the respect of my peers, and a bright future ahead of me. But as much as I loved the work, I was miserable.

I traveled three weeks out of every month for four years. I worked most weekends and put in around seventy to eighty hours a week. As a member of the senior leadership team, I was expected to be in the restaurants on every major holiday to set a good example. Although I have always been comfortable with hard work, this kind of schedule did not mesh well with a young family. I saw my firstborn son growing up before my eyes while I was barely present. My wife and I were growing distant because of my workaholic tendencies and the demands of my job. I looked around me and saw many of my peers having marital problems or already divorced.

I made a conscious decision to leave this organization and get my life back on track. I was being pursued at that time by a much smaller national executive search firm and was drawn to the opportunity and the work/life balance it offered. The great company culture and strong values of the leadership team in this new company were also very appealing. I made the difficult decision to reject my old life/career and join the new company, shocking everyone who knew me. Many thought I was committing career suicide, but I knew I was saving my family and embarking on the pursuit of a new life filled with meaning. The years since have absolutely validated my decision in positive ways I could never have imagined.

Why did I title this post “He Had a Great Career”? I often wonder what would have happened if I had never left my old employer in 1999, and simply looked a decade or so into the future. This tragic story could have easily been my own story if I had not made some critical decisions about changing my priorities. My own tombstone could have sadly read, “He Had a Great Career,” and that would have been a tragic outcome and wasted opportunity to lead a much more fulfilling life focused on my faith, family, friends, health and the community. After you reflect on this post, ask yourself the all-important question: what will be carved on my tombstone one day?