The 5 Hidden Costs of WaitingJun 30, 2021
When I was eighteen, I was in love with Ugly Kid Joe’s remake of Harry Chapin’s “Cats in the Cradle”. I had it on constant replay (we were in the first days of CDs, and the glorious power of skipping to the start of a song with one-touch).
I really related to the lyrics:
You see, my father loved me - in some ways, more than anything - but he simply didn’t have time.
A few years after graduation, he and I went on a road trip to the West Coast. It was over Christmas, and it wasn’t really because he wanted to go - it was because he was pissed at my mom, and this was retaliation. Nonetheless, I felt special.
He asked me to drive stretches of the Coquihalla Highway (if you’ve never seen pictures, google it - it’s a monster, and one of the most dangerous winter freeways in North America).
This was equal parts exhilarating and terrifying: after all, the Coquihalla Pass was the place where, in the past, I’d learned what ‘jack-knived semis’ and ‘pile-ups’ and ‘white-outs’ were.
We only EVER went to the coast in the dead of winter, so I knew how treacherous this place was.
The reason I remember this all so clearly is because of a conversation he and I had while I was driving. I had the ‘driver’s rights’ to the radio, so I was going through all my cassettes (you could only record CD to cassette at this point). “Cat’s in the Cradle” came on. I mentioned I loved it. I sang (badly) along.
At the end, staring straight ahead, he said: “I don’t like that song. I don’t want to listen to it again.”
Thirty years later, writing those sentences, it’s still a sucker punch to the gut for me.
I grew up in that moment, you see: everything became clear.
He knew. He realized. I was grown up. My sister was soon to marry. My brother was graduating. He’d run out of time. And now he could see that - through this song - his choices were going to come back to haunt him. It was only a matter of time.
I’m lucky - incredibly so - that this happened. I know that might be surprising, but I consider myself fortunate.
So many times parents give counsel with the hope that their children won’t repeat the mistakes of the parents. Most times kids don’t listen (sorry if you’re new to parenting - just giving you the facts).
I’m one of those odd kids that do listen, but that’s not the same as agreeing or acting in one way or the other. I’ve long regarded life as something of an obstacle course or labyrinth that I’m needing to navigate - so watching where others dead-ended is useful. Including my father.
One of the most painful things about growing up is realizing that your parents are people...real humans with baggage, biases, fears, inadequacies, the whole she-bang.
This can be eased, I firmly believe, by never presenting yourself to your children (or other young people) as anything other than a human with messy human stuff.
They need to see us learn, fail, question, challenge, celebrate, fear, attempt, all of it. But so many adults (in this case, parents) don’t do that. They put on this facade in the hopes that it protects children.
I’m not advocating going all ‘hot mess dumpster fire’ on your kids, but there is a line where ‘protecting’ them (and pretending you’ve done everything right) is a very bad idea.
So my dad’s gift to me at that moment was a painful truth: choices have consequences, and time is irreversible - and irreplaceable.
The 5 Hidden Costs of ‘Waiting’
You see, I was given a fork in the road - one that I readily recognized (though I will admit I did need to be reminded about 10 years later, but more on that another day).
I suddenly \knew two things clearly: first, he’d chosen, and those choices led to his family growing up largely without him, and second, if I wanted a different outcome for my life, I’d have to write a different story - and song ends.
And that began with coming to terms with the 5 Hidden Costs of Waiting
First, and most obviously, you run out of timeHumans are odd: on one hand, we can calculate and speak about vast amounts of time - millions of years, centuries, generations. But we have no real sense of time. Not really.We get caught in weird mind loops where the time goes fast AND slow, often simultaneously. We convince ourselves that there’s always tomorrow - and when there are no more ‘tomorrows’ we flip out - like there was some sort of guarantee.
Second, waiting “until XYZ” is an excuse that undermines your lifeMy father’s game was “until the business is better” or “I have more help” or (the piece de resistance) “I have more time” (refer to #1, above). Waiting until you are ‘skinny enough’ (my demon) or ‘rich enough’ or ‘successful enough’ is a game you play with yourself. What is ‘enough’? It’s one thing to have a goal such as: “Once I’ve saved $10 000, I’ll put a downpayment on a house” or “I will finish my degree, then I will travel for two years”. In these cases, you have a goal, with a plan, accountability measures. But “I’ll put a downpayment on a house someday”, then proceed to eat out every night? Someday is never, IMO.
- Third, ‘waiting’ sends messages about what we value (or don’t) - which people eventually realize
While my father might have tried to convince us all that he worked as he did, spending little time with us, late for or missing everything that mattered to us when we were young because he was “doing it for us”, it was pretty hard to swallow when he would leave mid-morning from the office (where we all spent lots of time), and go “for coffee” and he’d “be right back”. No, he wasn’t doing anything sketchy - he really was out for coffee, shooting the shit, for hours at a time. He left us to answer calls and questions that we were ill-equipped for, so we were always in a pressure-cooker of embarrassment and shame. Since this was pre-cellphones-everywhere, I would have to call the local restaurant or lounge and have him paged, or later, when I could drive, I would actually go to these places and find him.
But he didn’t have time to stay home for breakfast, come home for supper, stay home on the weekends, go on vacation, play a game, read a book.
And that’s my point: making us ‘wait’ for his attention and his time (which we rarely got, unless it was work-related) told us all very clearly what mattered - despite his words.
So when YOU ask others to ‘wait’, be sure that you are clear in YOUR messaging. If you really would rather go for coffee with your friends, I think I’d rather hear that than the alternative.
Making others (and yourself) wait gives you a false sense of control - and backfires.Waiting can be a way that we deflect decisions and action - and it helps us feel like we control whatever it is we’re avoiding. Not leaving a terrible job because you want to have “just the right job” to go to generally doesn’t work; not talking to your spouse about how you really feel doesn’t make the relationship better...far from it, in most cases. The feeling that you can somehow set up conditions to your advantage gives you the idea that ‘waiting’ is controlling the outcomes coming down the pipeline. In my experience, it’s actually the opposite. I’m a big fan of getting out ahead of something.
My father’s tactic was to make all of us wait: “wait until I get back”, “wait in the car”, “wait for a minute while I take this call”. In fact, he still does this. And I’m still fighting the urge to kowtow. My mom, bless her, has long since given up, and won’t hold a family meal for him anymore. It makes me sick to eat without him there, but at the same time, I know he’s trying to control us with these actions (strange, but true).
Opportunities are missedIt’s the “should have”s of life. It’s the business deal, the date, the conversation, the trip, the doctor’s appointment, all of those moments that pass us by because we’re waiting - delaying, deferring, ‘researching’, contemplating, avoiding, whatever the language.
Do I think you should jump at every chance that comes across your path? No, but I do think most people should jump at more than they do.
Don’t I think that ‘everything happens for a reason’, and that waiting is simply a phase in that process? That’s tougher: That’s often used as an excuse for not thinking.
And that’s what I really learned that day: if I didn’t think about what had happened in my life until that moment, then I was likely to repeat patterns. Pretty astute for 20-ish (don’t worry - I screwed up plenty of other things).
I made two promises to myself that day: one, I wasn’t going to expect my father to be anyone other than himself. I wasn’t going to excuse things - rather, I wouldn’t attach my happiness to his fulfilling expectations that I had. I would (and continue to) try to influence him, but I let the rest go.
Two, I wasn’t going to live my life that way. I would work damn hard (I still do); I would have high standards (always have); and - most importantly, if I ever had children, I would not repeat the pattern. I would see them, hear them, spend time with them, be a pivotal part of their lives in a concrete, daily way. Plus I would always be human.
Do my children have to wait? Sure they do. It’s not like I jump when they want. Hells no.
They have a healthy respect for waiting, as we all should. When I get swamped with work, I show them what I’m doing, and I talk to them about how they feel and literally carve off time in the calendar for ‘dates’ and ‘hangouts’.
Otherwise, I would also hate “Cat’s in the Cradle” - but I still love it, because I can get through the whole song without the guilt of a lifetime of waiting and making others wait to weigh me down.
Give it a think - where has ‘waiting’ been playing with your life? Is that what you want? Are YOU willing to keep paying the costs??
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