Daddy Was a Good Man
Songs have a way of carrying you back to a time and place where you first heard them, or where they soundtracked something significant in your life.
About a month ago, I was revisiting the work of the incredible India Arie, a singer-songwriter who I first discovered when she closed the 2002 Grammy awards with a performance of her song Video. I was blown away, and the following morning I walked from my halls of residence to Fopp records on Byres Road in Glasgow, waited for it to open, to buy her debut album Acoustic Soul and was hooked! She released several more albums which soundtracked my years at University and listening again brought me back to the pavements of Gilmorehill. But one of her songs hit differently this time. The song was Good Man, the penultimate track from her sophomore album, Voyage to India. I was sitting in the car, on the driveway after picking up Harper as it came to the chorus:
If the sun comes up and I'm not home
If I'm not beside you do your best to
Tell the kids about me when they're old enough
Tell them that their Daddy was
A good man
Becoming a dad has changed me in many ways, one of which is having made me much more sensitive and I'm not ashamed to say I had tears in my eyes as I listened. A song I'd heard a hundred times before, suddenly impacting me in a new way.
And it got me to thinking. What was it about these words? So I made a little note in my notebook and have pondered it a lot since
Corporate life changes people. Margaret Heffernan, in Wilful Blindness, quotes Walt Pavlo - one of the participants on Stanley Milgram's legendary experiment where people were coerced into delivering "lethal" electric shocks to unseen victims, talking about this creeping change over his time working for MCI. 'The problem, he says, is not that you are asked to do one big, bad deed; it is that there are so many tiny steps along the way that there is never a moment when it’s simple to say ‘no’. Pavlo rose up the ranks and followed the competitive corporate culture, ultimately taking on a role akin to an executioner, firing people who had done nothing wrong, just to save the company money. This led to making debts 'vanish' ultimately by cooking the books, and eventually, landed Pavlo in jail. It's an extreme and cautionary tale, but it bears reflection. Pavlo wasn't a bad person, but he found himself, slowly but surely, doing bad things. And when that happens, where is the line? When can you no longer separate the man from his deeds?
Creeping change is something that we can all fall victim to. An extra biscuit isn't a big problem, but an extra biscuit with every cuppa adds up to changes in ourselves we didn't see coming. What about the ways in which we prioritise our families over our work? When does 'doing it for them' become 'doing it instead of spending time with them'? When will those windows in our lives close forever, and the chance to atone for our sins, or to make up for our misdeeds be gone, and we'll have to live with the consequences?
Take time to think about the things you're doing at work, and the things you're asking others to do. Separate those actions from the rationale. Forget who told you to do them and judge them on their own merits. Where are you crossing that line?
As I reflect on all of this in light of India Arie's words, I'm reminded of the importance of looking myself in the mirror each day and being proud of the person I see staring back. He does things that matter and which make a positive difference. His moral compass is clear and guides him on a straight path. His priorities are right and his habits match his expectations. The road is long, and we walk it a day at a time. And one day, hopefully a long time from today, when he's gone, someone will take Harper aside and tell her that her daddy was a good man, and she'll feel the same.