Work and Spiritual Parenthood

One of the big bosses at my company made his way down to Dallas from Boston this past week for a retirement party for two of the four main principals at the company where I work. Admittedly, I haven’t been to very many retirement parties due to my shorter tenure at my company – I’ve been there since I graduated from Texas (also read The University of Texas) nearly 8 years ago – and despite being about 90 people strong between the two offices, our company still slants toward the younger side of the employment spectrum. This pair of principals, Jon and Ann, had been a part of our company since about 1982 when, surely, the total number of our employees must have been fewer than 10. Naturally, their retirement was an exceptional occasion worthy of flying down other tenured bosses from our Boston office to celebrate.

I love this particular boss from Boston. I’ve never had the opportunity to work with him; but being also from Texas, he still wields that iconic drawl, and possesses a heart as big as the state. After spending about 10 years at our company’s base in Dallas, he and his wife decided to move to Massachusetts to be closer to her family; but my company just couldn’t let him go. So, we set up an extension office in Boston. Every time he comes down to Dallas, he always carves out at least a couple hours to work his way through our 70 employees, introduce himself, and to learn just a little bit about each of us. We find God in the most serendipitous places sometimes.

“How’s your wife?” he asks with his characteristic smile and warmth, “Everything going well? What’s new?”

“She’s good – we’re still staying busy. We recently got a black Labrador puppy.” I pull out my phone and flip through pictures of our cute little fur-ball and we swap quick stories about dog training sessions, and hiking adventures.

“Well, you know what they say – first a dog, then kids!”

It’s not an unfamiliar situation. People see a couple without children, and a dog, and think – oh boy, kids must be on the way. Depending on the situation, sometimes I’ll pivot the conversation onto another topic, or just kindly smile. But with this boss, I see no need to do either, so I just go with the truth.

“Yeah – if it were up to my wife and I, we’d probably have 3 by now; but that just doesn’t look like it’s in the cards.”

At this point, the conversation becomes a bit predictable – bring on adoption.

“Have y’all looked into that? There are a lot of great kids out there who could use some really wonderful parents.”

The complement is rather touching coming from my boss. I smile in gratitude.

“Yeah, I’m sure that you’re right. I guess we’re trying to see if there are other ways we’re being called to be parents. There are many ways to have spiritual children.”

He smiles back. “That’s definitely true, too.”

About thirty minutes later, my wife met me at my office so that we could drive together to the retirement party. From the venue to the event, the whole evening was particularly touching. Looking around the room, I saw co-workers, family members, mentors, clients, and friends of Jon and Ann. We made small talk as we drank our wine and reflected on the careers of these two individuals: they had witnessed recessions and booms, seen co-workers come and go, and felt the weight of carrying the business forward when our founder unexpectedly and, too soon, passed away.

As we heard closing remarks from Jon and Ann, it occurred to me that I really love them both. Work is a funny thing, especially for a man. So much of my worth can be tied into what I do for a living; but at the same time, especially in light of these retirements, it has become particularly clear to me that the what I do isn’t nearly as important as the how I do it. Ann and Jon worked gracefully. They worked hard, demanded a lot of themselves, and a lot of those who worked with them. They were fiercely loyal, and while we celebrated much of what they accomplished from a technical perspective, looking around the room, clearly the more important and celebrated accomplishment was the group of individuals gathered that evening.

In a Catholic way, this retirement celebration was about more than the material legacy of these two people – it was about the good they had imparted on our lives.

Though Jon and Ann each have families, it became clear that we, their employees, were also their “kids”, in a sense. If not for their dedication to our company, Allie and I wouldn’t have our house, our puppy, and the means to support ourselves. Even more astounding, perhaps 100 others in the room had a similar sentiment running through their minds. These two people had helped put co-worker’s kids through college, helped with the rearing of their children, helped bury their relatives, helped pay their student loans, and provided the means for their family vacations and Christmas celebrations. In a Catholic way, this retirement celebration was about more than the material legacy of these two people – it was about the good they had imparted on our lives. It was about the grace of God working in our lives through them.

From time to time, I reflect on this Truth, in light of Allie and my infertility: biological children are an amazing gift – one that cannot be overstated; but ultimately, they are just that, a gift. And God does not stop lavishing gifts upon us. Evenings like this help me to remember to look for the ways that God is placing examples of spiritual parenthood in front of me in the form of the everyday people with whom I live and work. We might not share biological ties; but our connectedness, and God’s love for me through them, is no less real.

James is married to Allie, his wife of three years, and writes from the great state of Texas.

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