A couple of months ago, I was sitting on a bench outside of a clothing store, watching my three youngest children play while my wife and oldest daughter shopped for shoes.
I noticed a little boy, maybe 2 years old, toddling toward me, his young mother walking a few feet behind him. The boy stopped right next to me, looked up and gave me a huge smile. I smiled back and waved at him.
I was feeling good about my natural way with children as his mother arrived. "Your son is a cutie," I said, as he continued to smile up at me.
"Thanks," she replied. "I think he came over to you because you look just like his grandpa."
Ouch! I'm sure she didn't mean to hit me with a zinger, but her statement caught me completely off guard. (And it gave my parents and in-laws a good chuckle when I related the story to them.)
A grandpa? Me? I've got a 6-year-old son! My oldest daughter is only 14!
But as I thought more about it, I realized that my wife and I were a little older than the average Utah couple when we started our family. Had our first child been born a year after we were married, I could, conceivably, be a grandparent.
Two days after the "Grandpa Incident," as it has come to be known, I turned 43 years old. The combination of that young mother's words and my birthday led me to some rumination on aging.
For example, it occurred to me that, if I were to retire at the age of 65 — a prospect that seems increasingly unlikely, but a guy can dream — I would now be about halfway through my working life.
I also thought about how well I was taking care of myself. Or not. Which is one of the reasons I started exercising again, as I mentioned in last week's column.
Don't get me wrong — I'm not freaking out about my age. While 43 seemed ancient when I was 20, it seems pretty young to me now. And I've never been bothered by those "landmark" birthdays like 30 or 40.
However, I believe that there is a time and a season for everything in life. And I'm not sure I've always handled my seasons the right way.
I've thought about this quite a bit in the context of work/life balance. When my wife and I were first married, we spent all day, every day working as reporters in the same newsroom. Even though we spent long hours at the office, chasing stories and trying to improve our skills, we were together. Because of that, I felt like my life was in pretty good balance.
When our first child was born, my wife started her new career as a full-time mom and part-time freelance writer, which meant we no longer had all of that time together at work. However, my office hours did not see a corresponding drop.
It was still relatively early in my newspaper career, and I was trying to make a good impression. To some extent, I think the long hours and hard work paid off, because I advanced to an editorial position that paid me a better wage as I attempted to support a growing family.
Still, I'm not entirely convinced I did right by my family during that time. Even though it was a season of career-building, I feel like I could have done more to build better work/life balance as a young father. It's just not something that really crossed my mind.
So, for all of you young mothers and fathers out there who are just starting careers and families, here's some advice from Grandpa Kratz: Work hard at your jobs and do your best to succeed and advance, but don't forget the importance of balance.
How, you ask? Well, here are a few things you can try, many of which I've mentioned in previous columns:
— Set expectations at work. This can be challenging, but try to build a good relationship with your boss and manage expectations. Make it clear by your words and actions that you'll work as hard as you can while you're at the office, and that you'll be available to do extra work when necessary, but that you're going to devote time to your family, too. In other words ...
— When you're at home physically, be at home mentally. During evenings or on weekends, focus all of your attention on your family. Help the kids with their homework. Listen to the stories they tell. Turn off your smartphone or put it in a drawer if you have trouble resisting the temptation to check work email. Beyond that, spend time with your spouse and ...
— Make time for date night. It's easy to get caught up in the necessities of daily life, to the point that you and your spouse forget to spend time alone together. Don't let this happen. Schedule frequent date nights, and make sure you follow through. You can do the same for your children if you ...
— Schedule regular parent/child outings. There's no substitute for spending one-on-one time with each child. Take your daughter to the ice cream shop. Take your son bowling. Wherever you go or whatever you do, make sure you focus on that one child. Ask about school, friends, challenges, worries, successes, plans and dreams. If you take the time to talk to them, you'll be surprised what you learn. And speaking of time, you also need to ...
— Take time for yourself. Read a book. Write a poem. Take a walk. Exercise. Remember that you are part of your work/life balance equation, too.
These are just a few ideas, but they've helped me build better balance in my own life. I only wish I had been more focused on these things in my 30s, instead of learning my lessons in my 40s.
I urge you not to make the same mistake.
And if you've got other tips, please pass them along. I'll share them in a future column.