For months, we’d been pitching the biggest bank in Brazil for a huge piece of business. They were now ready to move. Their Board wanted to talk to me at eight o’clock that evening before making the final decision. It was a choice between us and our fiercest competitors. I always found these ‘beauty contests’ nerve-wracking but this time, we really needed a win. My team was behind on its revenue target. Management had been on at us to crack the Brazilian market, the biggest in Latin America. We’d put an enormous amount of work into the pitch. Going away now empty-handed would be gut-wrenching. And selfishly, I wanted my bonus.
I rushed home through the London traffic to see my wife and daughter before jumping on the call. I announced my arrival with a loud “Hello!” To my surprise, my wife was just inside the front door dressed in her most glamorous outfit. She handed me our baby Lily.
"You look fantastic!” I said, giving Lily a cuddle. “Where have you been today?”
Deborah looked at me with incredulity.
“We went through this on the weekend!” she exclaimed. “Don’t you remember? My boss is in town from San Francisco. He’s taking my whole team out for dinner tonight. You even helped me choose the restaurant.”
I had forgotten. Lily started to whimper. I began a gentle up-and-down bounce to soothe her.
“Have a lovely time you two,” she said with a wave.
“But I have a call in an hour with the Brazilians!” I said in a panic. “It’s crunch time for a massive deal.”
“I’m sure you’ll work it out!”
How was I supposed to work it out holding a six-month-old baby in need of a feed and a bath? Lily never slept before nine o’clock and the conference call was at eight.
“You have to come back!” I moaned, as if Deborah was still there.
I started telling myself a ‘good wife’ should make sacrifices for her husband’s career. She needed to come home right now and take care of the baby. I even picked up the phone to call her but Lily started crying.
As I was bouncing up and down, I began to imagine the conversation with my boss the next day.
‘Sorry Steve. We lost the $200 million Brazilian deal because my wife left me holding the baby.’
It would be both humiliating and career limiting. I emailed my colleagues in New York, hinting I might not be available at eight o’clock. The reply was swift.
‘Miles, they expect to talk to the head of our business at the agreed time. That’s YOU!’
Only fifteen minutes before I was the high-flying banker pitching one of the biggest deals of his life. Now I was sulking around the living room cursing my wife, my own stupidity, and even my baby for being so helpless.
I realised my biggest fear was not losing the business, letting down my colleagues or even losing my job. It was the fear of what everyone would think of me. I’d be seen as an incompetent, unprofessional moron. I could not bear it.
Both Lily and I were crying now. I had run out of ideas. Nothing could save me. In a strange way, I felt as if I was facing death.
Lily was beside herself. I had to focus on her. I warmed up a bottle and watched her drink. Then I ran a bath. We played our usual splashy games. I got soaked and we both laughed. I gave her a new nappy and put on her jammies. She looked like a cozy angel.
The phone rang. The Brazilians were right on time. I bounced Lily on my knee and answered.
“Hello Miles!” said the voice on the other end. “It’s Sergio in Sao Paolo with the Board. Your colleagues are on the line from New York.”
Lily was tired and started to wail. I jammed the handset into my neck and held her at arm’s length facing away. But I could not hear what anyone was saying. Crazy ideas began to form in my mind. Maybe I could shut the baby in the bedroom and let her scream? Or leave her in the pram in the garden?
“Sergio,” I began. “I can’t talk to you now.”
A panicked e-mail arrived from my colleague Antonio, ‘What the f**k are you doing?’
“It’s now or never, Miles,” said Sergio. “The Board is here. We are about to make our decision.”
“I’m so sorry,” I said, holding my hand over Lily’s mouth. But it only made her cry more.
“What is the problem?” he asked sounding frustrated.
I was done for. There was nothing else but to tell the truth. It did not matter anymore.
“Sergio, my wife is having dinner tonight with her boss. He is over from the U.S. for one day. It was booked weeks ago and I forgot. Now I have to look after our baby girl.”
There was silence for a moment. It felt like the end of everything. I put the phone on hands-free and tried to calm Lily.
“A baby girl?” asked Sergio. “You never told me you had a daughter. What’s her name?”
I heard murmurs of approval in the background.
“That’s a pretty name. Is that her crying right now?”
“Yes. I am so sorry.”
There was some discussion on the other end.
“Why didn’t you tell me? I have two daughters, and a granddaughter coming soon. How long do you need?”
“No problem. We’ll call you then.”
I thanked him and hung up in a state of shock. I put Lily to bed, singing quietly to settle both of us down. The phone rang a couple of times but I let it go. Soon she was asleep.
I collapsed in a chair and tried to figure out what just happened. Not only had I lost control of my life, which was frightening. I was blaming everyone else for my mistakes.
But I also felt a deep sense of gratitude. This man had demonstrated more care for me and my child than I could muster. It was undeserved grace. I felt very humbled.
Twenty minutes later the Brazilians called back.
“Hi Miles,” said Sergio. “Is she asleep?”
“Yes,” I replied. “I appreciate your patience.”
“No problem. Show me some pictures next time you’re here! Now let’s get down to business.”
I felt disembodied from myself as if I was watching an upbeat, Miles-like android reviewing the proposal and answering questions. The Brazilians asked for some time to deliberate. Half an hour later they called back to say we had won the business. I thanked them and sent a congratulatory message to my team.
I was in a state of confusion, happy for my colleagues but feeling none of the usual pumped up elation from winning a crucial deal. Instead of calling them in New York I went to bed, exhausted.
I was half asleep when Deborah returned home. She and her team had spent a wonderful evening with their boss and were feeling encouraged for the year ahead.
“Did you work everything out?” she asked.
“Lily and I had a lovely time.”
Please note: This story is told from the perspective of a privileged, middle class male. Women may read it and think, "What's the big deal? This happens to me every day." I salute you!
This article was originally published by Good Men Project on April 14, 2016
by Miles Protter
I’ve asked hundreds of men if their fathers ever talked to them about sex and relationships, beyond the usual exhortation to wear a condom. Thus far only one has said yes.
A friend recounted how as a boy back in New Zealand his school hosted a father and son evening on this very topic. On the day, however, dad made an excuse and backed out, sending older brother along instead. When the two boys arrived at the school, there were almost no men to be seen. Most of the lads were with an older brother, cousin or on their own.