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Father’s Day: Reflections on the Things That Matter Most

What I’ve learned from my children over the past four months of house confinement

It has been, by any measure, a challenging year for us all.

As we close in on Father’s Day, it is an opportune time to take stock.

There is someone who is not able to experience Father’s Day this year with his five children – and that’s George Floyd.

What happened to George Floyd was both outrageous and tragic…but, sadly, an all too frequent occurrence in our society. 

Thus it is important, especially on Father’s Day, to reflect not only on George Floyd’s death, but the deaths of so many individuals of color… including Rayshard Brooks, and the gaping void left behind among family and friends.

Black Lives Do Matter…and the effect on a family of a life wrongly taken is nothing less than devastating.

I want to add my voice to those of the millions…not just in North America, but around the globe… who believe that racism in all its forms needs to be eradicated now.

With COVID-19 and its health and economic implications, with racial injustice and social unrest, with uncertainty waxing and trust waning, these are indeed challenging times. 

But I’m an optimist who sees opportunity in every difficulty. Better days are coming. 

As Dr. Martin Luther King said: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”

My father, Myer Rosenzweig, passed away seven years ago… but there is scarcely a day that goes by that I do not think about him and about how he shaped the person I became.

His life informs my own… and he has left a legacy that lives through me, through my siblings, and through my own children and my nieces and nephews.

My Dad was, in many respects, a remarkable man… but his humility made his achievements appear, when viewed from a distance, to be ordinary. 

He was, like so many of his generation, a product of the Great Depression and World War II. After the war he started his own electrical company.  

He was an entrepreneur…and a successful one.

He was successful not just in making a living and providing for his family but, more importantly, in gaining a reputation for quality and honesty. Everyone who knew him – his suppliers, customers and co-workers – respected him. 

Starting and running a business is hard – it takes a great deal of time and effort.

But my Dad never subtracted that time from time spent with our family. He was a good, involved parent… and through his example he passed on his values to us, his children.

He was an equally wonderful grandparent to my three children.

And he, along with my amazing and incomparable late Mom, served as a role model to me.

So I miss him terribly… though I know he is still with me.

Now, I live a busy life, as do most of you. My interests extend well beyond helping companies build world-class teams. 

I advise and invest in innovative start-up companies, mostly in California, New York and Ontario, typically at the intersection of profit and purpose.

And I am socially active, serving on a number of non-profit boards, including the board of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, and being the founder of the pioneering Rosenzweig Report, which for 15 years has tracked gender diversity in the corporate leadership ranks.

But all of that takes a back seat to being a Dad. 

As Winston Churchill put it: “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

Exponential legacy has always been my goal: Leaving the world a better place… 

To fulfill this, where better to start than with my children?

There is absolutely nothing more important to me than being a father and a husband.

One of the greatest compliments my wife Renee gave me was when she said, “Jay, no matter how exhausted you are, not matter where you have been or what you’ve been doing… you always light up when you walk through the door and see our kids.”

And it’s absolutely true. It’s like a switch has been turned on when I get home.

I try to instill in my children – by speaking with them constantly about these things and also by example – the importance of things like respect for others, including their elders, especially their parents and grandparents; a sense of social justice, including racial injustice; the value of having a good work ethic, including the pride one can take in a job well done.

I also talk to them of the value of listening – truly listening – to others. I model this by listening intently to them… because I learn much from them…and about myself.

I encourage my kids to pursue their passions, whether it’s arts, sciences, business, whatever makes them feel alive.

To experiment and not feel pressured to “find themselves” if they don’t have a path they are certain about.

To understand the journey is most important and that there will be heartbreak, disappointment, and incredible moments along the way.

As Mylie Cyrus says: “It’s all about the climb.”

And speaking of the climb, my children thankfully understand it’s empty to covet audacious materialism or to show off wealth.

Too often society has it backwards. 

Unfortunately, there are a lot of broken, weak leaders out there, who have fooled millions into thinking they are the model of strength.

It is, therefore, more important than ever for us to show what real strength and leadership is to our kids.  

So that they understand it is far better to be impressed by humility, wisdom, compassion.

So that they understand the value of helping, giving and sharing with loved ones and strangers alike, unconditionally, without negative overtones or wanting anything in return.

So that they know to always take the high road, where the traffic is lightest.

But to never to be pushovers because kindness is not weakness. Kindness is strength. To be skeptical; to ask a lot of questions; to be firm and say no when that is called for, but to  always do so with grace and class.

In a nutshell, I hope my children will always care about the world around them.

That will fulfill my exponential legacy.

Renee and I are so fortunate that our kids have absorbed these values completely.

My kids are my best friends. We love being together.  

These past months, due to COVID, the family has seen me more than ever, especially during the day.

Thankfully, they don’t seem to mind!

With all the heartache, collective grief and hardships COVID has brought, we mustn’t forget the opportunities, as well.

It has provided us a chance to pause, reset, take a breath, meditate on those things that are most important in life and to determine where the future lies – with our lives and our planet. 

Our children are aged 21, 19 and 17 and during COVID we’ve had many deep discussions about racial injustice and other the issues of the day – from the environment to equality.   

My goal has always been to accelerate the learning process for my kids so that they can have all of the knowledge and experience I can give them; from as young an age as possible.

The tables are turning: I now learn so much from them.

They are my advisors and confidants. They are so smart and wise. Their level of judgment is beyond incredible. 

And they keep me current with so many things, including music. I love their music – Bon Iver, Frank Ocean, J-Cole, Kendrick LeMar, Drake…it’s become my music!

There is a quote attributed to Mark Twain that goes like this: “When I was 17 years old I couldn’t believe how little my father knew, but when I was 21 years old, I couldn’t believe how much he learned in only four years.”

Setting aside that Twain never said it, the message is clear.

And it reminds me of COVID and how much I’ve learned from my children over the past four months of house confinement!

Thank you and Happy Father’s Day!

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