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My Single Greatest Achievement

September 15, 2019 | by Vitaliy N. Katsenelson

Thoughts as I send off my 18-year-old son.

On Sunday we drove my eighteen-year-old, Jonah, to the airport. He is taking a gap year after graduating high school and will spend the next two semesters in Israel. He’ll be taking classes at American Jewish University, doing internships, touring Israel, and discovering himself.

After we hugged Jonah and put him on the plane, my wife looked at my daughters (Hannah – 13, Mia Sarah – 5) and said, “You are not going anywhere; you’ll be home-colleged!” I share my wife’s sentiment. Intellectually, you know that your kids will grow up, but you want to slow down the process as much as possible. Still, you know this day will come and the only thing you can do is spend as much time as you can with them while they still live under the same roof as you. And when the time comes for them to leave, you just don’t want to let them go.

After we dropped Jonah off, my wife and I took our daughters to out and I drowned my sorrow in pasta and ice cream (I almost never eat either; this was a major “off the wagon” moment for me).

When your kids leave for college, you somehow get to look back at your life through a different lens. You start asking yourself, did I spend enough time with them. Before Jonah boarded the plane, we exchanged letters (it was his idea); my wife and I wrote a letter to him and he wrote one to us and his sisters. There was a paragraph in his letter that put tears in my eyes:

Thank you for using your time to create great memories with me while still balancing everything else that you do… A while ago you read a book about Warren Buffett. In this book it talked about how Warren wished he had spent more time with his kids. You were worried that you weren’t spending enough time with me. Don’t worry, I can happily say that you were and are a great father. I have never in my life felt that you didn’t spend enough time with me.

This stands above anything else I have accomplished in my life. Everything else feels somehow temporary and insignificant. I remember when Jonah was a few years old, I held his tiny hand and I was thinking “What will he be like when he grows up?” I was trying to picture him as an adult – I could not. Now I see an adult, standing at 6’4, with a deep voice, a great sense of humor, curly hair, and a kind heart.

Today I look at my two girls and try to imagine them growing up. Just like with Jonah, I cannot. But they will. I have only five and thirteen years left before Hannah and Mia Sarah leave home. And though it feels far off, the time will fly, just like it did with Jonah.

Now I want to set a higher standard for myself when I spend time with my kids. I recently read that “attention is the currency of time.” I want to make sure that when I spend time with my girls, I am there with them 100%, not thinking about a stock or a book I just read, but giving them my full attention.

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