Crap, I don’t have time for Dad to have cancer
by Reagan Feeney
It was the fall of 2010 and over a year since I had returned to work from maternity leave. I’m one of those people who thrives on the energy around me (yes, I’m an extrovert) and when others are running out of steam, I’m moving into another gear (yes, I’m competitive). I quickly learned juggling a Hollywood corporate job and parenting a young child requires the stamina of an 18-year-old, the patience of Buddha and more than 24 hours in a day.
Despite these challenges, I pushed myself at work to participate at the highest level. With the support of a reliable nanny and wonderful husband, I tried to re-establish myself professionally and dove into negotiating a major television distribution deal for the company. I worked relentlessly to be the same executive I was before the baby, awaking at 5 am to engage in east coast calls and logging back in during the evenings after the baby went to sleep. This particular deal seemed to take on a life of its own, penetrating all aspects of my life. The television distribution world hijacked my brain as I worked through the complexities of balancing programming costs with the value of the content, and protecting the business against the emerging Internet distributors threatening the Pay TV model.
In hindsight it seems I was trying to prove I could do it all; that I was just as good as I once was.
In mid-November, my brother in Maine called to tell me Dad had been admitted to the hospital and they had discovered lung cancer. My first thought was, “Crap, I don’t have time for Dad to have cancer.” Ten years earlier we had experienced heartache when our mother was diagnosed with lung cancer and passed away 4 months later. I immediately called Dad to see how he was doing and to ask if he needed me to come to Maine. He put on a strong front and wouldn’t ask for me to come.
Dad’s condition worsened quickly; however, I was consumed with closing my deal and I did not want to leave. I promised myself I would go as soon as it closed, or at least got within closing distance. A few days later my brother called again and urged me to come home. I booked a flight to Maine with my daughter, but I didn’t book an immediate departure; I pushed it to the following week to allow my deal to close.
I’ve made plenty of bad choices in my life, but that one decision probably constitutes the worst decision I have ever made. I continued to work day and night to close the deal, but ultimately it didn’t close before my scheduled flight. The morning I was stepping out the door for the airport, my brother called to tell me Dad had just passed away. Just like that he was gone.
In one defeated motion I set down my daughter and my bags and fell to the floor. My heart was heavy as I didn’t get to say goodbye because I had chosen to stay in Los Angeles and work, over seeing my own father. Why would I do that?
The next few days were a fog. I couldn’t reconcile the fact I had been in control of deciding when to leave. My mind and body ached knowing 24 hours earlier would have meant one last moment with Dad. I would never see my father again, and the pit in my stomach was exacerbated by the loss of my mother 10 years earlier. At that moment I felt orphaned, alone and intensely guilty.
My brother asked me to write the obituary, and as I sat there, fingers on the keyboard, my mind was blank. I cried out loud as I felt like I did not even know who my own father was. I felt like a terrible daughter – a selfish girl who had chosen work over family.
After a few days in Maine, I began to think deeply. Engraved in the deep crevasses of my mind were childhood memories. I remembered long walks in the woods with my family as my father would point out trees and plants by name. I closed my eyes and saw my father standing in the Machias River wearing rubber boots, plaid shirt and blue jeans fly fishing for salmon. I envisioned him guiding my mother expertly across the dance floor as others cleared a path for them to dance a jitterbug, rivaling Derek Hough on DWTS. I remembered spending time with my dad after my mother’s passing. Using my mother’s ingredient-stained recipe book and wearing her favorite apron, I baked a blueberry pie from scratch. His eyes brimming with tears, my father told me how proud he was of me and for the first time in a long time, he told me he loved me.
I regret not being there the day my father died, but I regret not spending those last 10 years with him even more. In a way, he died in 1999 along with my mother. The pain of her passing always rendered it too difficult for our family to truly unite. She had been the heartbeat of the family and the beacon that beckoned us home. Without that beacon we were independent ships sailing individual courses, and seldom did we seek refuge in each other.
Today, I still negotiate complex television distribution deals. I still love the hum and buzz of a busy work life. I still haven’t found the secret to balancing work and personal lives. I still work on deals that could easily consume my mind, but I don’t let them. I’ve found the folks in Hollywood are human just like me and appreciate family and balance as much as I do.
And to this day I still face a bit of guilt for not being there when Dad died. Then I reach into that crevasse for the blueberry pie memory, serve myself a big slice and forgive myself a little bit more. I cannot explain the choice I made in 2010, but I am certain to give love and energy indiscriminately to my family every single day. I view each day as full of opportunities to make good choices.
P.S. The deal I had been working on in 2010 didn’t close for at least another full year – one more reason for family first.Tags: Family, Father-daughter relationship, Finding work-life balance, Hollywood, Loss of a parent, Negotiating deals, Reagan Feeney