The question is a touchy one no matter where it comes from, but the fact that it came from my elder son Aidan made it that much more thorny.
"Dad," he asked, "I have a potential business trip that may conflict with one of the family celebrations we have scheduled, and I don't know what to do. You faced thing like this countless times over your career. How did you deal with the work/family balance?"
My answer may give rise to some debate, if not outright criticism, but it was indeed honest. I told him:
"Family always wins..."
And after a pregnant pause, added this qualifier:
"...but doesn't always come first."
After a couple of seconds to let this sink in, I explained that whatever decision has to be made, it should be with the ultimate goal of doing right by your family. And sometimes that means taking a tougher decision with a long-term view instead of an easier short-term, unequivocal yes.
Guilty as charged on numerous offenses to the above. While I tried to make it to every one of my both my sons' plays, hockey games, concerts, debates and holiday pageants, sometimes I just couldn't. Or to be bluntly honest, I chose not to.
And it wasn't just my kids' stuff I sometimes missed. There were some anniversary and birthday parties, weddings and bar mitzvahs, baby namings and brisses that were also sacrificed because of corporate commitments I deemed more important in the long run.
I remember bringing this point up at a "Work-Life Balance" session at a Top 40 Under 40 weekend symposium I attended a few years ago. The assembled panel on-stage -- rabid, Type-A, C-suite stereotypes all -- recoiled in unison and looked at me in horror. Hypocritical horror I might add, as I challenged them by saying: "If you mean to tell me that you all got to where you are today by never choosing work over family, then you're a bunch of bald-faced liars." (OK, perhaps I used a few select, more expressive words...)
So going from the bottom up of my answer to my son, family did not always come first.
But, in the end, family always won.
Why? Because the reason for passing up events in the first place was to do right by my family's future. Again using the superlative, never, ever, EVER did I miss a family event just to do something frivolous, or fun. And I know that while some could dispute my choices, I made them so that I could keep roofs over heads, keep food on tables, keep kids in top-flight educational programs, and ultimately, keep us together.
And you know what? The fact that my son can take the time and ask me for advice on the subject shows that I made the right choice(s).
So my learning of the week is one of investment, not sentiment; one of short-term pain for long term gain.
Don't do things now merely to put your family; do things always to keep your family forever.
Eventually, they'll thank you for it at a big party.
A big party that inevitably, someone will have to miss.
*Not that I need to justify, but despite missing all "official" visiting days, I made my own unofficial visits from time to time, stopping in on camp by surprise. What's more, I also made sure that every time a new Harry Potter book was released, they got one first day via Amazon special delivery. The point here is that missing scheduled events doesn't stop you from creating your own special days and/or occasions at other times.