Reclaiming Manhood: Embracing Your Inner Griswold

The  vast majority of you have seen one of the “Vacation” series of movies. You know, the ones starring Chevy Chase as Clarke Griswold, husband and father of two.

Clarke means well. He wants to do great things for his family, but his grand plans regularly fizzle into disappointment and disaster. He overthinks everything. As each carefully-layed plan crumbles, he begs for more time and patience in hopes that everything eventually comes-together. It does…sort of.

Every husband and father has a bit of Clarke Griswold in them. The difference is whether we recognize it or not and the amount it impacts upon our families. By the age of 30, most of us have had at least one major Griswold moment. By 40, we’ve had at least two. At 50, the number is at least 5. Then, the rate begins to taper as we start losing ambition and gain wisdom.

Real men recognize their Griswold moments. Even better, we recognize when they might happen and make the decision one of calculated risk. Most of all, we are able to laugh at ourselves during these moments.

So, just to show you that I recognize my own shortfalls. Here’s my biggest Griswold moment.

Look close. That's me in the picture. I'd print what I was saying at the time, but it's not appropriate for general audiences. Remember this, fair reader, an RV is a box you park in the woods and throw money into.

Using this truck/trailer combo, I almost killed my entire family. I heard a lot of “can we just get a hotel room?!” and “Noooooo! I don’t want to go camping.” and “I don’t like that trailer. It makes daddy say bad words.”

I learned one valuable lesson from this experience: The road to hell is navigated by fathers in RVs.

It’s gone now, replaced by a Subaru.

Griswold moments are characterized by a few important factors:

  • Griswold moments cost money, and more than just a trifle. Going to a bad movie is not a Griswold moment. Buying a Harley with a sidecar to hold a baby seat is always a Griswold moment. Know the subtle differences.
  • It impacts others (especially those close to us) in a negative manner. We severely underestimate the negative potential in the planning process.
  • While these moments are possible as a single male, they are extremely unlikely. The vast majority of potential Griswold moments require a wife and children.
  • Because we fell in love with our plan, we often wait until the suffering become unbearable before we choose to abandon it.
  • The time we escape our Griswold moment is more satisfying than the time we entered it.

Most Griswold moments involve recreation or leisure activities. We rarely take such chances in our professional endeavors. That doesn’t, however, mean it is outside the realm of possibility.

We laugh at our Griswold moments. I laugh about the RV now. I wasn’t laughing back then, but I am now. We shudder at the thought of our potential Griswold moments. Those make us cringe and suffer anxiety dreams. Let me give you a real example.

Shortly after leaving government service and embarking on my solo office boondoggle, an old buddy called and emphatically attempted to convince me to join him in a partnership. I declined, but the idea of having fancy letterhead with a couple of names on it was intriguing. It certainly seemed more cosmopolitan than my pathetic little solo world. I declined because I wasn’t sure about his ability to manage his own practice, generate income, and share his portion of the load.

At the same time, the idea of partnering with him was tempting from a prestige point of view.

We still talk. He didn’t have hard feelings about my rebuff. Now, his practice is suffering. For every $500 he generates, he spends $600. To pay bills, he accepted some freelance research jobs.

Now, I shudder at the thought that I could have been part of the misery. Had I entered the partnership, I’d be generating work in order to pay his bills. It gives me the willies.

Could this have been a Griswold moment? Let’s check.

1. Would it cost money? Absolutely. At the beginning of our discussions, I had no debt. He incurred approximately $20K from his solo startup costs (mostly in an effort to achieve search engine optimization and name recognition). Our first priority would be to eliminate those notes. This doesn’t even begin to address the costs of paying for his ongoing expenses.

2. Negative impact on others? At first blush, you may think that this is merely business and should be kept within the business. However, think about the second and third-order-effects. I’d be stressed. I’d be irritable. Knowing human nature, I’d likely have anger episodes at home. I like to think I can manage anger and frustration well, but you just never know. Is it worth the chance? Additionally, my take-home-pay would suffer due to his proclivity for spending cash. My practice is already modest. To make it more modest would directly impact my ability to buy baby a new pair of shoes. Yep, they’d suffer–and my current analysis may still fall short of what would have actually happened.

3. Married vs. Single. Obviously, the potential impacts to a married-with-children lawyer is well-established. Not as much for the single ones. After all, you can do just fine with a studio apartment, inflatable furniture, inflatable girlfriend, and crappy car. Risk tolerance for a bad partnership is much higher for the single guy.

4. Difficulty of abandoning. The deeper you go into that partnership, the harder it becomes to get out. I think of the book/movie A Civil Action. The movie does a good job of showing a prosperous practice that devolves into funding coffee purchases with sub-prime credit cards. That story still gives me nightmares. However, the deeper he went into his situation, the harder it became to extricate himself. Most of the time, it ends with rock-bottom. Had I taken the offer of partnership, I have visions of myself wearing a WalMart smock, running somebody’s purchases over the laser-thingie.

5. Satisfaction of the exit. I’ve never been in partnership, but I could sense the high one might achieve at the dreams of a successful one. You imagine being that guy with the BMW, snazzy suits, wife, mistress, girlfriend, big house, vacation house… The thoughts are intoxicating. Then, when it all goes to hell, I can’t imagine the relief one must feel when he/she exits a horrible, blood-sucking partnership and walks the other direction.

There you go. Griswold moment. Now, I’m not opposed to partnerships. Most seem to be successful and rewarding. However, a bad one can alter your life negatively with little or no chance of recovery.

The bad thing about this Griswold moment is the level of suffering that it causes. It’s more than that damned RV. After all, it eventually was just parked in the driveway, gathering cobwebs. You can’t just park your practice and forget about it. Too many people count on you.

So, as you’re blinded by thoughts of a rich and famous partnership, do yourself and your family a favor. Just buy an RV.