Koalas and Kangaroos/Impact Wrenches and Grinders by One and A Half Men

Topic: Guilt

I’d like to thank Jared and Mitchell for asking me to contribute to The Write On Project. I’m humbled and flattered by their invitation. I’ve written two short fictional stories that are loosely based on a typical “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t” decision during a typical day in the life of One And A Half Men. I hope you enjoy.

Koalas and Kangaroos

This is going to be such a perfect day. Junior has the day off school. The forecast is for an amazing spring day, not a cloud in the sky, 72 degrees and sunny. We don’t get many perfect days like this in Columbus. It’s normally either too cold, too hot, too humid, too rainy, too windy or too snowy. I could not have picked a more perfect Friday to take a vacation day so Junior and I can spend a day at the Columbus Zoo.

I’ve been working day and night lately. Junior and I haven’t had the chance to spend much quality time together in the last few weeks so I decided to take a vacation day today, especially since the weather is going to be so perfect.

Honestly, I wasn’t 100% sure that I should take Friday off. On Thursday I had e-mailed Steve Jones who’s the president of Ace Construction to request an appointment with him on Friday. Ace Construction has been a target customer since I began selling industrial tools over nine years ago. I’ve never had any luck with them but I recently made another pass at Ace and the door finally seemed to be opening for me. My competitor’s salesman has retired recently and all of a sudden their service levels had drastically declined.

I knew that Ace was spending over $1 million per year with my competition. This could be the golden opportunity that I’ve been waiting to receive for the last nine years. However I hadn’t heard from Steve by 5:00 on Thursday afternoon, so I went ahead and told Junior that I’d take Friday off so we could go to the zoo together. My little man pumped his fist and let out a “YEAH!!!”

I sprang out of bed on Friday morning, looked outside and saw the azure colored sky precisely as predicted. I put on a pot of coffee and sat down at my laptop to send a few e-mails and check yesterday’s sales numbers. I opened the back door and let the breeze blow into the kitchen. I heard the pitter-patter of little feet running down the stairs as I finished up my work.

“Good morning buddy”.

Little man answered, “Good morning Dad. What time are we going to the zoo?”

I responded, “Soon. What do you think you’d like for breakfast?”

“McDonald’s!”

“OK”, I quickly replied back. “But only if you go back upstairs, pick yourself out some clothes, and get yourself dressed.”

“Ok Dad, I will.”

I headed into my room and threw on a pair of shorts, a t-shirt, and a ball cap. When I emerged Junior was sliding down the banister. He landed at the bottom of the stairs, fully dressed, and announced that he was ready to go. Pride swelled up inside of me when I saw that he had gotten himself dressed right down to tying his shoes. It was going to be a perfect day that we’d both remember for a long time. I let the dogs in, locked up the house and we were on our way. I backed the car out of the garage and realized that in my excitement I had forgotten to grab our camera and my Blackberry.

I ran back inside the house and grabbed the camera and my phone. I glanced down at the phone and noticed that I had an email. The email was from Steve Jones. He had answered my request to meet today. “Today will be great. Why don’t you stop by around lunchtime and we can grab a sandwich and talk about what you can do for me? We have a large power plant project that will be starting next week and I need to order a lot of tools.”

What now? Junior was so excited about going to the zoo, but here was an incredible opportunity to meet with a potential client that could lead to millions of dollars in sales. I climbed back into the car and I was torn. How could I let my son down at this point? I would need to drop him off at day care in order for me to go meet with Ace Construction. I thought to myself, “Maybe we could go to the zoo tomorrow instead”. I checked the weather forecast from my phone. Saturday was going to be 44 degrees and rainy.

We pulled into McDonald’s and I was beside myself with indecision. Now stop and think about this for a minute. I had two beautiful opportunities. I could spend a glorious day at the zoo with my son or I could go to a meeting that could result in landing a huge client, yet I was beginning to make myself miserable. Junior was trying to tell me about the Donkey Kong DS game that he was playing but I had completely tuned him out. He yelled at me from the back seat, “DADDY! ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME???” Instantly I began feeling guilty for tuning him out, however I needed to make a decision about today and I needed to do it now.

Walking up to the counter at McDonald’s I was still totally distracted. Junior was trying to tell me that he wanted hotcakes and a hash brown. Once again I was tuning him out.

“DAD!!!” He yelled to me.

“OK, OK…let’s order”

I ordered our breakfast and while we waited for our food I decided that I could not let my son down. I would just have to let Steve Jones know that I would not be able to meet with him today. I decided that the best strategy would be to call Mr. Jones instead of simply e-mailing him back. I grabbed our breakfast and we found a table. I told Junior that I needed to make a phone call and that I’d be right back. Junior sternly said to me, “Dad, can’t you at least butter my pancakes and cut them up for me first?” I said, “Sure buddy”, and I felt a bit ashamed of myself for attempting to peel myself away from Junior before I had fixed up his food so he could eat his breakfast.

Off I headed to the quietest corner of the restaurant that I could find. I called Ace Construction and asked for Steve. I collected my thoughts as I waited on hold for him.

Mr. Jones: “Hello, this is Steve”

Me: (Stuttering)… “Mr. Jones, this is Brett with Tools-R-Us.”

Mr. Jones: “Oh, Hi Brett! It’s great to hear from you! Can you stop in around 11:00 today?”

Me: “Actually Mr. Jones, I’m on vacation today.”

Mr. Jones: “Then why did you send me an e-mail yesterday asking if I could meet with you today?”

Me: “Well sir, at the time I wasn’t planning to take the day off but since I hadn’t heard from you by the end of the day, I decided to take the day off today.”

Mr. Jones: “Brett, I need to get moving on ordering a large quantity of impact wrenches and grinders. When can you come see me?”

Me: “I can be there first thing on Monday morning Mr. Jones.”

Mr. Jones: “I guess that will have to do.”

I tried to say goodbye and wish Steve a good weekend but he had already hung up the phone. With that, a tidal wave of doubt rushed into my mind. Had I ruined my chances to do business with Ace Construction? Would he even see me on Monday morning? Would he call my competitor this afternoon and order the tools that he needed?

I walked over to Junior who was already done eating. “Why were you gone for so long Dad?” I answered, “I was talking to a customer.” Junior said, “I’m done. Can we go to the zoo now?” “Sure buddy”, I said.

As we entered the zoo all I could think about was the conversation with Steve. I had convinced myself that I had blown it. The guilt was overwhelming. Junior and I strolled through the zoo. We visited the polar bears, the elephants, and the zebras. Junior’s favorites were the koalas and the kangaroos. He began asking if I’d take him to Australia someday to see “real koalas and kangaroos”. Distracted and succumbed by guilt, I wasn’t really even listening to what he was asking and said, “Sure buddy”. Even riding the log flume and the roller coaster couldn’t get me to pull my head out of my ass for a few minutes to enjoy the moment.

I felt like I had let my company down by turning my back on my business opportunity. What should have been an amazing day was ruined by the guilt that I had allowed into my mind. I had allowed my emotions to be overtaken by guilt. I spent the entire weekend depressed and second-guessing myself. I was now feeling double-guilt. I was upset with myself for deciding not to grab the opportunity to meet with my potential client and close a huge sale. I was also kicking myself for letting my work-related guilt ruin my day at the zoo with my son. Neither of us enjoyed our day like we should have. My guilt had ruined our day and now I was feeling guilty about the guilt.

Impact Wrenches and Grinders

Today was the day that I’d been working toward for nearly nine years. I was finally going to be meeting with the decision maker at Ace Construction, the largest construction company in the Midwest. These guys do work all over the world. They build power plants, oil refineries, and chemical plants. They are right in my wheelhouse.

Here’s how the opportunity unfolded. Yesterday morning I sent an email to Steve Jones, the president of Ace Construction. I asked Mr. Jones in the email if I could meet with him today. I hadn’t heard back from him as of 5:00 pm yesterday, so I figured that he was blowing me off just like every other time I’ve attempted to meet with him.

Since I hadn’t received any type of response from Ace Construction, I decided to take a vacation day today. The weather was going to be perfect, 72 and sunny. I told Junior that I would take him to the Columbus Zoo. Junior was totally pumped about our day.

Junior and I planned our day at the zoo the night before. First we’d stop at McDonald’s for breakfast. Our first stops at the zoo would be to see the polar bears, the elephants, and the zebras. When we’d had our fill of animals we would check out the rides. We agreed to ride the log flume and the roller coaster until one of use puked! We’d then finish the day by stopping to see the koala bears and the kangaroos while we planned our dream trip to Australia. Junior was so excited about our day that he didn’t fall asleep until almost midnight.

I jumped out of bed this morning and couldn’t wait to wake up Junior. I poked my head out the back door as I let the dogs out. It was going to be a perfect day as predicted. There wasn’t a cloud in the azure colored sky. I left the back door open which allowed a gentle breeze blow into the kitchen. I put on a pot of coffee, sent a few emails, and checked my sales report. I heard the pitter-patter of little feet as I was finishing. My vacation day had officially begun.

Junior was a perfectly behaved little man this morning. He picked out his own clothes and got himself dressed, right down to tying his shoes. It was going to be a glorious day that we’d both remember for a long time.

We were headed out the door to grab breakfast at McDonald’s on our way when I grabbed my Blackberry and noticed that I had received a response to my email from Steve Jones. Steve said that he would really like to meet with me today. He told me that I should stop by around lunch time so we could talk about doing business together. I was immediately distraught over what to do. Of course I didn’t want to let Junior down, but how could I pass up this incredible opportunity to meet with one of the largest contractors in the country?

As we drove to McDonald’s I was completely immersed in this internal tug of war. I tuned Junior out as he tried to tell me from the back seat about the Super Mario DS game that he was playing. He yelled at me, “DADDY! ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME?” I immediately felt the familiar guilt that overcomes me when he catches me tuning him out. We arrived at McDonald’s and ordered our breakfast. I made my decision as we stood waiting for our food. I just couldn’t let myself pass up this opportunity.

I sent an email back to Steve and said that I could be at his office by 11:00 and I’d be happy to take him to lunch. Steve quickly responded and told me to come on in. He needed to place an order for a large quantity of impact wrenches and grinders for a huge power plant project that Ace Construction was starting next week. He needed to find a supplier that he could count on.

I could hardly contain my excitement. Junior was eating his pancakes and I told him the news. “Buddy, I have some bad news but hopefully you’ll understand. I have to go see an important customer today so we won’t be able to go to the zoo. I promise to make it up to you this weekend though.”

Junior’s face immediately sunk. “You mean we can’t go to the zoo today Daddy?”

I answered, “No buddy. But we’ll do something else fun this weekend I promise.”

My excitement over the opportunity had prevented me from seeing the big picture. Junior was growing more aggravated.

He asked, “Can we go to the zoo tomorrow?”

I answered, “Probably. Let me check the weather forecast on my phone.”

The forecast said 44 degrees and rain all day on Saturday. “Tomorrow doesn’t look good buddy but we can go bowling or do something else fun inside.”

Junior became even more upset, “But Dad, I really wanted to go to the zoo today!”

I said, “I know buddy, I have got to go to this appointment though.”

We cleaned up our mess at McDonald’s, walked to the car, and headed toward daycare. Junior was totally pissed off now. He slammed the car door shut and kicked the back of the passenger seat in my car. He continued to melt down as we drove toward the daycare center. I felt awful. For a moment I considered calling Steve Jones to reschedule our appointment until Monday. I knew that I couldn’t however. I would look totally foolish and he may get upset and call my competitor. Steve is well known throughout the industry for his short fuse.

What was I thinking? As I walked Junior into daycare he wouldn’t look at me or speak to me. I felt awful as I drove away. I knew I was going to be in a terrible state of mind for this meeting at Ace Construction.

I know very well that if a salesman walks into a sales call with low confidence, he’ll have almost no chance for success. I did my best to put the guilt out of my mind but it was futile. I approached the receptionist and meekly asked for Steve Jones. The receptionist was an older woman with a blank stare. She seemed bothered by my presence which didn’t do much for my confidence. She called Mr. Jones and told me that he would be up in a few minutes. My mind wandered as I sat waiting for him to make his way to the lobby. I became overwhelmed with guilt as I sat in the lobby. I had let my son down. I thought about Junior at daycare. I imagined him feeling much like I did, sullen and disappointed.

Steve arrived in the lobby after about five long minutes. He asked if I was ready to go to lunch. Steve offered to drive. I accepted his offer and climbed into his Escalade. We exchanged pleasantries on our way to lunch. An inkling of my confidence began to return during our drive to lunch. I’d close on this order at lunch and would feel much better about everything.

We arrived at the restaurant, sat down, and ordered lunch. Then Mr. Jones caught me completely by surprise. That tiny bit of confidence was about to vanish as quickly as it had arrived. He began to pepper me with questions. I was totally unprepared. He questioned my company’s lead times and our customer service. He asked me about my availability to help with last minute orders and deliveries. I was miserably unfocused and it showed. I could sense that my client was becoming more and more irritated with me. The meeting ended with Mr. Jones dropping me off in his parking lot with my tail between my legs and of course with no order. Mr. Jones told me that he just wasn’t sure if my company could handle a contractor of his size and he would need to think things over.

I could hardly even walk back to my car. I had blown it. I sat silently in my car and quickly became overrun with guilt. I had let my son down and I had let my company down. How could I be so stupid? I felt as if God was punishing me for making the wrong decision. Why didn’t I think through the consequences of agreeing to the meeting today after I’d promised Junior that we would spend the day together at the zoo? Why hadn’t I thought about the possibility of a crash and burn caused by entering this crucial meeting while being consumed by the guilt of choosing work over my son? Shell shocked, I drove to Junior’s daycare and picked him up. He was still upset with me and I spent the entire weekend consumed by the double dose of guilt caused by my terrible decision.

This is such a typical scenario in the life of a single parent. We must make no-win decisions nearly every single day. It’s not a question of which is the right decision so many times, but a question of which decision is “least wrong”. All we can do is try to make the decision that is in the best interest of our children. Sometimes that decision must be the one that puts food on the table. It may not always be the popular decision with our kids, but hopefully it is the “least wrong” decision.

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Comments
2 Responses to “Koalas and Kangaroos/Impact Wrenches and Grinders by One and A Half Men”
  1. Fabulous! One minute had tears forming in my eyes, next minute feeling sick to my stomach thinking about having to make a decision like that. Loved the perspective from both sides. Was this “based on a true story”? Having my wife around to back me up (and me for her) makes many of those situations so much more bearable. I think all single parents deserve a round of applause for hanging in there and doing the right thing, whatever that is on any given day. Thanks for posting!!

    • Brett says:

      Thanks Steve! There are decisions on a nearly constant basis. The key is to try to always think about what is in the best interest of the kids. I really have no business questioning my decision making when I let what’s best for my son be the deciding influence.

      The stories weren’t based on a true story, however they very well could be. There have been many true events that could replace the exact details of these stories without much of a stretch. My son calls it reality based fiction. Not bad for a 9-year old!!!

      Thank you so much for reading!

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