Recent surveys reveal that millennials strongly value new experiences and making lasting memories. I saw this trend in a business trip with my daughter more than a decade ago. Here is a true story that touches on careers in government, travel, one millennial daughter and Father's Day.
It seems as if everywhere we turn there are new reports, survey data and expert analysis on millennials. Articles point out what “typical millennials” like and what they don’t. What are their hopes and dreams? Where do millennials want to work — or not?
From character traits to travel plans, cyberspace is full of all things millennial.
Time magazine: Millennials put their surprising stamp on the American Dream
Pew Research Center: Millennials overtake Baby Boomers as America’s largest generation
Inc.: 1 Really Good Reason Why Female Millennials Are So Ready to Quit Their Jobs (with warnings that we don’t yet have millennials figured out)
(Even my own) Govtech.com: Millennials In Government — Or Not
So as we approach Father’s Day 2017, I’d like to take you back on a journey that happened over 15 years ago, with my millennial daughter Katherine. This was the first of what became several business trips where I was able to bring my daughter along, while I was in various government technology and security roles in Michigan. At the end, I’ll offer some closing thoughts on why I believe this narrative remains relevant as we head toward the 2020s.
Note: I originally wrote this true story for a professional writing class I took in 2002.
A Daddy-Daughter Business Trip
I sat amazed as I looked at my daughter Katherine. We were traveling on a Comair flight which was getting ready to take off from Lansing. She turned to me and said, “Daddy, no one is listening to the stewardess.” We were in the third row, and the stewardess was demonstrating how to use the seat belts. Katherine gave the presentation her undivided attention. Later, she studied the airplane’s layout with keen interest. This was a totally new world to her, and she held my hand tightly as we taxied before take-off.
“Will we be OK? Do you see any terrorists? I’m worried!” We quietly prayed for a safe trip.
The two flights that brought us to Hershey, Pa., went perfectly. Seasoned travelers wouldn’t even remember the details. But for Katherine, and for me, this trip was a cherished memory. “Daddy, the whole world is divided up into sections,” she proclaimed from 22,000 feet, as she looked out the window.
Fifteen minutes later: “Hey, the clouds look like endless snow.”
Five minutes later: “Daddy, I’m afraid. Daddy, I love this [the plane ride]. Daddy, thank you for taking me! Daddy, I’m going higher and you’re going lower.” (This was as the plane turned prior to landing.)
I sat on the plane thinking back about how we got to that point. Back in May, I had accepted an invitation to speak at a computer conference in Hershey, Pa., in mid-December 2001. I was dreading the time away from home. Sure, it was an honor to represent Michigan government, but it was only two weeks before Christmas. I knew I’d miss my wife and daughters.
Then in November, I had an idea. What if I brought Katherine, my daughter, along with me? She’d never been to Hershey, and she’d absolutely love the Christmas decorations and Hershey’s Chocolate World. She could learn from the computer demonstrations, and see and hear her dad’s presentation.
At first, my wife, Priscilla, was reluctant. But after we slept on it and talked about it, she agreed. I called Delta Airlines, and a frequent flyer seat was available for only 15,000 miles as a post September 11th deal to get people flying.
Next, I needed the permission of my government boss. Stephanie surprised me, and thought it was a great idea. She even told me how she had fond memories of traveling with her dad on business. The conference coordinator also was very supportive, offering to give Katherine her own badge and free entrance into the conference. I was pleasantly surprised at how everything came together so quickly. So, here we were on the plane.
Walking through Cincinnati airport was another new adventure with Katherine. “Daddy, look at all those Comair planes! Daddy, they even have a McDonald's and Pizza Hut in the airport! When do we get on the next plane?”
I enjoyed this challenge. Whereas I am sometimes impatient with my daughters at home, I took time to explain things to Katherine. I showed her the monitors and all of the flights going around America. I saw my daughter in a new light. She was so mature, and I couldn’t help being proud of her many interests.
When we arrived in Harrisburg, Pa., we headed for the car rental counter. As we drove around the town of Hershey, Katherine gazed out the window with fascination and excitement. The lamp posts that looked like Hershey kisses, the stunning Christmas decorations, the smell of chocolate in the air when we stopped at a gas station for directions.
We stayed at the beautiful Hershey Lodge. At check-in, we were presented with two large Hershey candy bars, which thrilled Katherine. Next, we walked around the huge complex discovering things. The pool, front lounge, the room where I would speak the next day in the convention center. We saw hundreds of people setting up for the conference, and Katherine held my hand as we stepped over cables and dodged men. Katherine was a bundle of questions and comments. “What are they doing? Boy, this place is big! Daddy, this isn’t what I was expecting. I’m hungry, let’s go to Friendly’s.”
On our way to the hotel, Katherine spotted a Friendly’s Restaurant and decided that we were going there for dinner. I told her that, as a boy in Maryland, I thought the best strawberry milkshake in the world was the “Friendly Fribble.”
At dinner, we sat in a booth, and smiled at each other. We laughed as Katherine read the jokes from the kid’s menu. We laid out our plans for the coming two days. We said a prayer for Mom, Grace and Belle (our 4-month-old puppy). After dinner, we had a Fribble for dessert.
After unpacking our bags back in the room, we headed to the indoor pool for an hour of swimming. The lifeguards were so friendly, giving us lockers, towels and games to play with in the pool. Katherine said that it seemed like the entire complex was there to serve us. Later, we went back to the room and read two chapters of The Lord of the Rings, before calling Mom in Michigan, praying together, and going to bed.
Tuesday was the “big day.” I wondered if Katherine could handle the conference — with hours of sitting and listening. She truly rose to the occasion and exceeded my expectations. As we registered for the conference, one executive-looking man said, “We encourage parents to being their children to our conferences. So few do.” Katherine’s smile radiated as she proudly put her own conference badge on her new sweater.
The keynote speaker was James Pawelczyk, an astronaut who flew in a space shuttle mission in 1995. Katherine really wanted to get his autograph next to his picture in the program, and to our surprise and delight, we saw him prior to his 10 a.m. presentation. “Do you want to be an astronaut?” he asked.
“I really don’t like flying very much. I’m kinda afraid.”
“That is … a problem,” he said.
Dad jumped in saying, “Katherine does like computers.”
“Well, NASA always needs a few more bright minds.” He smiled as he signed her program with the words, “To Katherine, Reach for the Stars.”
His presentation didn’t disappoint us either. We listened and watched with fascination as he described NASA’s modern space travel and obstacles to a manned trip to Mars.
After the keynote address, we wandered around the exhibition halls. There were thousands of people walking around various computer demonstrations, and Katherine cheerfully collected chocolate bars, pens, and a variety of other gadgets from a calculator to a Nerf football. I urged her to slow down and ask people about their computers and demonstrations.
At the Microsoft booth Katherine walked up the man with a big smile and asked, “Can I please see Bill Gates?”
“He’s not here,” was the response.
“Why not, this is the Microsoft booth, right? Where is he then?” Katherine was unashamed and bold yet polite, as only kids can be.
“I think he’s in Seattle, but I’m not sure. Do you want to see what I can do with this computer display?” He started a pretty cool video presentation with exciting graphics and stereo sound. Katherine was mildly impressed. She took two toys from the man, but seemed disappointed to not meet Bill Gates.
Lunch in the hotel restaurant was another special treat. “The buffet has everything, Daddy! Look at those pretty desserts. I love the Christmas decorations. How can they give us all this for $7.95?” She’s sounding like her dad, I thought.
Before my afternoon session, I reminded Katherine how to act. But Katherine didn’t need a lecture. She sat quietly listening, and acted like an angel. At one point midway through my Michigan.gov PowerPoint presentation the screen saver clicked on the large screen. Katherine, sitting in the front row, jumped up, pointed to the screen and said, “Daddy, look!”
I turned, blushing and moved the computer mouse to refresh the display as several people chuckled. “Katherine is my daughter, who came along with me,” I apologized. The crowd smiled. It turned out to be a nice interruption. Several people later told me that they thought it was great that my daughter was with me.
The next four hours were a fun adventure. We quickly changed clothes and rushed over to tour the Hershey Chocolate World. The place was virtually empty as we went on the ride telling the story of how chocolate is made. Each display seemed better than the next as we walked around the Hershey museum and outside displays holding hands and smiling at each other. Over dinner, we reminisced about the excitement of the past two days. We called Mom and told her about everything.
Later that evening we went to see the Rogers and Hammerstein musical Cinderella in the beautiful Hershey Theater. We sat next to an elderly women who talked warmly to Katherine the entire evening and treated her like a grandchild. Katherine was full interesting questions, and she was full of answers. God gave us the perfect seats. The play was funny, romantic, inspiring, dramatic and just plain fantastic. Katherine was on cloud 27 at the end.
Katherine talked me into waiting in the cold for twenty minutes to get Cinderella’s autograph. We were first in line when she came out the stage door. Katherine leaped for joy as I snapped her picture with Cinderella. They chatted for a few seconds as others pressed for their turn. I headed to the car with the happiest girl in the world skipping beside me.
Even the trip home was special. From breakfast at Bob Evans, to getting a present at Walmart for our puppy Belle, we had a great time. The flights were all on time, and Katherine was now a “pro” at flying.
By the time we arrived back at Lansing airport, Katherine was ready for the quiet of home. Only 56 hours before, we had left our house for a mid-December business trip. It turned out to be both that and a Christmas adventure we’ll never forget.
Fast-Forward to Father’s Day 2017
As I think back on more than two decades in government service, I realize that despite receiving less pay than many private-sector counterparts, there were many intangible benefits that will never show up on a website job perk list or any pay stub. From the breadth of experiences to the occasional travel speaking at conferences to the public service we provided, government offered a great career.
After this successful trip, when I spoke at technology and security conferences around the country, I was sometimes able to bring Katherine along. We enjoyed the well-known “Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day” at a whole different level. From Dallas to Philadelphia, we were able to see parts of America together in short one-day chunks over a decade.
Later, when Katherine was older, my government annual leave time provided me the freedom to bring Katherine with me to South Africa (including a post-conference safari), Prague and even Bulgaria on different conference speaking trips. On a few other occasions, I brought my wife, Priscilla, or son, Paul, with me when I spoke around the world. (Yes, there were also many times when bringing family members was not allowed or workable.)
Beyond travel, there were the sporting events, drama plays and church activities that I didn’t miss with my family — thanks to my government career which kept me near home most of the time. There were also longer family reunions and vacations to places like the Badlands and Mount Rushmore, thanks to generous amounts of annual leave.
Bottom line, the government work-life balance worked out very well for our family and my millennial daughters appreciated (and still appreciate) seeing the world with their parents. Yes, these opportunities can still happen in the private sector, but there is generally much more pressure for evening business meetings and non-stop use of time with business clients while on the road. No doubt, we can all work on building family memories.
Sadly, my father died of cancer when he was a young 64, but I’m so thankful for the thousands of ways he invested in my life for 25 years while I was growing up. Thank God, he didn’t wait to get involved with the lives of his children until after retirement — an event that never came for him.
He was there for me and my brothers and sisters in sports, school, church activities and so much more. Later, while I was single and working at NSA, we’d play golf in the evenings in Baltimore when I got home from work. After nine holes of golf, we’d sit on the large Spanish-style front porch in Ten Hills (West Baltimore), and eat dinner and talk and talk. No evening meetings, no fast food — just fun, stories and laughter.
What’s my point? I don’t want to sound preachy, but there is more to life than just your paycheck. Take time to be with your children and parents — now. Growing up, we would listen to the Harry Chapin song Cats in the Cradle, with the strong desire to make sure that was not our story with our kids.
And millennials, and Gen-Xers, don’t underestimate the numerous benefits of public-sector service that will never show up on your W-2. Your family will remember and thank you.