I sometimes wonder if the sun envies me. I get up before it rises and return home after it sets. In the morning I kiss my wife Ana, and my two boys, David, 9, and Michael, 6, goodbye and head off to work. As I drive off, the last thing I see are my boys, standing in the front doorway in their pajamas, waving and smiling, yelling their last goodbyes. I always remember their eyes. Those eyes don’t see a tired man, lugging a brief case like a life sentence, worried about the hearing that morning or the deposition that afternoon. They see only "Daddy," bigger than life, bigger than any problem, real or imagined.
During one of the morning goodbyes, David looked at me, looked at the sun rising over my shoulder and shouted, "Look Daddy! You’re bigger than the sun!" Yes, bigger than the sun, bigger than any obstacle or problem. A superhero of sorts. No cape, no tights, no bat cave or designer costume, but a superhero nonetheless. Because you see, in my sons’ eyes, Daddy is immune to Kryptonite. That’s what my boys see when they look at me. I take that look to work and conquer the day with it.
There’s power in those eyes. I want to be the man they see. The one who does the right thing, not the easy thing. The one who confronts adversity, not runs from it. The one who keeps his head while those about him are losing theirs. I want to make those boys proud, to live up to their image of me. I don’t want to do anything to make that look in their eyes wane. I’m not naive. They will grow up, become teenagers, see me differently. I’ll look smaller in their eyes. But I’m going to do my best not to contribute to my own diminution.
Those eyes define professionalism for me. It’s not about rules, codes of conduct, mission statements or a list of dos and don’ts. It’s about being the man my boys see, the man I want to be. For me, professionalism simply begins and ends by asking the question, "Would my sons be proud of my actions?" What would they think about my conversations with opposing counsel? The questions I ask the witness at deposition? What I tell the judge at the hearing? They’re a constant presence in my life, even when I’m in the office and they’re back at home watching Barney.
Sometimes when I’m sitting in my office I can almost see my boys, sprawled on the carpet, their Spider Man coloring books open, crayons everywhere. Other times, when I’m typing on the computer, I can almost feel David’s breath on my neck, his fingers on my shoulder. I act as if they’re right there in my office, in the deposition room or in the courthouse. I deal with opposing counsel as if my boys are standing by my side, watching me. I write my motions and letters as if they’re peaking over my shoulder, asking me what I’m typing. Ask me about professionalism, about what it means to be a lawyer, and I’ll tell you about two little boys who idolize their father, who, with their eyes, push him to always be the man they see.
Each of us has someone who sees us for more than what we are. It may be a child, a spouse, a parent or a friend. We want to make them proud; we want to be the person they see. It is in striving to be that person that we pursue professionalism, true ethics. It’s more than following rules for the sake of following rules. It’s doing the right thing for the sake of those who matter. I try to do the right thing because my boys expect me to, and I do it to set an example for them, so that they’ll do the right thing too. Start looking deep into your loved ones’ eyes. You’ll find what it means to be a professional in those eyes, and you’ll find the inspiration to act like one.