Last weekend, my two daughters and I trekked from Phoenix to Santa Barbara to attend a family reunion for the celebration of my father's 85th birthday. Reaching that milestone is noteworthy enough but the gathering had far more meaning for me.
I grew up the eldest son in a proud and achievement-oriented New England family. For many reasons, each of the three sons and one daughter took very different life and career paths and I was the proverbial "black sheep" of the Burns clan. As time and distance grew, the times for family gatherings became less frequent and often, by either situation or choice, I was not included. My daughters took offense at that and even my former wife tried to help mend fences on my behalf but was met with a stone wall of resistance.
You see, I just didn't quite fit into the whole "family dynasty" thing. It wasn't that I was not very proud of who my family was or what they had achieved in life, it's just that I wasn't part of that life, since I left home on my own journey at 17 years old.
Great success was mine at a very early age. I counted myself a millionaire at the tender age of 22. My brothers and sister were just finishing college at that age, preparing to enter their respective fields. The distance between us as siblings grew wider as I flitted around from one farflung business to another and reaped the success of entrepreneurial freedom. My siblings climbed their respective corporate ladders, married and had families. The occasions of sharing time together became less and less frequent.
Along my journey, I had lost my way. Money and power replaced my responsibilities of family and conscience. My marriage collapsed, through no fault of my long suffering wife and my mother died way too early at the same time I got divorced. What relationship threads I did have with my siblings vanished, or were never there in the first place. Instead of being the undisputed leader of the pack, my two younger brothers replaced me and reached the pinnacle of success in their respective fields and my sister had married well and had a large and successful family of her own.
To add insult to injury, my now former wife packed up my two beautiful daughters and moved across the country from our winter home on Sanibel Island to the desert of Phoenix while I was out of town with yet another of my "flavors of the week." I returmed from that vacation to discover that everything that I had owned - houses, businesses, autos, furniture and even clothing, was gone. The saddest revelation of all was that I knew that I deserved it and that I had nothing left to do but to start over.
The next 14 years were spent moving out of my comfort level of an upper-crust East Coast mentality and embracing the "Wild West," first landing in Denver, courtesy of an old Harvard classmate, then to Las Vegas and finally to Phoenix around 10 years ago. To say that I started over from scratch at each turn is a gross understatement. Landing in Phoenix just months before 9/11, I arrived with only $200 to my name and through a series of fortunate events, moved from renting someone's 500 sq. ft. guest cottage to buying a grand manor house of 12,000 sq. ft. (circa 1929) at the venerable Phoenix Country Club in a matter of six months. But that's another story.
In any case, through a series of skillful and mostly lucky business moves, I quickly reclaimed my legacy as a "serial entrepreneur" and in no time was back to my former grandiose lifestyle, driving a Rolls convertible and entertaining the rich and famous at my newly acquired estate. My father, newly arrived from California, moved into the main house with me, much to my siblings' chagrin. It seems I was a "bad influence" on my dear old dad. Oh well, the black sheep is always the black sheep.
That "Hugh Hefner" adventure lasted 8 months until my real estate partner's deception of diverting the mortgage payments caught up with him and the bank took back the house, the Rolls, the antiques, everything. Oh well, on to the next chapter. I ended up in the email marketing business and made some great cash. Next, I moved into the magazine business, pioneering the "insertazine" concept and then started the area's first "Entertainment Card."
I bounced around from venture to venture until I was moved to take my two young daughters on the greatest adventure of all, a pilgrimage to Medjugorge, a tiny village in what was once Yugoslavia and is now in the country of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Along the way, I had returned to my roots of Catholicism and this pilgrimage completely turned my life around.
I returned from this fateful trip and decided to teach school, landing a pro-bono adjunct gig at my daughter's school at Barrett Honors College at ASU. That precipitated the beginning of Club Entrepreneur; the teaching evolved into my starting the country's first College of Entrepreneurship at Grand Canyon University, I launched the eFactory, (CEO's predecessor) and started a number of new businesses.
Step by step and most importantly, I became closer to my children, reunited with my father, became best friends with my former wife and as of my father's 85th celebration in Santa Barbara a couple of weeks ago, am happy to say that I'm even making some progress building back my relationship with my siblings.
Life is a journey and really can and does come full circle, which I dearly hope happens with my family. Because that's what life's all about, family.