Our 691st Dad in the Limelight is Canadian in Paris, Gene Villeneuve. I want to thank Gene Villeneuve for being a part of this series. It has been great getting connected with him and now sharing Gene Villeneuve with all of you.
My name is Gene Villeneuve, I’m a Canadian in Paris. I’ve always chased experiences instead of the the white picket house, two cars, etc. Luckily I met a wonderful woman with the same outlook on life. Married for 12 years, we now have two beautiful girls. This is our second time in Paris. We lived here in 2003-2006, returned to Ottawa, Canada to have children and to support someone with a terminal illness. We jumped on the opportunity to move back to Paris in 2014. I’m an executive with IBM and run a large sales team across all of Europe from Iceland to Russia. I’m also a passionate runner and strive for holistic health from body, mind, and spirit. I’m also a regular blogger and coach/mentor for university undergrad and graduate level students and for colleagues at work. I also lecture at universities on career management and sales leadership. You can find my blog at www.businesshealthresults.com. More importantly, I’m on a journey to being the best father and husband I can become.I come from humble and chaotic beginnings but have built a wealth of experiences. I have built, sold and bought businesses, could retire any time… and have had a wealth of experiences such as making friends with the Syrian Secret police, being a suspect for terrorism in Turkey, running in the Saudi dessert, exchanging money in Bosnia during the war, raced ski ultras, raced bikes, ran marathons, wrote poetry in a 3 week artist retreat, etc. I hold a really high bar for myself, am constantly curious, and have a voracious appetite for new experiences and for mentoring and sharing. You can read a little more about my chaotic beginnings at this URL from The Book of Open.Here is my perspective on building an enduring life.
I’m married to a Canadian woman who’s parents are from the Netherlands and Canada. My roots go back several generations in Canada from English/Scottish and French settlers. We have two daughters that are learning English and French, enjoy dancing, running, singing, and horse back riding. We are also foodies that constantly explore for new and delicious meals. My wife is the fun planner. She enjoys researching and meticulously drawing up plans for our next adventure. I feel privileged to have someone support and enable our family adventures.
I’ve had two major challenges as a father.1. Retraining the mind and my behavioural responses to stress. As a boy my father modelled abusive and alcoholic behaviours as did most other men in my family. When stressed he became physically and emotionally abusive. I grew up fearing adults and not trusting anyone but also had to and am constantly learning how to better respond to stress now that I am an adult. Fortunately, I’ve yet to do anything I regret but I find myself often taking a deep breath, stepping back, and acknowledging that my instinctual reactions would only undermine the circumstances and make things worse. My biggest objective is to ensure my kids and my wife feel 100% secure at home to express the complete people that they are and to provide the springboard to succeed in life. Family should be a safe haven, not a construct to escape. Unlike my parental family where I was motivated to keep my head down, stay quiet and escape at the first opportunity, I want my new family to be solid, emotionally secure, supportive and to provide a restorative environment we can all lean on when in times of challenges.2. Letting go of personal ambitions/ego for the good of the family. I passed on a promotion at work in early 2016. My wife was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2016. It’s been a rollercoaster year. Luckily her prognosis is good but she is deep in the treatments. Sickness forces one to look deeply at themselves. It forces you to pose the question, are you living the life you want? Life is beautiful and fragile. Check your priorities and ensure you are on the right path. For instance, it was tough letting go of the potential promotion to focus on my family. Family is more important. As the family is the foundation for building a solid career and community, if it is cracked you need to mend it before you can continue building on it. Several months later, I question why I ever wanted the promotion. Despite my wife being sick, I’m happier now than I was a year ago. I’m proud to be a loving supporter and have seen a huge change in my relationship with my girls. A promotion at work would have taken me in the other direction… more days away from home, more work stress, and probably even less time for me.
Life is not a race… slow down and focus on the beauty of every moment. Over time, the moments will add up to a wealth of experiences far greater than any investment portfolio. However, over time, remaining curious, getting out of your comfort zone, and striving to be better will result in increased success in life via friends, knowledge, new accomplishments, health, finances, deeper bonds, and a stronger family.
Call it balance or integration. We live so that our family makes time together and childhood events such as morning drop-off, school plays, extra-curricular activities a priority. For instance, I run several meetings every week and I plan them around my children’s schedules and our meal times. We also set strict rules about the evening routine. Once I’m off work the smartphone is down, and I focus on the family from dinner to bedtime. Once the family is tucked in I check back into work when needed. However, it is not always easy. In sales there are events out of your control and sometimes you have no choice but to interrupt family time and work on the customer time. In these cases, I lean heavily on my supportive wife or we have a list of great sitters that can come at a moment’s notice to help offload the work from my wife and entertain the kids.
It’s also really important for me to take care of myself. I make running 30-50km a week a priority and I eat a clean diet, most recently given up alcohol as well.
6) What have you learned from the fathers that you have interacted with?
Most importantly to be vulnerable and to let go of your ego. Kids and wives teach us so much every day. When my wife and I argue my youngest often says something as follows. “Stop arguing… Daddy is nice and Mommy is nice, so why are you arguing? Stop arguing!” Our daughter is right. Often we argue over dumb things and if we simply understand that we each have a perspective that needs to be understood so that we can move forward. I’m happy we’ve created a family dynamic where our daughters feel confident enough to tell us to stop arguing.
I’ve had to learn to be patient and sensitive.I listen and empathize to encourage my girls to feel and express their full range of emotions. I strive to give my girls a home free of criticism and fear so that they may thrive and learn to express themselves and develop into the women they are meant to be. When they are frustrated or angry I listen, empathize, and help them live with and move through the emotions. I encourage my kids to understand all emotions are natural but how we deal with them is what makes the difference. And no matter what I tell my girls that I love them every day.
Here is an example where I used empathy and sensitivity to help my daughter through a tough situation. Since my wife has been in cancer treatments my five year old is getting frustrated that her mommy can no longer take her to school. Sometimes she sits in the front hall angry and crying, refusing to go to school unless her mommy takes her. One morning I picked her up, and carried her to school in my arms with her cheek to my cheek. I whispered silly things into her ear to cheer her up but realized quickly that she just needed to cry and express her frustrations. I encouraged her to say what she was angry about and to let her cry. By the time we got to school she had calmed down. When I put her down in front of the school her friend arrived and immediately my five year old came to life with a huge smile on her face. I was proud I was able to get her through the emotions and show her my support and that it was ok to feel sad and frustrated. And that she didn’t need to hide or suppress her emotions.
Observing my kids discover new things that I take for granted or to do things I can’t do such as playing the piano or doing a great ballet move. It’s absolutely incredible to watch my kids explore the world and discover through trial and error how things work… and to let them try, fail, and then try again and succeed. Like when they discover how to ride a bike, or when they finally learn how to roll their Rs… instead of saying “walk and woll” they evolve into saying “rock and roll”. But it’s the little things like observing my youngest daughter kindly say “excuse me” to a woman on the street as she wants to get by with her scooter. Or when I get home from work and my kids run to me and give me great big hugs.
If you have any questions for Matt, please leave a comment here and I will make sure that he gets them so that he may be able to respond!