The Right Foundation

from Paul Fochtman

I always had a pretty fixed idea of what a man was supposed to be. When I grew to be well over six feet tall and entered the construction trade, this nicely supported my ideal of manhood as strong, reliable, honest, and a good provider for his family. As for emotions, my motto was: don’t have ’em, don’t need ’em.

It worked well for a while. I built a good business, got married, and raised two kids up to high school age; then everything began to change. After eighteen years of marriage, my wife seemed angry all the time. Two years of counseling didn’t do much for the marriage, but it opened me up to issues going back to my early childhood that I didn’t even know were there.

For the first time in my life, I had to take seriously the emotions that had been roiling around just below the surface for as long as I could remember. Gradually I adopted an entirely new worldview: emotions are okay. Everyone has them, like feet and hands. The job is to learn how to work with them constructively so that they benefit, rather than injure, the people around you.

It was an epiphany. I joined a men’s meditation group and entered a period of tremendous personal growth. I had been raised Catholic, but to me it was just dogma. Now I began to understand the reality of a higher power, of God and the role He could play in my life if I surrendered to Him. I began to pay attention to more subtle influences; and I noticed that my strong thoughts often materialized around me.

The marriage couldn’t survive the transformation I was going through. My image of what it would mean to fail as a father and husband included me living in a seedy one-room tenement, with blistered paint on the walls and a bare bulb hanging from the ceiling.

When the marriage broke up, my wife and kids stayed in the house which I had to keep supporting. There wasn’t much left over for me to live on, so friends offered the use of what they called their “guest house.” This turned out to be a room that looked pretty much like what I had pictured in my failed-as-a-husband scenario.

In a way it was a relief. My worst fears had been realized. I didn’t have a lot left to lose, and that allowed me to open up to whatever was trying to happen in ways I never could have before.

This was good, because God had more “unthinkables” to give me.

I’d been in the construction trade for thirty years. I ran a really successful company and never had even one dissatisfied customer.

Just at the time my marriage broke up, I got one of the biggest contracts of my career. A developer hired us to do the framing on fifteen custom homes he was building, each worth from three to five million dollars.

Everything started fine, but by the third house I was about $250,000 in the hole. With all the materials I had to buy, my company couldn’t carry a deficit like that. I was looking at bankruptcy.

I had bid the job correctly. My carpenters were working well, as they always had; but the subcontractors on the sites before us were doing shoddy work. Having to correct foundations that weren’t square and level was eating up all our time and money.

I didn’t see how I could finish the project or save my company. Business failure, like divorce, was way outside my concept of being a man.

I asked for a meeting with the developer and his son. The father had put up the money; the son was the on-site manager.

The meeting was set for Saturday morning. I had just started a meditation practice, and I understood that one of my goals was to give everything to God. I had already lost my marriage; now it looked like my business was going too. While meditating before the meeting, I told God that, whatever happened, He and I would just move on together.

The son took over the meeting almost immediately. For most of the next hour he railed against me and the shoddy work he said I had done. There was a lot I could have said about the subcontractors who had done their work before our team did ours, but I felt no need to justify myself to this man. Nor did I want to set up the subcontractors for the same tirade I was receiving. I had given the whole situation to God and I was content to let Him figure it out.

Finally the father made his son stop. And he asked me what I had to say for myself. (After all, I had called the meeting.)

“I’m $250,000 in the hole,” I told him. “I am going to have to file for bankruptcy. I’ve given you the best work I can. That is all I can do.”

The father asked his son to step out of the room with him. After a few minutes the father came back alone and handed me a check for $250,000. “We don’t want you to go bankrupt,” he said. “We enjoy working with you, and we want you to finish this project. We’ll pay what’s needed to have you do that.”

From then on things seemed to go better. Maybe by the fourth house the subcontractors figured out how to build a better foundation. At any rate we finished on time and—including the extra $250,000—within budget.