Family First

As a school administrator there have been many times when I have encouraged those I supervise to put their family first. As a principal, I covered teachers’ classrooms so they could slip out to visit their own child’s classroom for a special event.  As a human resources administrator, I approved personal time so employees could accompany their child as they moved to college for the first time. As a superintendent, I strive to protect educators from feeling like they have to be available to students and parents 24/7.

Over the past 25 years, I have not always modeled what I encourage. I have sent my wife to attend parent/teacher conferences alone. I missed moving my son into the dorms his freshman year of college. I said, “I just can’t this year,” when my youngest asked me to be a Watch D.O.G.S. ( Dads of Great Students) volunteer at his school. I look back, with regret on what my own family has sacrificed so I could serve other families.

I write this blog today because in the past three weeks, my family’s life has been forever changed, and I feel it is important to share our story so people can understand why I am working to give myself permission to put my family first.

Wednesday, August 26, my wife had a laparoscopic surgery which resulted in a cancer diagnosis. Two days later, we received a more specific diagnosis of peritoneal mesothelioma. As we spent Saturday, August 29 wrapping our minds around this news, our son Calhoun experienced a health crisis leading to an ambulance ride to Rochester, and at 3:00 am Sunday, August 30, the pediatric ICU physician told me Calhoun was a type I diabetic. We spent the next three days at Saint Mary’s Hospital receiving a crash course in managing type I diabetes.

Cal was discharged at about 7:00 pm Tuesday, September 1. We drove home from Rochester, and gave my mother-in-law a quick tutorial in how to check blood sugar and administer insulin injections. This quick training was necessary because she would be managing Cal’s first day home as a type I diabetic, because Carla had to be back in Rochester for her first oncology appointment at 6:45 am Wednesday, September 2.

We slept for a few hours and then headed out for our return trip to Mayo. After checking in, Carla and I sat in the 10th floor waiting room of the Gonda Building providing FaceTime coaching for Calhoun’s first at-home blood sugar check and insulin injection. While Cal did have to say, “no that’s not right Granny,” in the end, grandma was successful.

After the appointment, Carla and I got back in the car to head home to Decorah. As we were on our way home, we stopped along the way at a highway 52 roadside parking area with a canoe/kayak launch on the Root River. This felt like the first moment we could actually breath and talk in days. We spent about an hour sitting on the bank of the river processing all that had happened over past five days. We cried.

Since that day, I have added things to my calendar. I have added appointments with Calhoun’s diabetic dietician, and his endocrinologist. I have added Carla’s chemotherapy appointments. I have also added a couple vacation days so Carla and I can take a trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to experience the fall colors.

I am incredibly grateful to our school board members and to my co-workers who have encouraged me to put my family first, and to take this time. I am also grateful to my wife, Carla, and my children, Savannah, Will, and Calhoun who understand how hard it is for me to turn my educator brain off. For 25 years, their grace, forgiveness, and willingness to share me with whatever school district I serve has been amazing.

I share this blog today to let people know that as a husband, father, and superintendent, I am a work in progress. In every aspect of my life, I am working to figure out my new normal.




22 thoughts on “Family First”

  1. Wow!! That’s a lot to go through in a short period of time and now you are dealing with the long-term of 2 major health issues. God Bless and prayers will be said for you and the family.

  2. You’re AMAZING at what you do both professionally AND as a family man. Both are so fortunate to have you lead the way, as you do so well.

  3. The Decorah Community School District is extremely fortunate to have you as our superintendent. Your leadership has been essential to our ability to move forward throughout these most challenging times. As important as that is, it is even more important that you are able to be present for your family. We are here to help you and your family through these difficult times.

    Ronald Fadness, Board President

  4. You all in our prayers. God got this and he we will look over you all. stay strong. love 💘 Christopher and kaylee michelle and kyle.

  5. Mark, I’m so sorry for all of these struggles. I know and understand the giving everything to the District, families and JJ if’s you serve. I did that for 40 years. I did for a little while realize that they weren’t going to name a building after me so I could take some time for myself. Focus on your family. In the end, they’re all that really matters.

  6. Our prayers are with your family as you wade through these days. What a year this has been. Uffda. A Scripture comes to mind that has given me comfort over my life…”I look to the hills. From whence cometh my help? My help comes from the Lord, the Creator of Heaven and Earth. He will not let your foot slip. He who watches over you will not slumber or sleep… ” Psalm 121.
    Lisa and Steve Krieg

  7. So much love, respect and prayer coming to you all, Mark. There is simply nothing we can say—please know that in the midst of the impossible and unbearable their is endless compassion and care here for you all.

  8. Mark

    We are very touched by your blog. Words cannot ease the pain and stress you are feeling. At a similar point in my career we learned of my wife Sharon’s diagnosis of stage 4 breast cancer. Sharing that news with our 15 year old son and 12 year old daughter was something I will never forget. We fought our way through a year of surgery, chemo and radiation. Long story, short, with outstanding medical treatment and support from family, friends and the Urbandale School Community, Sharon is now survivor for nearly 18 years. You and your bride are in for the fight of your lives, but I have no doubt that you both can get to a much brighter future ahead. Let me know if you want to talk. Be strong and keep the faith. Take care.

    Dan and Sharon Meyer.

    1. Dan and Sharon,

      Thank you for sharing your story. It is inspiring and fills us with hope and positivity to hear the personal stories of others.

    1. Coach,

      Thank you for your message and prayers. Carla and I have truly appreciated prayers and kind words from so many people in our lives.

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