Bruce Robinson remembers the moment when his attitude to his career and money fundamentally changed. It was 25 years ago and his wife was pregnant with his first daughter when a freak circular saw accident in the backyard almost killed him.
“It nearly cut through both of my legs and I nearly bled to death,” he says. “It turned into a three-week saga in hospital and it was an absolutely awful time. But like a lot of people who have a near-death experience like that, especially one involving a fair bit of suffering, I got home and (once I got off all the drugs) I thought how do I want to live the rest of my life? And I started doing things differently.”
The Perth-based doctor and researcher, who specialises in lung cancer, says one small change involved walking his kids to school instead of getting to work early.
… Like a lot of people who have a near-death experience like that, especially one involving a fair bit of suffering, I got home and (once I got of all the drugs) I thought how do I want to live the rest of my life?
“I talked to them all the way, kicked a football in the playground, maybe talked to their friends, and it became a really rich part of my life – but it was only my near-death accident that made me do that. Maybe I’m a slow learner – you don’t really want to have a near-death experience to do that – you want to have a friend who says to you ‘mate, change your lifestyle’.”
A money-oriented lifestyle is something Robinson sees all too often while talking to wealthy workaholics one-on-one in the consulting room and while treating asbestos victims looking back on their lives. Money has a way of taking over – something many men in particular succumb to and ultimately regret.
“What happens is it takes hold of people and it’s not just that they want to acquire money, it’s that money means something to them. It might mean for example, prestige, they want their ego boosted by it, or it might mean they really love their family and they really, really want to provide for them.”
It was one driver behind the Fathering Project – a University of Western Australia-based non-profit team of professionals led by Robinson, whose aim is to help fathers realise how important their influence is on children.
“Kids do spell love T-I-M-E and there’s no amount of money, no private school, no holiday to Paris, no three-weeks-a-year holiday can make up for it.”
Children who don’t have a good father or father figure in their lives have a much higher risk of becoming involved in drugs or crime, losing their way at school or being bullied, or becoming depressed, according to Robinson. But it’s not just children who suffer – the men themselves also often end up alone.
“He ends up being a bit lonely – ends up with lots of acquaintances but no real friends because he doesn’t take time to develop and nurture those friendships.”
It is an ethos which Robinson, who was a national finalist for Australian of the Year, 2014, practices – he is heavily involved in the local community and also travels to Indonesia to help the public. Money is a long way down his list of priorities.
Kids do spell love T-I-M-E and there’s no amount of money, no private school, no holiday to Paris, no three-weeks-a-year holiday can make up for it
“I’ve liberated myself from that treadmill – we give a lot of money away and we spend a lot of time serving people. I’ve still got plenty [of money] left – that’s the thing… I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about money – I do lots of other things.”
He advises young medical students to do the same: look at life in terms of kids, partners, friends, interests, community service and work.
“Then, every week of your life, ask yourself how you are doing in terms of investing in all of those things so that you end up with a rich life. And in doing so we say it’ll cost you money – you won’t be able to earn as much money – but you will have a richer life.
“So decide upfront and then be intentional in fighting for that every step of the way otherwise you’ll get to the age of 50 and say ‘how the bloody hell did this happen to me’?”
For more information about the Fathering Project go to http://thefatheringproject.org.
Brendan Swift is a business journalist based in Sydney.