One of the most difficult challenges we face in the worlds of work and family is the tug-of-war between accountability on the job and responsibilities at home. Whether early school day dismissals, sick children, elderly parents, the issues of caregiving versus providing financially for home and hearth involve hard and often heart-wrenching decisions, immeasurable patience and a whole lot of faith and fortitude.

bookThe push and pull is powerful and quite evident in the #1 NY Times bestseller, Mrs. Kennedy and Me by Clint Hill and Lisa McCubbin. The book provides an incredible behind-the-scenes account of Jacqueline Kennedy (Onassis)’s short years in (and out of) the White House as told through the eyes of her Secret Service agent, Clint Hill, assigned just after President John Kennedy was elected.

From Amazon’s book review:

When Secret Service agent Clint Hill was initially assigned to guard First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, he envisioned tea parties and gray-haired matrons. But as soon as he met her, he was swept up in the whirlwind of her beauty, her grace, her intelligence, her coy humor, her magnificent composure, and her extraordinary spirit. For four years, Clint was by Jackie’s side—through the early days of JFK’s presidency; the birth of sons John and Patrick and Patrick’s sudden death; Kennedy-family holidays; her intriguing meeting with Aristotle Onassis; and the president’s assassination and the dark days that followed… this is the … story of a man doing the most exciting job in the world, with a woman all the world loved, and the haunting tragedy that ended it all too soon.”imagesCA99DGCW

I read this book wearing several hats: as a former federal government employee (judicial branch), a wife, a mother, and as a human resource professional. Certainly, times have changed – and rather drastically so. Nonetheless, I was stunned at the grueling nature of the life of a Secret Service staffer, the small daily stipend afforded them to subsist as they traveled the world, the 24/7 hours with pitiful pay, often without meals, and having to work for months without ever seeing their families.

kennedyI had no idea just how little time Jacqueline Kennedy (Onassis) spent with her husband, albeit not much less than the time she spent with her children. She was away from the White House for the majority of her husband’s presidency, out of the country or resting at some vacation spot waterfront. “Jackie makes it a habit to leave for the couple’s Glen Ora estate in Virginia most Thursdays for a weekend of horseback riding. She does not return until Monday. The president has full run of the White House while she is away. So the list of his consorts grows by the day, “ (Killing Kennedy by Bill O’Reilly & Martin Dugan). Hello?

At the book’s conclusion I was driven to learn more about Clint Hill. How could his family life (a wife and two sons) be nurtured and sustained when he never spent one holiday or more than a night at home for months on end? How understanding can a wife be while raising two sons alone as her husband is traveling the world with the most popular, beautiful woman who exists in it?

Hill does not dwell on these points or bemoan much. There is little mention of his family. Still, readers cannot help but see the affect those four years, and the assassination that unfolded right before Hill played on his emotional and mental well-being for the remainder of his life. Though he went imagesCA04GN89on to serve three more presidents before retiring in 1975, he was despondent and nonplussed by his career. Hill is currently the sole survivor of those who traveled with the motorcade through the streets of Dallas on November 22, 1963.

There are hard decisions to make when navigating a career and a family. How would you juggle serving the wife of the President of the United States versus your own wife and children? If your husband were President, would you spend most of your time traveling abroad, relaxing at family compounds and with friends while he conducted the harsh business of the nation?

imagesCAJ1155XCertainly our personal choices do not reach the levels of those in the realm of national politics, but they are no less important. Ultimately, when the Secret Service assignment and the presidency were over, what was there to go home to? For Hill it was a family who could not possibly know him or compete with the exciting life he had led for the past four years. For Mrs. Kennedy, the door to the White House closed as she left her assassinated husband resting under an eternal flame.

Food for thought….

~From the desk of Becky Morlok~

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