Pain to Purpose


Hi! My name is Francisco, but everyone just calls me Fran, easier to spell and easier to say. I first started my FIFO journey back in 2010 when the local oil and gas economy in my hometown experienced a downturn so I looked north for work. I had a young family, at the time a wife, 9-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter. My rotation was 14 days at a time and then home for seven, I had no idea how it would impact my life or theirs.


You see, we make a ton of assumptions about what it is like, this job I would have to stay in a hotel room and work my 12-hour shift then drive back to the hotel. I had a great crew which was my saving grace, they made work fun and I tried my best to fit in as they had more experience with working away from home. My focus was work as I was fear-struck about not being able to provide for my family and never bothered to ask how they stay connected with their families. Some of the guys were not married or in relationships and the married guys were on their second or third marriage, I did not think much of it at the time.

Heard a phrase once “you aren’t big oil until you have a divorce or two under your belt.” Hindsight 20/20, I get it now. It shouldn’t be this way!

Being work focused I received much of my validation based on my performance resulting in everything else taking a back seat, particularly my family at home. I would go home, and I would spend time still checking emails and answering calls or even just with the guys instead of being present at home. I would unwind by checking my “soccer scores and soccer blogs” to stay up to date with all the players and teams I followed (I am Argentinean which means – soccer-crazy). I was not present, to this day my son hates soccer because of this. Hurts my heart that he felt as if soccer was more important than him. One of the many pros to working FIFO life is the money and I will admit that I tied my identity to what I made. Looking back realizing that not having the financial education to be a good steward of money resulted in poor financial decisions (I spent as fast as I made it). New trucks, trailer, toys, camera gear for my wife as she enjoyed photography! I was being a great provider and took so much pride in that and to be honest I let it go to my head and it became a tool of power and influence in my marriage. I ended up in the golden handcuff so to speak – to keep buying new things I had to work more, and working more meant less time at home, less time at home meant more purchases to ease my guilt for not being there and present for my family. I tried buying their love, I found it easier to spend money than to be present, I was getting validation at work, so I did not really need it at home.

A year passed and that project finished, and I was staring unemployment in the face again… With no savings! I was fortunate that my time and work on that project allowed me to make a couple of connections and was then offered a job even further north, I had reached the BIG LEAGUES I thought to myself. I was full of pride my head now was far bigger than my body, picture a cartoon character! This FIFO project flew me directly from my hometown to the private airstrip and I honestly felt like a combination of a rock star and Indiana Jones (cue the theme music)! I also got another hefty bump in pay which fueled my ego once again. I was pumping the air pump myself and inflating my big ass head. My colleagues now were from all over the world, the best of the best and I was one of them!! All while my wife at the time raised our young kids, navigated our son’s Asperger’s diagnosis, running from appointment to appointment with no help from myself. I neglected her and our marriage, I can understand the resentment and anger towards me now. I wasn’t the man or father that she and the kids needed me to be.

As a contractor and management, there were fewer restrictions on working hours and I took full advantage of that. I lived and breathed the work, sacrificing time away from home and family, they would understand, they benefit from it just like me, right?! Funny thing, I never ever asked her or the kids what they thought of it or what they wanted. I thought I knew best, boy was I wrong. As I grew professionally my family life was withering under the weight of neglect. I was making more so I would throw money at the problem. I do not have the time so I will buy you this instead.

Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy! Feeling neglected? Here is a camera lens! Oh, I did not take you to the park, here you go, Lego!! I was not available to draw on the sidewalk with you and lay on the grass and imagine cloud animals? X-box 360 with “Let’s Dance” video game! We are all good right!!! WRONG!!! I can never go back and reclaim that time or that age with my kids and I imprinted feelings of neglect, not enough, worthless, isolation on them and my wife at the time. I thought to myself other wives would kill for the lifestyle that you have; I did not realize or care at the time that her love language was time paired with words of affirmation. I brushed it off as my love language was being met at work.

All the validation I was feeling like a big shot at work (I really was not but I imagined I was remembering I inflated my own head). I was proud to say I worked for Big Oil! Especially because I had something to prove, most of my life others have said “you have dentist and doctors as friends what happened to you?” Here hold my beer…I came from a minimum wage job and worked my way up! Felt damn good about myself, I was 5’ 5” but feeling ten feet tall and bulletproof! My family took the toll, I took them for granted and I am so ashamed that I have hurt them dearly. I truly won’t ever fully understand the magnitude my actions had on all of them, all I can do now is do better.

Then the other shoe dropped, in 2017 the realization that my marriage was in shambles had surfaced. I had spent all this time truly being married to my work and absent everywhere else. I thought this is what a man is supposed to be like, hardworking, stoic, a good provider (we had a big house, new vehicles, big screen TV) but nothing much else, not even savings. We had a hard conversation; I recall it like yesterday she had said “if she had the money she would leave”. Honestly, I don’t blame her she deserves so much better than the man I was then. Being full of pride I said, “Then let us not make that a barrier” and that was that we had agreed to a divorce. We told the kids and then boom I would move out. I did not know where not much thought was put into that so I lived in my truck for six months (I felt as though I needed to suffer) until I could figure out how to make all the obligations work on my end.

This was the beginning of the darkest 6 months of my life where I would contemplate all sorts of things that were not good for me. I never went to see anyone or asked for help due to guilt and shame, I would say that I was in a depression and felt like I deserved it. I was so ashamed that I had become the very man that I despise. I was humbled fast let me tell you. I did not know how much things were going to cost me, and I was not going to be one of those guys that leave their families high and dry, plus I needed to suffer for the failure. I did not see my kids during this time, I had nowhere for them to go, nor did I want them to see me this way. I was too embarrassed and prideful to really share what was going on with anyone. I finally told my parents and a few more friends at the end of May that I was getting divorced, and my parents were disappointed and concerned for me. I finally had an idea of what things were going to cost me and I was able to finally rent a room in a shared accommodation agreement. It came furnished which was perfect as I had no furniture nor budget to buy any and my property owner who was my roommate lived in Calgary! This was awesome! It was even a nicer place than I thought I could get, no 70’s orange shag carpet or wood paneling! I was also able to have my kids over for supper and watch a movie so that was good. The disconnect that the kids and I have hurts my heart, but really, I take 100% ownership.

Not knowing how to fix it or make it better all I can do is make little incremental steps to repairing the hurt that I caused to all of them. They felt as though they were abandoned, not good enough, you are just going to replace us with a new family one that is not broken. Looking back, I still do not know how to make right by them. The remorse and regret I feel about letting them down is something I carry to this day and will forever. This is where I hope that my pain of my story can bring healing to me and to others to live out differently. Here is what not to do…NO JOKE.

It was during this time that I was trying to build my relationship with my son and took him out camping. I wanted him to experience the outdoors and build some memories that were good to replace so many bad ones. This vacation was supposed to be remarkable, I intended to take my son climbing with a friend. Things took a turn for the worst when my friend failed to show up and there would be no climbing. Once again, I let them down. My son ended up sleeping in the truck as I snored so loud in the tent. Great another failure under my belt! Trying to recoup letting him down I recommended cliff jumping, nope he was not interested but hell I needed to do something to end this epic flop. It may have taken me 30 minutes to jump off the cliff and my son kept saying “Dad this is a doing thing not a thinking thing.” We laughed, and he made fun of me as to how long it took for me to overcome my fear. Finally, I did it. I only share this as it was a contributing part to the next chapter of my life.

During this time, I was working on reconnecting with some old friends that I am embarrassed to say I put on the back burner through most of my life. Through their grace and kindness, they understood. Connected back on Facebook I shared a photo of my cliff jump. Who knew that this act would lead me to my wife today? (I would have never believed it.)

It was August 2018 when I get a message from a friend asking where I went cliff jumping. Turns out they had someone over picking up firewood as they were planning a camping trip with their kids and that was on their to do list. I was more than happy to share, so they got us connected via Facebook so I could let her know where to go. Turns out my directions via messenger where as she puts it were “super shitty.” And through conversation I asked if she wanted to meet, and I could show her as I printed pictures and could explain it better. She agreed only because we both knew the same people and she trusted them. We enjoyed a few drinks on a patio and shared a little about ourselves. It was crazy how easy it was talking, she shared her story, books she loved and so forth; she was a runner and of course I used to run (hell this is where my pride also came in thinking I have this; how hard can it be to keep up with her.) so I shared that about myself.

I really enjoyed my evening with her, and the next day asked if she wished to go for coffee. Now she was a busy mom of three kids, she referred to her life like a zoo. She mastered the juggling of all roles. Because she had many obligations, she was all about making her time kill two birds with one stone so she said to me Well I am not up for coffee, but I will be doing a run today and taking the dog as he needs to get his energy out your more than welcome to join me. I thought to myself this is perfect as my coffee talk game was “shit” and I was smitten. The clever witty me made a comment to her “Let’s go for a run and I’ll tell you why. Dogs are a good judge of character and if your dog likes me then that is good information for you. Conversely, by going for a run with you I will know what kind of shape you are in and then I’ll know what kind of shape I have to get in to spend time with you and that is good information for me.” I do not think she truly got what I was saying, bless her heart. It was 32 degrees, and she took me off-road running along the river so the dog could cool off, a good thing as I thought I was going to die. She would look back and right away I would do a thumbs up, when she turned around again, I started panting like a dog. We became friends and started running together, many more stories about how she kicked my ass every time. I would get conditioned to do 10 km and was rather proud of myself, she then throws in a hill. If you have not guessed it already she is extremely competitive and must stay in the lead. I was so smitten and totally friend-zoned – dating after divorce sucks, just saying. She shared her story of loss and victory; she was widowed at the age of thirty-two with three young kids. I really admired her more for it, this gave me a new perspective and hope that I could come out of my situation ok. I learned about faith and hope which helped me more than I can ever say. She shared a book by Brene Brown on being vulnerable and in your story and arena which helped so much too.

‍Guess what, you do not and should not suffer in silence, it takes courage to ask for help (and to ask a girl who just sees you as a friend out – DENIED… for a bit). As I navigated between hope and despair during my separation and divorce, I began to learn more about learning how to feel emotions, how to express them and being ok with not having it all together (that is still hard, will not lie). I also began to see that I am more than the work that I do, more than a paycheck. I could be a father, I could be a husband again, and I could still be a good worker.

‍Now a cool part to the story is that girl that I really liked, and that friend-zoned me, guess what, I was able to convince her to date me and even marry me. Now I wish I could say that we rode off into the sunset together and cue the end credits, but it is a bit more complicated than that. You see, she had not experienced the FIFO life before me and some of the same issues of just being absent, communication struggles, fitting in with routines and even dealing with a blended family have been struggles of ours. I come home like a wrecking ball (she even sings the Miley Cyrus song and made a parody) and I sometimes feel like the left-over bolt in the IKEA box that is not really needed. That is why we started FIFO4REAL, for families, couples, and workers to feel supported, to share what we are struggling with and what is working for us and just to have a community of others so we can learn to thrive in this FIFO life.

‍This my friends is my “pain to purpose”…let us journey together!