THE YEAR WAS 1997 and, as usual, real-estate developer R. Donahue Peebles was in the midst of a fierce business negotiation.
But instead of concentrating on what he was doing, his mind drifted to his wife, Katrina, and their young son, also named Donahue. Peebles pictured their being in a doctor's office and something having gone wrong.
"I started playing it out. Each one of these problems were problems I couldn't solve," recalled Peebles, 53.
As Oprah Winfrey would say, it turned out to be a major "aha" moment - one in which he realized his priorities were out of whack.
"I was extremely driven . . . early in my son's life. I spent a lot of time at work," the self-made multimillionaire told me yesterday. "Over time, though, as I matured, I recognized that even more important was to be an active participant and actually engaged in his life."
Peebles added, "There's always going to be another business opportunity. I made a decision that I was going to change how I did things."
Peebles, who's been angling to nab the city's second casino license, is scheduled to be in Philadelphia this weekend to pick up an award from the Father's Day Rally Committee's 24th annual Father's Day weekend celebration.
Other dads being recognized by the organization, which promotes, among other things, responsible parenting in the African-American community, include songwriter Carvin Haggins and Steven Scott Bradley, of Bradley & Bradley Associates, an insurance and risk-management business. Peebles is getting the organization's national father award.
"It's a very nice honor and I like what Bilal has done for the organization and what it stands for," Peebles said, referring to Bilal Qayyum, the head of the committee.
Peebles, whose family has since expanded to include daughter Chloe, says he has no regrets about deciding early on to make being with his family a priority. That was no small adjustment for a guy whose company, the Peebles Corp., maintains a multibillion-dollar portfolio that includes luxury hotels, high-rise apartment buildings and office space in Washington, New York, Las Vegas and Miami.
Shortly after his breakthrough daydreaming incident, Peebles volunteered to coach his son's basketball team, a position he held for the next six years. (He quit after the team's skills exceeded his ability to guide them.)
"I was teaching [Donahue] how to lead. Also, he and I were learning how to work together as a team," he told me. "Hopefully, one day later in life, we will work together."
Peebles was profoundly influenced by his late maternal grandfather, who worked as a hotel doorman in Washington, D.C., and managed to send all five of his daughters to college. Peebles, whose parents divorced when he was 5, married at age 32 and became a father two years later.
"I wanted to be the kind of husband that I wanted my mother to have had," he told me. "When you make a commitment, you make it for the long haul."
Peebles, who recently moved his family to New York City, said he's happy his children are close. His son is a student at Columbia and his daughter is 10.
So, what are his plans for Father's Day, besides being recognized for his own parenting prowess? The same thing most other dads will be doing: relaxing at home with his family. Peebles has more than earned it.