“If you could only eat one thing the rest of your life, what would it be?”
(All together now): “Pizza!”
So many articles, books, and blog posts like this one are written to help dads be better dads. That’s great, and I gobble up content like that at a fast clip. But suppose the question was, “If you could only give one piece of fathering advice, what would it be?”
I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment.
And I don’t mean “Occasionally allow your kids to muscle into your daily workflow.” I mean open up your life for the possibility of frequent interruption. Hope for, wait for, eagerly anticipate, even relish the joyful intrusion of your children into your life. Sleep with one ear open, keep your office door cracked, mark all your guy-time calendar entries with “subject to change,” and be ready to drop just about anything at a moment’s notice. (Disclaimer: yes, sometimes you will have to say “no” or “not now,” but those moments can be few and far between).
One day over two decades ago I was deeply concentrating on finishing up a book chapter when I felt a little tug on my shirt. I looked down into the blinking brown eyes of my tiny daughter, Amanda.
“Daddy, can you be with me”? she asked quietly.
Then she grabbed one of my fingers in her little fist and led me out onto the back porch. In the half-hour that followed, Amanda and I built one of the most precious memories of our (now) 29-year father-daughter relationship. And I so easily could have missed the whole wonderful thing had I brushed her aside and selfishly stuck to the task at hand. (I can’t even remember which book I was working on.)
My wife Karen and I have been committed to this outlook on parenting ever since our children were born:
The answer is yes, the time is now, and nothing is more important (with necessary exceptions noted).
And what a wonderful commitment it has been. We have an endless stream of joyous memories built up and we are now watching this legacy being passed on to the next generation.
We recently had our two little granddaughters over for a sleepover (which doesn’t involve that much sleep, as it turns out). Busy buttoning up our old farmhouse for the coming winter, I was fussing about in the yard with leaves or lawn furniture or something when I heard a very enthusiastic question from eight-year-old Sophie.
“G-Pa, can we play that game where we go upstairs into your bedroom and you pretend to be asleep and then we turn the lights on and you wake up and then we turn the lights off and you pretend to be asleep again?” (Sophie talks in run-on sentences like this all the time, it’s wonderfully exhausting.)
I dropped what I was doing and upstairs we went.
Lights on, lights off, lights on, lights off, found me bouncing up out of bed and then falling back onto the bed (or floor), seemingly unconscious again while Sophie and her little sister Lexie giggled and jumped up and down on the bed and yanked on overhead lamp cords. It was positively aerobic.
Finally, the lights went off for more than a few seconds and I lay on the floor (where I had last landed) face down with my eyes closed, panting.
“Hey, let’s pile pillows on him and then jump on him from the bed!” Sophie whispered with delight. Lexie cheered. And so I was thus piled upon.
“We need more, Lex! I can still see his knee!” I heard a muffled Sophie shout.
Soon all the pillows from all the beds in all the bedrooms were atop me and I was cocooned under a warm and slightly stuffy inundation of polyester and cotton.
“Time to jump!” I heard Sophie shout, soft and seemingly far off.
“They will remember this forever,” I heard Karen say (she was sitting in the cheap seats watching the show).
“Tho will I,” I said, painfully from under my soft heap. “ I jutht bith my thongue.”
So, be joyfully and expectantly inconvenienced. Let the question, “Daddy, can you be with me”? become your favorite question.
And let your favorite answer be, “Yes!”
The last time Sophie and Lexie played The Game, the enthusiasm was overwhelming and Karen and I later found the light cord on the floor and the ceiling light hopelessly busted. I texted my son a photo of me repairing the wiring and let him know that under no circumstances were we ever playing the light game again. His response made it clear that he doesn’t believe I’ll follow through with my new rule. He’s probably right …
Peter Lewis is an author, photographer and graphic designer with a passion to tell stories that encourage fathers to fall in love with the best job they will ever have. Read more and listen to his podcasts at thedadstoryproject.com. Peter and his wife live on a farm in western Maine and have two grown children, a son and a daughter, and two adorable granddaughters.
- What would your one piece of fathering advice be? Share it with another dad. (And ask for his one piece of advice.)
- Think about recent times when a child has approached you wanting something. Were you inconvenienced? Did you act bothered?
- Has “inconvenienced” ever turned into anger for you? Maybe one secret (which obviously Peter has embraced) is to set your kids as a higher priority before they ever approach you. Then you’ll be more prepared to “drop just about anything at a moment’s notice.”
- Approach your child and say something like, “Let’s do something together. You choose. I just like being with you.”
- Suggest that you and your child “play” together, even if they’re teens or young adults. (Do their kind of playing.)