3 Ways Dads Can Be Intentional on Thanksgiving

by Jay Payleitner

Thanksgiving? Already? If the days are moving too quickly, that’s all the more reason to approach the holidays with thoughtfulness and intentionality.

I do hope you’re feeling grateful. Even if you’ve had a tough year, the evidence of God’s provision is clear and compelling.

In any case, allow me to make three recommendations for your Thanksgiving gathering.

Set aside any personal agendas.

Especially those regarding politics or any commentary on cultural decline. Look for common ground. Make it a priority to laugh and love. Here’s an idea … enjoy! When driving home or doing dishes, the goal is to be able to turn to your loved one and say, “What a great day.”

Create an opportunity for everyone to share what they’re thankful for.

Be intentional here, but don’t wait until the entire feast is sitting on the table. Going around the table and sharing gratitude while the stuffing, yams, and potatoes are getting cold is actually disrespectful to the chef. Instead, be creative. Put out a sheet of butcher paper and markers ahead of time and have everyone share thanks in words and pictures. Hand out Post-It notes as guests arrive to write words of gratitude or prayer requests, then stick them to the fridge. Or invite the youngest or oldest member of the family to give one big thank you to God, just before you all hold hands and pray.

Create or continue a family tradition.

What that tradition might be is up to you, but I firmly believe that silly, sensational, or solemn traditions help strengthen families. The Payleitners have two traditions you may want to borrow:

Thanksgiving Football. The above pic (one of my all-time favorites) was taken in 2012 on our last Thanksgiving before grandkids. I’m pretty sure playing football evokes much more interaction and memory making than watching football. But you do you.

Questions Around the Table. For more than 30 years, between the main course and dessert, we have been passing a basket of questions around the table. We do serve coffee, but no one leaves the table. Everyone picks one slip of paper and answers the question. Two stunning examples from our family come to mind:

Nana was born in 1900. In 1990, she had been sitting quietly at our Thanksgiving table when she unfolded a question asking about her first ride on an airplane. Suddenly, right before our eyes, she became 11-year-old Lillian! She recalled the astounding moment when she was out in the backyard with her mom hanging laundry. A flying machine appeared overhead! For those of us at the table, her description was unforgettable.

In 2013, my mom picked this question from the basket: “Recall a time you were scared.” Without hesitation, she told about sitting on a park bench near her home with her fiancé, Roger. (This was before she met my dad.) Sitting there, she broke off the engagement and Roger started to strangle her! Margie broke free and ran home. (Yikes!) Uncle Marvin was also at our table and remembered that long ago day. Matter-of-factly, Marvin said, “Oh yeah. Bobby and I beat the heck out of him.”

At the Payleitner Thanksgiving table, we’ve discovered that answering questions reveals memories and ideas we would have never known otherwise. If you want to try it, below are 40+ questions you might want to print off, cut into strips, and put in a basket for your own family Q&A. Feel free to use some or all of them. Or write your own! Also, encourage follow-up questions and discussion.

Blessings on you and yours.

Read more of Jay’s contributions to fathers.com.

Jay Payleitner is a popular speaker for men’s weekend retreats and the bestselling author of 52 Things Kids Need from a Dad, 52 Things Sons Need from their Dad, a new release Jay co-authored with his daughter, Girl Dad, and dozens of other books. Jay and his high school sweetheart, Rita, live in St. Charles, Illinois where they raised five awesome kids, loved on ten foster babies, and are cherishing grandparenthood. Find out more about Jay — including a free download to help build your men’s weekend at jaypayleitner.com.

Thanksgiving Table Questions

If you could live in any period in history, what would it be and why?

What is your favorite place you have traveled to and why?

What are you excited about at the moment?

When was the last time you felt inspired?

If somebody was describing your personality what would they say?

What’s been the one most consistent thing in your life?

What gives you butterflies in your tummy?

How did your parents meet?

What do you do when you have nothing much to do?

What makes a person attractive in your opinion?

Are you afraid of ghosts, heights, dark places, and/or being alone?

Are there any causes you strongly believe in?

What website do you visit most and why?

How do you know when you’re in love?

What is the most important invention or innovation that has happened during your lifetime?

What is your idea of a perfect romantic evening?

If you were to be remembered for one thing, what would you like it to be?

If you could re-live a day of your life again, which would it be and why?

What unique things are on your walls and why?

How long have you been living at where you live now? Where will you live next?

What is the best way to keep in touch with you?

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

What do you see yourself doing in 5 years?

What do you think of right before bedtime?

What’s your favorite holiday tradition?

If you could start any business you want, what would it be and why?

What is your all-time favorite song and why?

What is your favorite magazine and why?

Where did your family go for vacations in the summer?

What is the best advice you ever received?

Where did you grow up and do you miss it?

From what area or season of your life do your friends come?

Would you rather be the best player on a losing team or a benchwarmer on a championship team?

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

What do you see yourself doing in 5 years?

What do you imagine God is like?

What’s something you’ve never done but want to try?

Recall your first airplane ride.

If you came to know that the person sitting next to you had killed someone, what would be your reaction?

What is something you used to be scared of, but are not anymore?

Which do you like better – elevators or escalators? Why?

What surprised you this past year?

How long should a turkey be in the oven?


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