Several years ago in December, we posed the question, What if this were your last Christmas? The goal of the exercise was to think about what we might do differently during the Christmas season if we knew this was our last one. It’s a sober thought, but one worth considering. You can read that article here.

As is often the case, our “what if” fathering exercise hit home with a few dads in unexpected ways. In particular, Bill, a former NCF staff member, ran into health issues that year, battling a rare liver disease and then discovering that he had prostate cancer on top of that.

Bill’s children range from thirty down to fifteen, and when he received the diagnosis, he thought first of his kids, and he began thinking very seriously about Christmas. Though he didn’t know if that December would be his last, it was the first time he went through the season with a real sense that his Christmases were numbered.

dad-hugging-preschool-daughter-Christmas-hatsHere is what Bill wrote about Christmas gifts:

“What I want to give to each child, you can’t buy at a store. I want each child to know how much I love them … how important they are to me, how I think about them constantly. I want them to know how proud I am of them and how pleased I am with them. I want to spend time with each one during the holiday season … time alone with each. Time walking and talking about their future, their plans and their goals. [And] I want to laugh with each of them, enjoying them and their personalities.”

Bill’s diseases gave him a wake-up call — a bright, loud warning signal — about his priorities. Consider this your warning signal, dad. If you were in a similar situation, what thoughts would go through your mind? Would your priorities change? What gifts do your children need from you?

Life is too short not to make the most of your opportunities this Christmas. Don’t wait until it’s too late to start thinking about and acting upon the most important gifts you can give to your children.


  • Follow Bill’s lead: tell your children you love them, you’re proud and pleased with them, and that you think about them often each day.
  • During the holidays, spend some time alone with each of your children — walking and talking about their lives, their interests, their plans. Seek to understand them and affirm them instead of making any value judgments.
  • During the next few weeks, make it a priority to find ways to laugh with your children. Here’s a joke you can use: What do you give the man who has everything? Antibiotics. (Thanks to Bill in Oklahoma.)
  • Consider giving each of your children a “gift of time” — a coupon or solid commitment to do something together that he or she enjoys. Make plans to follow through on it soon.
  • To reinforce the importance of “gifts you can’t buy,” limit your kids’ media time each day, or even try a media-free weekend this month. Replace it with fun family activities.

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