It Won’t Be Long

A really good reminder (at least for me anyway) from Steve Martin’s character in Father of the Bride on how fast our daughters grow up and the things we worry about as their dads:

I used to think a wedding was a simple affair. Boy and girl meet, they fall in love, he buys a ring, she buys a dress, they say I do. I was wrong. That’s getting married. A wedding is an entirely different proposition. I know. I’ve just been through one. Not my own, my daughter’s. Annie Banks Mackenzie. That’s her married name: Mackenzie. You fathers will understand. You have a little girl. An adorable little girl who looks up to you and adores you in a way you could never have imagined. I remember how her little hand used to fit inside mine. Then comes the day when she wants to get her ears pierced, and wants you to drop her off a block before the movie theater. From that moment on you’re in a constant panic. You worry about her meeting the wrong kind of guy, the kind of guy who only wants one thing, and you know exactly what that one thing is, because it’s the same thing you wanted when you were their age. Then, you stop worrying about her meeting the wrong guy, and you worry about her meeting the right guy. That’s the greatest fear of all, because, then you lose her. It was just six months ago that that happened here. Just six months ago, that the storm broke.

And it’s definitely better to read this next one when your daughter’s nine and a half months old:

Who presents this woman? This woman? But she’s not a woman. She’s just a kid. And she’s leaving us. I realized at that moment that I was never going to come home again and see Annie at the top of the stairs. Never going to see her again at our breakfast table in her nightgown and socks. I suddenly realized what was happening. Annie was all grown up and was leaving us, and something inside began to hurt.

This day will come for me, no doubt, but thankfully I still have quite a few years before an experience like this creeps up on me.

I wonder what other moments elicit similar feelings the life of a dad?

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Five Rules for Dads Raising Daughters

I’ve been reading a lot of books and blogs lately on fatherhood and raising girls. From what I’ve read, there seems to be at least five common threads (probably more) running through most of the stuff that really speaks to me. Maybe they’re not really rules. Maybe they’re more like tips… tips, hints, suggestions, guidelines, or something like that. Whatever you call them, in no particular order, here are five:

1. Love her mom. Treat her mother with respect, honor, and a big heaping spoonful of public displays of affection. When she grows up, the odds are good she’ll fall in love with and marry someone who treats her much like you treated her mother. Good or bad, that’s just the way it is. I’d prefer good.

2. Always be there. Quality time doesn’t happen without quantity time. Hang out together for no other reason than just to be in each other’s presence. Be genuinely interested in the things that interest her. She needs her dad to be involved in her life at every stage. Don’t just sit idly by while she add years to her life… add life to her years.

3. Save the day. She’ll grow up looking for a hero. It might as well be you. She’ll need you to come through for her over and over again throughout her life. Rise to the occasion. Red cape and blue tights optional.

4. Savor every moment you have together. Today she’s crawling around the house in diapers, tomorrow you’re handing her the keys to the car, and before you know it, you’re walking her down the aisle. Some day soon, hanging out with her old man won’t be the bees knees anymore. Life happens pretty fast. You better cherish it while you can.

5. Pray for her. Regularly. Passionately. Continually. Let her know she’s got another daddy in Heaven who loves her even more than you do. She may not believe you today, but she’ll need that assurance someday when you’re not around.

Alright dads and daughters who’ve been one or the other longer than me and mine, what have I forgotten? This list is by no means (nor was it meant to be) comprehensive. Anything else you’d add?

The Gift of Time

The preacher read a few lines from Harry Chapin’s classic, “Cat’s in the Cradle” in his Father’s Day sermon this morning. Below are the lyrics he read:

My child arrived just the other day,
He came to the world in the usual way.
But there were planes to catch, and bills to pay,
He learned to walk while I was away.
And he was talkin’ ‘fore I knew it, and as he grew,
He’d say “I’m gonna be like you, yeh,
I know I’m gonna be like you”.

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little Boy Blue and The Man In The Moon.
“When ya comin’ home Dad?”
“I don’t know when, we’ll get together then, son,
Ya know we’ll have a good time then”.

Well I’ve long since retired, my son’s moved away,
I called him up just the other day.
I said “I’d like to see you, if you don’t mind.”
He said “I’d love to Dad, if I can find the time.
You see my new job’s a hassle and the kids have the flu,
But it’s sure nice talking to you Dad,
It’s been sure nice talking to you.”
And as he hung up the phone it occurred to me,
He’d grown up just like, my boy, was just like me.

It’s a familiar and poignant tune, one that I’ve listened to many times in my life. As he was reading them, I couldn’t help reflecting on my relationship with my own father who is pictured below.

I know this face. It's the face you make when the answer is, ''No. It won't fit. I don't care if not having it is going to ruin your vacation, we can't fit anything else in the trunk of this car.''

The older I get, the more I begin to appreciate A) the difficulty of fatherhood and B) the job my old man did raising my brother and I. Sure… there’s no such thing as a perfect dad, but we all do the best we can, and as I was thinking this morning about the many things my dad got right, the one thing that really stuck out was the time he spent with us.

My dad was an automotive appraiser for most of his thirties and forties. He started as an employee of an insurance appraisal company and eventually purchased the business from the owner when he got into trouble with the IRS for failing to pay his taxes. Even before he owned the company, my dad often took us to work with him during the day in the summer time. We’d go with him to his office in the morning, where he picked up his assignments for the day. After that, we’d head back out to the car for a day of driving all over this great state to wherever the most recent Oklahoma hail storm had struck. While I never knew quite where we’d end up each day, I did know that there was sure to be some place good for lunch, lots of sports talk radio, classic rock, and several rounds of our favorite car game… name that artist. I know I probably fussed about it some as a boy, but looking back now, many of my favorite memories of my dad came as result of spending time with him at work.

Then, as soon as we got home from working with dad, we all changed clothes and headed out to baseball practice — either mine or my brother’s and sometimes both. In the sweltering Oklahoma summer heat, after a day of working with his boys in tow, my dad still found the energy to be either the head-coach or assistant coach on almost every little league baseball team my brother and I ever played on.

I never experienced anything like this:

Well my son turned 10 just the other day,
He said “Thanks for the ball Dad, come let’s play.
Can ya teach me to throw?” I said
“Not today, I got a lot to do.” He said “That’s ok”.
And then, he walked away but his smile never dimmed,
He said “I’m gonna be like him, yeh,
Ya know I’m gonna be like him”.

During the school year, my pops often made my lunch and drove me to school in the mornings. Even when he didn’t drive me to school, he was always the last one to leave the house in the morning so that someone was always there when I left. In the evenings, we’d go to basketball practice with him two or three nights a week (he coached both of our little league basketball teams, as well).

Here he is probably explaining to us the finer points of the 1-3-1 offense.

I know I’ve only provided just a few examples, but I really could go on and on. Even so, the amount of time my dad spent with my brother and I growing up never seemed all that strange to me back then. But now that I’m a dad myself, I realize how much it all took on his part. I try to spend a lot of time with Isabella in the evenings when I get home from work, but when I walk in the door, I’m tired. All I want to do is plop down on the couch or recliner and kick my feet up for a bit. I rarely do that unless she just so happens to be willing to chill with me in the recliner, which for my little wild child requires a great feat of concentration and discipline. But even when she wants me to be active, I’m still not running up and down a basketball court doing shuttle drills with her and all of her friends. The most I usually have to do is lay down on the floor next to her while she crawls around and chews on her toys.

As I raise my daughter, there are things I will do different than my dad just like there are things he probably did different from his dad. Then again, I’m raising a girl. He raised boys. OK… there are probably LOTS of things I’ll do differently.

I worry a lot about raising Isabella right. Fatherhood is tough and she’s going to need so much from me as she grows and matures into a young woman. Sometimes (hopefully more often than not) I’ll be able to be the dad she needs, but I also know that sometimes I’ll fail too.

However, despite all the things I’ll probably do wrong as her dad, if I can spend even half as much time with her as my dad spent with me, I know deep down that she’ll turn out alright.

I’ve long since retired, my son’s moved away
I called him up just the other day
I said, “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind”
He said, “I’d love to, Dad, if I can find the time
You see my new job’s a hassle and kids have the flu
But it’s sure nice talking to you, Dad
It’s been sure nice talking to you”

My dad (who like the dad in the song, is also retired) will be moving home from Germany in less than a month so technically he’s the one who moved away, but once he’s back, I hope he calls me up on a regular basis just to say, “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind.”

And though there will be times when my job is a hassle and my kids do have the flu, my response to my dad will always be, “My new job’s a hassle and the kids have the flu, but I’ll always have time for you, Dad I’ll always have time for you.”

Then again, I’m not really one for singing on the phone to my dad and songs tend to over dramatize real life. My real response will probably be, “Well come on over then. You know where we live. And bring some NyQuil!”

Thank you dad for giving me the gift of time. It’s a gift I plan to keep on giving back to my own children and to you for the rest of our lives.

A Nightly Reminder

While drying Isabella off after her bath tonight, I looked her right in the eyes and told her she could always come home no matter what.

Though I meant every word of it and while I don’t think it’s ever too early to start imparting that message to her, I think the spiritual and emotional significance of our conversation may have been lost on her tiny nine month old heart.

I guess I’ll have to remind her again tomorrow night.

Link

A great post from one of my favorite bloggers, Carlos Whittaker:

10 Things We Should Know About Our Kids

Posted on 10. Jun, 2011 by loswhit in fatherhood

Fireflies blur
1.  When you say “later” your kids hear “never”.
2.  When your kids want you, well, they want you.
3.  “Daddy has to go to work to pay the bills so we can eat”, means absolutely nothing to them.  Stop saying that.
4.  Your laptop screen in front of your face when you get home says…”I know I spent all day with other people, and now, I want to spend even more time with other people and not YOU.
5.  They know that a smile and …”That’s cute” is simply you dismissing the effort they put into whatever it is they just showed you.
6.  Dads, kiss your sons.
7.  Sooner than later they are going to stop crawling in bed with you in the middle of the night…let them.
8.  Don’t just tell your daughters they are beautiful, gasp and blush when they walk in the room.
9.  Hide and seek, with a belly like yours, is difficult I know.  But they won’t remember your belly.  They will remember…”SURE I’LL PLAY!”
10.  Your job is not to make your children responsible adults.  Look in the mirror.  You couldn’t even make yourself a responsible adult.  Your job is to make them fall in love with living and the gift of giving life to others.  Do that, and they will win in life.

Oh.  And remember…
All advice is autobiographical…
It’s better that way.
Los

Well said sir. Well said.

Regret Prevention

Quote

I read this quote yesterday evening from, “Gift from a Hairdryer” by Mary Jean Irion in another book I was reading. Although it’s from the perspective of a mom as she combs and blow-dries her seven year old daughter’s hair after bath time, it applies equally to fatherhood:

Comb and dry, comb and dry, Soon I won’t be able to do this any more, you say to yourself, knowing that the little straight bob must inevitably yield to grown-up coiffures and ugly curlers. What will she be like at fourteen? Where will her hair be blowing then? And sixteen and eighteen—you suppose boys will love to watch her hair blow as you do now. And some of them will feel it on their faces, and one of them will marry her, and her hair will be perfect under the veil, and there will be her hair spread out on his pillow… oh, you hate him a little and wonder where he is at this moment and whether he’ll be good to her… they will grow old together… the gold-brown hair will be gray, and you will be gone, and then she will be gone… this very hair that now your fingers smooth…

All the tears of the world swim for a second in your eyes as you snatch the plug out of the socket suddenly and gather her into your arms burying your face in the warm hair as if you could seal this moment against all time.

Needless to say, I immediately put my book down and quietly walked down the hallway to my daughter’s room where she lay sleeping peacefully in her crib. Without turning on the light, I tiptoed into her room and just stood over her crib for a bit. I listened to her breath softly in her sleep. I admired her tiny beauty. I stared down at her pajama pants and t-shirt and wondered to myself how in the world she’d already outgrown her infant onesies. When did that happen?

And how, might I ask, is she already 8 1/2 months old? It seems like just yesterday I was carefully strapping her into her car seat for the first time to take her home from the hospital. And yet here we are, just a few short months from her first birthday.

She’s been crawling for a little over two weeks now and I know that soon that too will be replaced by walking as she continues to grow and develop.

Deep down inside I know that these days with her are fleeting — the fact that there’s nothing I can do to slow them down is a sobering realization. Not a sad realization. Just sobering. Maybe even helpful.

Helpful at 5:20 a.m. on a Monday morning when she wakes us all up with her crying — because I know that she won’t always need me to come into her room and sooth her back to sleep.

Helpful after the umpteenth time she spits food all over me with a huge (albeit a bit mischievous) smile on her face as I’m trying to get her to eat her pureed prunes, peas, or sweet potatoes at dinner time — because I know there will come a day, probably much sooner than I like, where she will spoon her own food into her mouth.

Helpful at bath time when I can’t seem to keep her soapy wash rag, cup, and any number of rubber bath toys out of her mouth — because, once again, the day will come when a simple bath is no longer a life-threatening experience requiring the caring assistance and diligent protection of her father.

And so for probably fifteen or twenty minutes, I just stand by the side of her crib, pray over her, and watch her sleep before returning to the living room and the book I’d been reading.

These days are fleeting, I’ll never have a single one of them back, and nothing I do will ever change either of those facts. What I can do is A) make sure I’m around to experience as much of her life as possible and B) savor each moment… and not just the beautiful ones either. If someday I want to look back on my life as a father with no regrets, I have to learn to savor the mundane and even frustrating moments just as much as those Kodak moments that I cherish naturally.

If I can borrow an analogy from sports, I think one of the keys to regret prevention as a parent is remembering that in life, much like in sports, we have columns for wins and losses. Except in addition to wins and losses, we also have past, present, and future columns. And it’s in those every day moments — when time is spent changing dirty diapers, wiping food off a messy face, pulling things out of a curious mouth, and rubbing the back of a crying little one — that the hours of life (the daily victories and defeats) quickly shift from the future column over to the past column. One column gets bigger. One column gets smaller. The only column that ever stays the same is the one called the present.

And that’s the only column that matters.