Today: The Power of Presence in Fatherhood
A few days ago, my middle child and I spent the better part of two hours arguing about shoes. Yes, shoes. Being a bit tight fisted with the buck, I set a price limit for the shoes and told my daughter that anything above the top price would be her responsibility. In hindsight, the price was too low. Way too low. After caving on my first offer, I counteroffered with a more reasonable contribution amount. My daughter agreed to my counteroffer and then suggested that we go out to several of the “brick and mortar” stores around town to shop for the shoes. “Go out?” I protested. “Why don’t you just shop on line and have your shoes delivered in a couple of days?” My daughter replied, “It’s not about the shoes, dad, it’s about doing something with you; doing something TODAY.”
My approach to fatherhood has always been heavily invested in the long view. I’ve tried to be the kind of dad that helps my kids understand how their current decisions will impact their lives five, ten, and twenty years from now. Save your money! Get ready for college! Consider your future! These mantras are common place in our home, to the point that the children know that I am about to invoke one of them before I speak. I’m proud that I’m equipping my children to be high-functioning adults in a world that is too often ripe with entitlement. That said, I tend to overlook an essential element in raising thoughtful, connected, and happy kids. TODAY. In my preoccupation with tomorrow, I sometimes forget about the importance of being present in the moment for my kids, that is, honoring the power of today. Maybe you share the same kind of struggle. If you want to be truly impactful in your children’s lives, you must find ways to honor TODAY.
What’s in a Day?
Consider, for a moment all that unfolds during the course of a single day. Today, 365,000 newborns will breath on their own for the first time ever. Today, 18 million people – including the 365,000 I just mentioned – will celebrate a birthday. Today, the world’s chickens will lay 190 million eggs and 510,000 tons of rice will be harvested in China. There will be 7 earthquakes and 8.6 million lightning strikes. On average, you will laugh 15 times today, your heart will beat 104,000 times (unless you’re a super athlete), you will inhale 23,000 times. For those lucky enough to be traveling aboard the International Space Station, today will include 420,000 miles of travel, including 16 sunrises and 16 sunsets.
Today, a tiny mayfly will live its entire life. Think about it: A lifetime, today. As I accumulate gray hair, and lose some of it too, I recognize that while I’m not a mayfly, my stockpile of “todays” is dwindling. The shelves aren’t as full as, well, yesterday. As a father, this is your reality, also. You don’t know when the shelf will be empty. That’s why today is significant. Today is full of choices, opportunities, challenges, and connections. Simply put, what we do today as fathers, or don’t do, is significant; most notably for our children.
Tweaks for Today
If I’ve convinced you that your progeny need your presence as much as your wisdom, then let’s shift and look at some little adjustments we can all make to be the kinds of dads who leverage the power of the present. For starters, never pass up an opportunity to say to your children, “I love you.” God gave us an important task when we were called to raise children: God invited us to make His love known through us every day. Letting a child know she is loved, especially when she is struggling or working through some bad choices, is probably our most important daily duty. I tell my kids “I love you” every morning, and I also send them an “I love you” text at the end of the day. If the school day has been a real stinker, I want all of my three to know that I’ll be a non-anxious, caring presence waiting to talk when they are ready to talk about whatever the issue may be.
Clear the Calendar
I’ve talked about work-family balance before. If you want to be present for shoe shopping, and, more importantly, the powerful conversations that occur in all those poignant moments around the purchase, then your schedule will need to have give in it. My rule of thumb is this: all of my children get a least two hours of one-on-one time with dad every week. While this time may be in multiple blocks, I do not stray from the two-hour commitment. If “today” arrives with an important event on one of the kids’ calendars, I will move heaven and earth to make sure I am present. I can’t take rainchecks on track meets, swim competitions, or school awards presentations and hope to redeem them at some future date. Being present today means sacrificing the calendar in other facets of life.
Listen for the Openings
Sometimes well-meaning dads don’t recognize that their children need to talk today. If your child, particularly an older one, approaches you with a question or and invitation to talk about a pressing concern, a faith issue, or something philosophical, hit the brakes on whatever you’re doing, and listen. Just today, my middle child walked up to me and asked, “Do you think God tests people sometimes?” I knew immediately that it was time to sit with my daughter and peel away the layers beneath her question. I may have been in the throws of lawnmower repair when she approached, but I put the work aside because it was clear that my child was carrying a burden she couldn’t carry alone. This couldn’t wait until tomorrow.
Make Today Count
Today, 50 billion cells in your body will die, and 50 billion will rise to take their places. Today, your hair will grow 0.35 millimeters. At the same time, you will lose between 40 and 100 hairs. Some of you will not replace what you lose. Today, you have 24 hours to praise God from whom all blessings flow, and be a wise, present father for your children. God willing, you’ll have tomorrow too. Make them all count, dad.