This weekend I celebrated my second Father's Day with my best little buddy and what a day it was! I got to sleep in and then ate chicken and waffles from Ol' South Pancake House which is pretty much all I ever want on any day ever. But since there weren't any exceptionally interesting stories to come out of this day, I thought I'd share the letter I wrote to a friend of mine who celebrated his first Father's Day this year and whose wife collected letters/notes/words of encouragement for him in preparation for this day. Names have been changed to protect the innocent. Dear Friend,
This weekend I attended a funeral for an infant. I’m guessing most of the letters you’re getting today don’t start off that way but there it is. Suffice it to say, this was one of the more sobering experiences of my life. Obviously I felt awful for the family but I also couldn’t help but selfishly put myself in their shoes and consider my emotions were it my child instead of theirs. And that, my friend, is a dark road.
We spend most of our energy with these little beings trying to protect them. We feed them, we put them in the appropriate sleep attire, and we don’t let them swallow, like, pennies and stuff because it’s our job to keep them safe. But no matter what we do or how careful we are, there’s always a certain percentage of their lives that we have no control over, when we pretty much just have to pray for the best and trust that they’re not going to stop breathing in their sleep. Not going to lie, sometimes that keeps me up at night and maybe a little more so over the last few nights than normal. It’s less easy to fall asleep trusting that my son will be just fine in the morning after having just been in the presence of a precious little one who wasn’t.
But as is usually the case in the midst of tragedy, there was something shiny and positive that I took away from this experience: that being, a renewed sense of the value of time. Each day of this little guy’s short life, his parents took a picture of him documenting his progress and establishing their hopes and goals for that day. They cherished each moment they had with that little boy, knowing that any of them could be the last, and I think filled those 10 weeks with an extraordinary amount of love. Because they understood the value of time.
So my charge to you today, my piece of advice based on my extensive experience as a parent for all of 13 months, is to understand and grab hold of the value of time in the following three areas:
1.) Time with your child – This is the obvious one I think but still one that we all lose track of occasionally. Your time with your child, even at three months old, is such a vital part of both her existence and yours. Make the most of that time, whether it’s holding her while she sleeps, playing with her, or just generally being around her. Moreover, when you’re spending time with her, do your best to be present in spirit and not just in body. That’s not always easy at all but these frustrating moments are almost just as important as the good ones. When Cooper won’t sleep at night and I’m losing my patience, I try to think about the fact that more than anything else, on a base level, all he wants is to spend more time with me. And that’s a blessing, even if I’m losing sleep.
2.) Time without your child – By now I’m betting you understand your own need to recharge better than ever before. Parenthood is exhausting even in its best moments. It is my firm belief that in order to be a great parent, you have to make the most of the time you have away from your kiddo. Time with your wife, time with your friends, time with a book. Whatever it is that recharges your battery, make time for that and anything you do that gets in the way of the stuff that truly provides that to you, set it aside. I read far more and play far fewer video games than I did a year ago because I found that the one nourishes me and the other only provides a partial charge (though I did win seven consecutive BCS National Championships at Tech last fall; no big deal).
3.) Time others spend with your child – Try as you might, you can’t give your child every single thing that she needs. As a teacher, you get to see firsthand the impact outside influences can have on a kid, whether that influence is a positive or negative. A big part of this is the friends they make, obviously, but often times (again, as you know) the adult presence in their lives plays just as big a role as that of their peers. Lindsey and I take great pride in our work with kids both young and old and the value of the time we get to spend with them. As such, since birth, we’ve taken great pains to put Cooper into the hands of trusted adults around us (and maybe a few strangers when we’re really desperate) so that even at this young age, he might learn a thing or two from them and begin to create relationships not only with the children his age but with the wise adults that will occupy his life over the course of his upbringing. Give your child the opportunity to get to know those around her and in turn, encourage those trusted adults to value the time they get with her and work to forge lasting relationships that will become even more important as she gets older.
Let’s be honest, I’ve only been at this for a short period of time and there’s really no way of telling whether I’m a good parent or not at this point. I mean, Cooper is still alive and judging by the size of his belly, I’m certainly succeeding when it comes to feeding him. But I guess we won’t really know if I’m doing things right until he comes of age and we see whether or not he makes it to the NBA, the only achievement I really care about obviously. Regardless, I know I’m right on this one and that if you and I and all the other young(ish) fathers we know can grab hold of the value of time, we’ll be even better fathers than we are currently. It would also help if you would stop trying to make her a Spurs fan but that’s probably a topic for another day.
Happy first Father’s Day, man!