As I write this, our first-born is just back home from his first year of college and our youngest is soon to finish her junior year of high school. A window will close soon for us. That window through which we enjoy hours and hours physically together most days, molding each other. That window closure is the natural way of things; it truly is the way it’s meant to be as they become their own people. Though this dad finds that bittersweet, it’s much easier to face knowing I have no big regrets.
That’s not to say I didn’t make mistakes; I made tons of them, and continue to very regularly. But I don’t look back and say “I wish I’d made more effort to be a part of it all.” I was intentional, from well before they were born, about being as much a part of their childhood as humanly possible. For all the miscues in the past and future, getting that one right has made all the difference for them, and for me.
I was able to climb Mt. Rainier with our son last summer in part to honor the memory of my dad and raise awareness about Multiple Sclerosis, and I’ll spend part of this summer in Iceland with my daughter building mountain trails to help improve their young national parks. But we made lots of forever memories in the backyard, chasing butterflies and planting vegetables, making stupid faces and staring at the clouds. Their ambitions have grown, their horizons expanded, but the luster of time spent together making memories never fades. Scenery changes; the basics don’t.
Many worthwhile words have been written in careful academic studies that demonstrate time and again, in a myriad of ways, how much better children fare in life if they’ve had the benefit of an involved father. Conversely, many sad stories stem from a fatherneed that wasn’t met. These are well worth ingesting until you can recite their gist by memory, because they are frighteningly predictive of how things turn out. But since there are few studies to tell you what happens to a dad that chooses to be involved, you’re left with hearing their take, and most don’t talk about it.
This dad will. Because our children changed me to the core, and though they will both soon be out of the nest, I will never be the same man. I’m a better, happier man.
I’m better because they taught me patience, starting with waiting a ludicrous nine months to first see their faces. Anyone who has a child understands the need for patience in a new way.
I’m happier because they taught me to be joyful, about the littlest things and the biggest. They dragged me to places, dusty corners to far-flung parts of the world, to see things through a child’s eyes. Immeasurable joy ensued.
I’m better because I knew they were always watching and listening. Many men spend years of their adult life trying to make their parents proud of them. I’ve chosen instead to try to be a positive example for my children of how a person should move through this thing we call life. Integrity and compassion are best learned by watching.
I’m happier because they have given me a free pass to act like a kid all these years. If I didn’t have the kids when I jumped into the ball pit, played laser tag, threw food around (you fill in the blank), I’d at very least get thrown out, possibly arrested. What a ticket to act like a child!
I’m better because watching them learn and grow has inspired me to keep learning new things. A growing mind is probably in the top three most amazing things in the universe. To have a front-row seat is an honor beyond compare, but also a challenge to keep doing what they do so well. Children incessantly learn, and they inspired me to follow.
I’m happier because my relationship with their mother, my wife, has deepened with each squabble, fight and compromise on our parenting path. Many dads miss the privilege of co-parenting, and that’s sad but surmountable. If you’re lucky enough to raise your children with your partner by your side, you’ll learn a whole new definition of intimacy in the process.
I could go on, but you have a child or more to raise or at least think about raising. More than anything, I hope you do take the time to think about what you’re doing every day. Fatherhood is a great privilege, honor and opportunity. It might scare you, but courage means going forward even when you’re scared. Great courage displayed quietly holding a sick baby or waiting for a teenager to come home late at night is worthy of ribbons that will never grace your chest. But the courage is very real.
I’ll never earn a medal for valor on the battlefield, but I’ve been promoted to another level as this campaign winds down. There’s less hair on my head than when we started, but I’ll hold it up high and proud as I salute my son and daughter on their way into the world. I will salute the people they have become as well as who they’ve helped me to be.
Good luck on the greatest journey you’ll ever take.