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On Being a Dad

It’s one of the inevitabilities of parenting—the kids just keep getting older and older. And every now and again I pause and consider and realize that my time with the kids is running out. My son is now 10-and-a-half years old, and in just a few months he will be exactly half the age I was when I got married. It’s entirely possible that I’m coming up to the 50% mark of the time he will be living in my home, under my direct influence. Panic!

This can be a difficult thing to think about. I look back on the ten years of parenting and see so many missed opportunities, so many times that I was not available to the kids. I look at where they are now in their spiritual development, in my knowledge of who they are, and I wonder if I’ve already blown it, if it’s already too late.

But at my best I know better than this. I know it’s not too late and that the best years are ahead. So when I recover from my momentary panic, I look forward to what lies ahead, and I especially look forward to increasingly regarding my children as friends. That is something I’ve seen from my friends with older children—that as the children grow up, they make the slow transition from kid to friend. And already I’m starting to see how that is happening. I’ll always be dad to the kids, but I will also be able to regard them as friends.

In the past few months I have been trying to be a little bit more intentional about spending time with the children, trying to grab the moments that exist and trying to create memories. Mostly I’m just trying to know them and to be known by them. And I know that one of the best ways I can do this is by spending time individually with each one of them.

The first thing I started doing was being deliberate about “daddy dates,” taking my kids, one each week, out for breakfast on Saturday mornings. Because the kids are in public schools we cannot do this on weekdays. But it’s a lot of fun to wake up early on Saturday and head to Denny’s (which, so far, is their breakfast joint of choice). So each Saturday I wake one of them and quietly head out for breakfast. The kids order something off the kids’ menu and I order the Grand Slam. We just sit and talk. It’s not a lot of time, but it’s a good time. It’s a time with no real agenda except to have the experience alone together. I don’t know how long they’ll continue to be impressed with Denny’s, but for now they think it’s awfully exciting.

I’ve also tried to find at least one more substantial thing I can do with each of the children once or twice in the year (outside of the fun things we do as a family). Last year I took my daughter to The Sound of Music (the musical, not the movie) when it was playing in Toronto, spending the money to make sure we could sit in great seats and see all that was going on. I take my son to a couple of baseball games each year, either just the two of us or with him and one of his friends. We try to time things in such a way that we hang out with a player after the game or find a way to get out onto the field or something else that’s kind of special.

As the children get just a little bit older I will begin to bring them with me to the occasional conference. I have seen lots of speakers do this and I’m looking forward to it as well—the travel and the experience will be very exciting for them, even if they get bored to death sitting in a convention center for 2 or 3 days.

One of the most ordinary things I’ve been doing lately is having one of the children help me with the after-dinner routine every night. Since my wife is generally the one who makes dinner, I’ve always taken it upon myself to clean up after we finish eating. And now that the school year has begun, I usually put together the next day’s bagged lunches at the same time. So what I have been doing is having one of the children join me in this each night. We will do dishes together, make the lunches together, and then do whatever that kid wants to do that night. Sometimes we will go for a walk together, sometimes we’ll read a story, sometimes we’ll play a computer game or turn on the Wii. But in any case, we do the work and then spend some time together doing something fun. This has quickly become a tradition that the kids love. Though they probably wouldn’t complain if we were to scratch the bits that demand work, they are so eager to spend time with me that even doing dishes suddenly seems like fun rather than work. (Similar to this but perhaps geared primarily to slightly older children, Brian Croft tells how he individually shepherds each of his children in this very helpful blog post)

So there we have just a few of the ways that I try to make sure I am being deliberate in spending time individually with each of my children. But I know that I’ve got a lot to learn. I’d love to hear from you about some of the things you do, or perhaps some of the things your parents did long ago, as they sought to love you and be loved by you. How do you ensure you are investing personally in each of your children?