There are times in every father’s life when he wishes he could push back time and do things a little, or a lot, differently.
Tonight, I had one of those times.
My 2-year old granddaughter is coming for a week’s visit tomorrow and the good news is she is the sweetest little kid ever. The bad news is she has learned how to run….and run… and run. And while she is running, she touches everything in sight. She also seems to have a discerning eye for the most valuable objects and goes for those first.
Faced with the destruction potential, my wife, Wendy, and I were strategizing on how to keep our unbroken items still unbroken and the following words came out of my mouth, much to Wendy’s absolute disbelief.
“Hey,” I said, “why don’t we put up a tent for her to play in?”
To fully understand how totally weird that phrase is for me to say, you need to understand one thing: I hate to camp.
When my kids were little, I thought of myself as a free-wheeling kind of guy. I was a pretty good sports writer and soon found myself being gone a lot of weekend evenings and eventually, nearly every week night. I was efficient and productive and found that it was easier to converse with other peoples’ kids than my own.
When I was home, my fathering style was to become a coach in every sport my kids were in, yell at them at appropriate times and then remain somewhat distant. I even enjoyed going to the grocery because it gave me a few minutes of quiet. Giving myself some distance.
Introverts are that way, I was to discover later. In my case, all the havoc and noise of three kids and their friends led to my craving alone time, any way I could get it.
In each of the kids’ youth, I had the chance to go camping and sharing the outdoors with them. When I put my foot down and said “no,” Wendy became a scout leader and ended up going camping with them. Because of her, all three kids learned a little more about nature, about themselves, but more importantly, they developed a relationship with her that was, and still is, closer and deeper than their relationship with me.
At that time in my life, I did not care. I am not good with relationships anyway and I thought of myself as an up and rising writer. At one point, I was writing a book, a movie script and working for four separate news sites. You get the picture. The Busy Yuppie thinking he could do everything. Have everything.
Fast forward a few years. My books and movie script remain unsold and I have been run over by the new sports writer adage of report the rumor first, worry about the facts later, and turn the story in before your competition. Today, very few people remember anything that I wrote.
Meanwhile, thanks mostly to Wendy, our three kids grew up, prospered and launched into their own successful ways. They aren’t perfect, but who wants perfect kids?
So tonight, I asked Wendy to help me put up a tent that had been hanging on our garage wall for well over 15 years. Remarkably, we were missing only a few pieces that were easily replaceable. After 20 minutes of patient problem solving, we had a tent up and ready for our granddaughter in our back yard. I doubt I will be able to crawl in and out very easily. Then again, we did not put up the tent for me.
For those 20 minutes, I wondered if I had made a big mistake by not going camping with my kids rather than making stars out of other kids in my articles. In the end, of course, the final decision does not matter. My kids still love me but for for the most part, they don’t know me as well as other kids know their dads — those dads who chose to stay home and show them how to fix things, how to play golf, how to just hang out and do nothing. Those dads understood they were expendable to the world, but not to their children.
So tomorrow, my granddaughter will go camping in our back yard. We also bought a small wading pool for her.
She won’t know the importance of the few, fleeting moments we spend together. She won’t understand the connecting power of time, of just being there.
But I will. It is a lesson I have needed to learn.
And, yeah, maybe we DID put up that tent for me …