In 2003 I wrote a column for Augusta Family magazine about the difference between being a “father” and a “daddy.” I listed several examples, but really it’s like the definition of jazz: If you have to ask, you’ll never know.
Back then, I was a newly minted daddy, and my mission was to become a dad that would make Ward Cleaver look positively sick. But there was one problem with that. Ward Cleaver had a script.
Know this on this Father’s Day: Actual fatherhood is unscripted.
Sure, there are those calmer moments when you’re throwing the ball around in the back yard with your son. But there also are those moments when your two kids are learning about physics after choosing a laundry basket as their mode of transportation down a flight of stairs.
Also, actual fatherhood has no time limit. TV dads usually can solve all their kids’ problems in 30 minutes. After several years, I’m still figuring out how to get my daughter to eat all her peas.
But it’s good to have no time limit. Beyond all the toys and video games and Disney vacations and over-the-top birthday parties you can throw at your son or daughter, the least expensive thing you can give your kid – and the most valuable – is your time.
I’m not just talking about that intensely scheduled “quality time,” either. I’m talking about what comedian-turned-senator Al Franken once described as “big, stinking, lazy, nonproductive quantity time.”
Walks are the best for me. When the kids and I walk our dog, it’s like the movement of their legs triggers the speech center in their brains, and they simply can’t stop talking. That’s fine with me. I’m just not looking forward to the teenage years when kids’ communication with parents withers to sullen one-word responses.
If you spend more time with your child, it reduces the likelihood of behavioral problems. Study after study has found that family time builds confidence and encourages healthy habits.
I could’ve thumbed through all those studies and buried you under a dense pile of statistics, but instead I reached out to Dan Hillman. He’s executive director of the Augusta-area advocacy group Child Enrichment. Back me up here, Dan:
“Fathers who spend time with their children, play with them, nurture them and who participate in basic child care for their children are significantly less likely to abuse or sexually abuse their children,” Hillman told me. “These fathers typically develop such a strong connection with their children that it decreases the likelihood of any maltreatment.”
Dan heads up a team of advocates who work within the court system with children suspected of being abused or neglected. He has far too many case files on kids whose lives would’ve been drastically different – that is to say, immeasurably better – if they had the chance to thrive under the investment of time.
Otherwise, you get incidents such as the one last month in Sarasota, Fla. A 27-year-old father decided he (a) didn’t want to spend time with his 4-year-old daughter, and (b) did want to spend time playing what his daughter described as “bad guy” video games. So Heath Howe, according to police, tied his daughter up in the kitchen, tightly enough to cause bleeding under her skin. Howe now faces a child abuse charge.
My son is 9 and my daughter is almost 8. And I’m not getting any younger. So I try to catch my tongue if I ever find myself saying to one of them, “I don’t have time to do that.” If you don’t make the time now, you can miss out permanently on the great memories of being a parent.
Like this one: I’m eating breakfast with the kids. The son is about 3; the daughter is about 1½. Daniel pipes up with, “Daddy? Mommy is a good mommy.”
“Of course she is!” I said. “She’s about the best mommy ever!”
He went on: “And Tess? She’s the best sister ever.”
“Sure is. Don’t you forget it,” I said.
My moment had arrived. “Yes, son?”
“You’re a giant robot!”
And to all you dads, happy Giant Robot’s Day.