Sometimes, the teachable moments you’ll ever have with your kids that resonate most… don’t come from you. I was reminded not long ago that our kids have much to teach us, and that I still have a lot to learn as a dad.
Three weeks ago I had a milestone moment in my life, the significance of which I was sure would not be lost on my nine year old son Anthony. I’ve been fortunate enough to get a book deal (published this coming fall), and for most of the past half year I have spent weekends holed up in my study, writing and revising and researching. It’s become a running theme in our house: what are we doing this weekend? “Well, Daddy has to write.” Three weeks ago, I typed the last sentence, hit save for the last time, reviewed everything one final time, and hit “send” on the email to my editor.
With great fanfare, I paraded out of the office to the great room where my wife and son were watching TV. “Guess what?” I said to them. “I… just… finished. The book is done.” My wife smiled, knowing how much work it had been and how much I’d put in, and said “Congratulations, honey.” My son jumped up and down excitedly, shouting “Yaaaaaaaayyy!”
I started making the mental markers in my head about this moment, the things I thought my son would take away from this achievement. The value of setting a goal and not quitting, for example, or how you can do anything you ever dream if you set your mind to it. I started searching for whatever wisdom I would need to impart so that my son would always remember the lessons from the time Daddy wrote the book. “I think you’re even more excited than I am, buddy!” I said. “I guess this makes you happy?”
I stood back and waited for the admiration that was sure to come my way, that pride a son takes in his father and his shared glow for the fact that ‘my dad wrote a book.’ I started picturing him bragging to his friends at school about being able to go into a Barnes and Noble and finding his old man’s book on the shelves. I smiled in anticipation of this shared moment with him.
And then, he hit me between the eyes.
“It’s just that…” He trailed off. “Well, it’s just that now maybe you and me can spend some more time together.”
In that split second, my son reminded me of the most important thing about being a father. This moment, the one I was sure he would remember and learn from, ended up being one where he taught me.
There are many important things you can give to your kids as their dad. You can give them confidence and self-esteem; you can instill a good work ethic. You can give them the things they want in life because it makes you happy to see them happy. You can take them on trips to see the country or the world or Nana’s house, and you can teach them the value of being honest and having manners. You can give them wisdom you’ve gleaned in all your years before they came along, so that they might learn from both your mistakes and what you’ve gotten right. All these things are important and have their value… but they pale in comparison to the thing they want most from you.
Give them your time.
All the Legos or toys in the world don’t mean as much to my son as my taking a few minutes to talk with him or do something with him that interests him. What my son wants most isn’t a dad he can brag to his friends has a book or is a big success or is famous; he just wants his dad to spend time with him. I’d been so busy “setting an example” and focusing on the value I placed in achievements to show him that I’d forgotten that the most important thing of all is simply showing them that you think they’re worth your time. You want teachable moments? My son gave me the best one we’ve ever had together.
The next day, we went out into the front yard and played catch for 30 minutes. We’ve started a new tradition of going, after his hockey practices, to Buffalo Wild Wings together for a “boys’ night,” during which we play the trivia games and eat unhealthy food together and just have “our” time. He comes into my office after school, now that I am working from my home office, and does his homework while sitting on one side of Dad’s desk while I work from the other side. And I’ve gotten a reminder that no matter what else I have to offer my son in this life, the most important gift I can ever give him doesn’t cost a cent. Time may be free, but it’s more valuable than gold.
Who would have guessed that the best thing to come from writing a book would be the wisdom of a nine year old boy?
I’ve known Christopher for about 3 years now. We worked together at GM and I certainly owe much of what I know to him. He is a trusted mentor and friend and I’m honored that he was willing to share this awesome story about being a dad to his son Anthony. Chris recently started a new job at Voce Communications as SVP of Global Programs. You can follow him on Twitter at @cbarger.