(written circa 1999)
This article is primarily for Dads. Well, and for any single guy who ever plans on someday becoming a Dad. Or any woman who might have a baby who might someday grow up to become a Dad. What the heck, it’s for anybody.
The subject is that of a classic flub made for the most part by men when it comes to the issue of that ambiguous term, “Quality Time”. While, thankfully, this does not apply to all men it unfortunately happens to far too many men and not realized until it is very late. Hopefully we can remedy that here.
For most men, the birth of their first child is probably the moment of most striking responsibility they have ever had laid upon them in their entire lives. Suddenly he is no longer the free-spirit who could wander the world with his care-free bride as he pleased. Now there is this fragile hope of life that looks up at him with total trust that, no matter what, Dad is gonna make a workable plan to see that there’s enough food, clothes, shelter and toys for the next eighteen years or so. And so Dad starts taking his job a bit more seriously. Maybe he’ going back to school to better himself, working overtime to increase his check or shoot for that internal promotion within the company.
Despite all the changes that have occurred with the equalization of women in the marketplace and society one thing has yet to change.. the fact that men and women are different. Children still seek out their Mothers for comfort when they get a boo-boo and look to Dad as the maker of Rules and all around strong man who also happens to know just about everything. (At least until the kids get to be teenagers, then all their brilliance is suddenly ancient.) Even with a working Mom, she is often the one who will put in a full day at work and still do a majority of the cooking, cleaning and nurturing at home. With so many absent Fathers due to divorce or separation this is not entirely uncommon.
Meanwhile Father is busy working and splitting up the rest of his time either on home-projects, hopefully time with his wife, possibly schooling, hobbies and seeking an occasional afternoon of rest on the weekend. Dad has work, school, wife, kids, fix-up projects, budgets, bills, car maintenance, vacation planning and a wide variety of other things all battling for his time. This is the point at which too many men have made an error in their priorities.
I can say from observation and personal experience that it becomes very easy for men to believe something that ultimately robs them of precious time with their children. It is the rational that says, “The kids get plenty of attention from their Mother, I need to be free to focus on all these other issues.” As well intentioned and reasonable as it may sound, what in effect happens is that Dad excludes himself over time from the intimacy of being alone with his kids. Eventually even the thought of ‘watching the kids’ without his wife present seems to be a catastrophic event to be avoided at all costs. Dad gets weaned from being alone with the kids to such a point that he becomes unfamiliar in the joys that are there to be had.
Married at one time for ten years I saw myself fall slowly into this same trap. The first seven years were nominal although most of the nurturing was already being done by my wife at the time. During the last three years when finances and other problems were more stressful I found myself more often just ‘near’ the kids and not really ‘with’ them. The trap of delegating my Dad-time away had finally set in.
As happens with many men, it was not until after a divorce that I began to realize two very important things. One was that I loved my kids very much, missing them greatly during the week. The other that I was utterly incompetent at having them alone with me for more than twenty minutes. A lot can happen when you’ve got three boys on your hands.
Right away, unwilling to lose any more ties with them I steadily had them with me on my allotted weekends. I thought long and hard during the time in between as to what kind of relationship they needed from me. ‘Consistency’ was very important. I wasn’t going to juggle my time with them any more. Our weekends were our weekends, no schedule changes at the last minute. ‘Quality’ time meant we would spend time being ‘together’ and not just in the same place. That meant that I was -not- going to think up some carnival/circus/Disneyland experience for them every time they came over to keep them entertained. Instead we learned to cook together, (or that failing, went for pizza together). We went grocery shopping or to the park to play ball-tag. We went for picnics in the mountains and at the beach. Nature walks and the planetarium or sometimes just a weekend hanging out playing computer games and munching out on snacks over a video or two.
Since then, in these last six years, I actually spend more time being ‘with’ my kids than ever before. Not just ‘near’ them in vicinity. Three years ago I added Wednesdays as our Special Day where I can spend the afternoon with just one of them on a rotating schedule so that we can talk about anything they can’t talk about when it’s all four of us. It’s a time we look forward to that has been placed as priority these three years so that they know they will have their special time with me no matter how busy I get. This year we instituted our first annual ‘Rosarito Boyz Time-Out’ Mexico vacation which I hope we can continue to do even as they grow to be young men.
The reason I point out my personal experience is to show that even despite learning such a lesson so late there is always something that can be done to begin remedying it. Children need to see that kindness, compassion, love and attention are virtues their Fathers possess as well as their Mothers. True, some men do not have these virtues and are a vicious influence that children need to be protected from. But I speak to those who ache to correct the time missing in their lives to ‘know’ their children as they grow up.
If you are still married, do not wait until you can only visit your children to realize how important it is you be with them. If you are as yet unmarried, consider how having children is much more than birthing them and supplying for their financial needs. For if you are willing to make whatever changes necessary in order to be a part of your child’s personal life you will find a satisfaction that outweighs any victory over the other stresses and demands made on your life.
In the process this may mean learning to change diapers, settle disputes, clean up spilled drinks, apply bandaids, give hugs and even some edible cooking skills. But in the end you will have crafted exquisite moments of time that are exceedingly worth the effort.
Henry Velez is a writer, traveler and vlogger currently living in the Philippines. He has written extensively on social issues, relationships and travel.