Sometimes you learn something about yourself and the meaning of life, just about the time when it’s usefulness to you is such that if you had been smart enough to figure it out from the start so many things could have been better.
Yesterday I learned something about Father’s Day. You see, I’m about as dense as a rock sometimes and thanks to a hectic work schedule days and weeks often flow together as I move from deadline to deadline. I’m sure a few of you will understand this in todays world. This means that I often lose track of holidays and such, but this past weekend due to some dramatic retooling of children’s activities my wife was equally harried. She lost track and thought Sunday was Father’s Day – and my brain, being like a colander when it comes to dates, didn’t recognize the difference.
In our defense, the stores seem to start earlier and earlier with their ads and sales. It didn’t take me but a moment to realize that the children didn’t know the exact date either and that Debra could not take them shopping in time – nor dig out the arts and crafts they had so carefully and diligently crafted and painted for me before school had let out for the summer. I wondered if they realized that I had kept every present or keepsake over the years, and with four children I have quite a collection. The ones not framed and hung in the hall are on the fridge or tucked away in an artists envelope bulging with a plethora of various media sitting on top of my credenza.
I poured over some of the many things that had accrued over the years – turkey’s made of handprints, first pictures, cubist family portraits, and sculptures that would make Ida Kohlmeyer swoon.
These mementos are wonderful, they really are. However, I cannot take them with me when I depart this life. Since I know this firsthand, I realized that I was missing the point of Father’s Day – and if not the point then we could say the real opportunity. It’s not a day so much for handcrafted gifts and dinner out somewhere you usually would not go. Instead, it is a day for making happy memories with your children. With that in mind I went to bed Saturday night, planning to do just that in the morning.
The kids were up early and very excited – but we had a rain interruption we needed to work around. A quick look at the weather forecast said if we hit City Park just between 130pm and 430pm we could nail the sunny patch that afternoon and do so to reduced crowds. Debra packed some snacks and drinks in the cooler and we took off at the appointed time. The children were unusually good because of course they thought it was Father’s Day. Making for a pleasant drive into the city.
We arrived at the park and proceeded to have fun together as a family. I made extra sure to spend one-on-one time doing activities and rides with each of the children. Lots of smiles and laughter for the day, and then about 430 right on queue the rain started and we all ran for the car, piled in, and headed off for a decadent snack at a french bakery (and to find a bathroom to change for Holy Mass).
By the time we got to Mass I was exhausted and sore, I had really overdone it. The children were exhausted too. The mass was beautiful though, and during the consecration I felt a warm glow descend on me with the feeling that next time I stand in judgement – this day would be one of my finest hours and my fondest memories. The best part of that feeling was knowing that while I would loose the keepsakes – the laughter and happy memories created that day were not just mine to keep – but they were also a gift to my children and my wife who seemed to positively glow with pride just watching things unfold.
I learned, and re-learned, a few things that day. First and foremost an appreciation for my mortality and the fact that we cannot count on tomorrows to do things with children, they grow up so quickly that even if we don’t die, their childhood is terminal and though the children will survive – they are only children for a short period of time. The things you possess that you can carry into the next life are love, memories, and regrets. Love your spouse and children as best you are able regardless of how far you fall from from the marks you set for yourself. Make happy memories with those you love whenever you can, they are a gift that pays itself forward and when you bring joy to others lives it not only brightens your life too, but all of God’s creation. As for regrets, choose your actions carefully as you will make enough of these as a consequence of being human and they too are things you will have to live with forever in a very literal sense. As a father, I have often found myself so tied up in providing food, shelter, and other necessities that I failed to take enough time out to provide the joy and attention I really wanted to. I’ve had enough obstacles to doing so in my life outside of my control that I could try to use that as an excuse and probably get away with it, but all that really means is that with fewer opportunities – a missed one counts for even more.
I hope that one day my children will find this post, and know that no matter what else they were loved more dearly than life itself – my sole concern was always for my family. I every effort to make to ensure that they could have a mother at home through their childhood, enough to eat, a safe neighborhood to live in, and a comfortable home. I hope that they remember the joyful times we shared together, the lessons learned the hard way and passed on to them, and most importantly that I was just an imperfect man. A man who realized later than he should have that he was the one missing out when their mother took them to the zoo or the park without him – whatever the reason was. Life hands out enough circumstances when you simply cannot be present to share a simple joy, make an effort to do so that will ensure that you never regret your actions – just the circumstances. Doing so will be its own reward in this life and the next, provide a precious gift to your family, and make you a better Catholic husband.
PS: I hope my daughters’ future husbands and my son read my entire blog – in the hopes that they can use what they find to improve their marriages and in doing so pay it forward to their children as well. There is no need for these lessons to be re-learned the hard way endlessly through the generations that follow.
**Please feel free to write or comment on this post, I’d really like to hear from those that are able to have this experience and how it is changing their marriage, their wives, and their lives.