We can name so many inspirational movies. From a sports perspective, Remember the Titans, Coach Carter, Miracle, and many, many more, each with their heroes and heroic moments. But very few Hollywood movies romanticize parenting or family life. If we were to create your own parenting film, it could go in any number of directions. Of course, we as dads would be super-parents, wise in all we do, having the proper response in any situation, and just generally being admired by children and fellow parents alike. Moms would not have to imagine at all, as the superwoman role is just a natural part of their everyday existence. Perhaps your flick would include finishing work every day at 5 p.m., home by 5:15, and at the fields with the kids just a short time later. Whether a replay of your own life growing up or how you witnessed a favorite family show, it is your world to imagine. But when the actual film comes to the big screen, there will no doubt be variations from all you planned. That is just the nature of life and living.
My reality film did not play out as I might have expected, finding me at airports early on Monday or Tuesday mornings, often away for the better part of the upcoming week. It was not quite the award winning movie I had played out in my head. But while being away so often has never been ideal, like most things, there is a positive side as well. Despite not being one to readily chit-chat on flights, all the travel over all the years has added up to a fair amount of conversation. And so many times the discussions circle back to family, parenting, and the efforts to make it all work. I expect my own passion for the subject has guided the conversations. As the years have passed, my role has changed from student, listening to an older parent, to more of a teacher, offering my thoughts on our experiences raising our four children.
The overriding emotion of younger fathers I talk with while away from home seems to be guilt. With all the time away, there is a sensation of not supporting their children. Whether sports, music, scouting, or any other activity, there is a pain caused by perceived lack of support. I certainly remember the feeling, wishing to be present for everything, wanting to show how much I cared. I remember getting their event schedules and doing all possible to plan my travels around them. And then, just when you thought you had it all figured out, a meeting would be re-scheduled or your child’s activity would be changed to another day. The desire was to have total control. And it was impossible.
Looking back over the years, I would say I was fortunate in how often I was able to attend. I do recall the disappointments, having a flight cancelled the night before our son’s minor surgery. I suppose I was not that important to the process. The doctor seemed to do OK without me. So did my wife. But it sure did bother me.
I missed a little league championship game which was rained out the night I could attend. While perhaps sounding silly, it hurt not to be there when they won the next night. And I recall much of my family attending one of our children’s senior nights and having my flight continually postponed in a distant city. It was such a helpless feeling. I knew in the bigger picture it was not that important. But at that moment it meant everything.
It is with these memories in mind that I talk to young parents on flights and elsewhere. And I share some of my observations, reminding them, by not being there for everything, we are teaching our children far more important lessons. Your example of hard work and sacrifice, while perhaps not readily apparent to a young child, will become much clearer as they advance to high school, college, and certainly further into life. Consistent with this, there is the lesson that food and clothing do not just appear on the table. Shelter is not a given. Your having to be away during an important game or concert or school play exhibits how hard work provides all of these gifts and it should not be taken for granted. There will be a day that they too will be challenged to make their children’s activities and they will remember how you sacrificed for the good of the family. Moms and dads, while always wanting to support our children, please keep in mind you are modeling work ethic, commitment, and responsibility. Those lessons will last far after the games are played.