We went to the top floor of our office highrise and entered the meeting hall, a large space with tables and chairs neatly arranged, the introductory slide already projected on the screen to welcome us. It was an hour and a half of talks on leadership, lessons learned, and listening to the experiences of those who had participated in a special job opportunity which gave them a rotation in many different departments. Each one followed an agenda, told us about themselves, and shared their insights into the business. Four people had lectured already. Some presentations were better than others. The usual Steven Covey talking points had been rehearsed when a final speaker stood up and took his place behind the podium. His first words took me by surprise.
He asked for a moment of silence for the lives lost at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
I closed my eyes and felt the tears welling up inside. It was a topic I tried not to think about. When my wife wanted to show me pictures of the children who died, I couldn’t look. I shut my eyes tighter to keep from breaking down while sitting next to my coworkers and boss. In the quiet, a thousand images and thoughts ran through my mind, every single one of them gutwrenching. I wanted the silence to end. It was a pain I’m unable to enter into. A pain I know I would be unable to bear.
Finally, he broke the silence and offered these words while the air was still quiet in remembrance, “If you have children, or are thinking about having children… be a leader in your home. Be a leader to your children. There’s nothing more important.”
I took a sick day and stayed home from work. I cuddled with my son on the couch in the morning. I had been away on a weeklong business trip when the news broke about Sandy Hook and I was looking forward to the weekend with my kids. The weekend ended up being full of the holiday rush and this was my first chance to just be, so we sat and watched cartoons for a few minutes before my day began.
As much as I loved laying there with him, he had lots of alone time that day, too. You know, where he gets to do whatever he wants, which is to watch T.V. pretty much all day long. Two o’clock rolled around, his usual “quiet time”, and I put him upstairs to play in sister’s room while she was away at school. It felt sad to close the door on him, I don’t know why. I guess I already felt bad that I had passed by him and seen him playing alone downstairs and now I was just relocating him upstairs before making him play alone again. As I watched him disappear behind the door, it didn’t feel right. Still, I had stuff to do so I left him to be by himself again.
A while later, my chores brought me back upstairs and we met in the hall.
“What are you doing out of Ella’s room?”
“I want to go to my room” he said with a newly acquired Mario from his sister’s room in his hand.
“OK” I opened his door and let him enter. Except this time I followed him in.
His train table was a mess and the track was incomplete. I sat down and fixed the track and grabbed a train.
His face lit up.
He immediately took control, telling me which train I should be and where I should go. He grabbed Thomas and Percy and started to run away from my passenger train with exaggerated claims of impending distaster if I caught him. Super Y joined us flying overhead. We built a tunnel, destroyed a tower, and called on Diego to come to the rescue and help us rebuild. All in all, it was probably only five minutes. Then I stood up and told him I had to go.
With Christmas over I’ve already started thinking about New Year’s Resolutions. I feel like 2013 will be a year of big changes for me. Some changes are happening whether I want them too or not, other changes are more by choice. There will be some changes to this blog, I’ll probably be working through things here. If you know me in real life, you know I’m a Christian. This blog actually started out as a place where I wrote about my faith (back in 2007) and changed to be where I stored all my memories about fatherhood when my daughter was born, but lately I’ve been struggling in my faith and writing has become my process where I work things out, so expect more about that in the months to come. I invite every one of you to weigh in when I do.
But that moment I shared with my son still sticks with me. I wonder if that was the best part of his day or if he barely noticed? I realize how much of parenting is made up of these little moments in the midst of the monotony of life. They make a difference I think. So I’m determined to make more of a difference as a dad. (I’ve already started to implement this, so for anyone who is “anti-resolutions” I don’t want you to miss the point of what I’m talking about.) I’ve decided to make sure as long as I’m home to make those moments happen every day. It doesn’t have to be a full-on hour of being a sea monster getting attacked by paper sword pirates, but I can sit and help my kids play imaginitively for ten or fifteen minutes a day each of one-on-one time.
The reality of parenthood hits you at the most random times. Seeing her hang up her coat can jolt my emotions as I watch her grow up before my eyes. A heartbreaking news story can jar things back into perspective. I’m confronted with the truth that in a blink either my children will be all grown up, or they could be taken from me. And while I can’t live in fear of either, it does make me stop to check my pulse as a dad.