He’s grinning from ear to ear as he comes out to the car. His teacher has told me that he’s a different kid on Thursday’s, the only day of the week I pick him up from school. I turn the radio off and listen to him talk as fast as he can to regale me with his tales of the day all the way home. I remind myself that one day he won’t want to tell me anything anymore and this is a blessing. He has the afternoon planned, so as quickly as I can take my tie off, we’re headed to “The Man Room”. We power up the Xbox and quickly go through the screens to pick the maps and characters to play Star Wars Battlefront. It’s our Thursday routine now. I wait as he figures out the map and runs past me into battle. Like a true father, I follow behind him picking off threats so that he can stay alive a little longer (until he finds the tank he’s looking for and promptly runs me over). We play for hours until we get the call. “Mom’s on her way home”. So we hit the kitchen to make supper. Mac and Cheese from scratch the way only dad can do, grilled veggies and a salad. I teach him how to cut the lettuce, cucumbers, and tomatoes. We set up a table on the patio and he puts out the placesettings. After supper all of us start tossing the football before taking turns with the whiffle ball. I get silly and decide to knock one over the house into the front yard. “Awesome!” comes the chorus from both boys. They take turns throwing the ball to me in the hopes they throw the pitch I crank over the roof. I have a breifcase full of files that came home with me that I won’t remember I had until tomorrow. Nothing else in the world matters outside of this.
That day I spent every minute from the moment my oldest son got out of school till I tucked him in bed within earshot of him. Yet, as we walked inside he stopped and looked at me and said “Dad, will you do something with me and Zach now?” I smiled and responded “What have I been doing for the past 4 hours?”
Many times I’m all too keenly aware that I’m not the best dad in the world. My temper is still buried within me and peaks its head out every so often. I could yell less or be more patient or spend more time with the boys. I want my space and find myself saying things like “You have a brother, play with him”. I see the hurt expression and try to ignore it, but it burns through my soul. I wonder what therapist will bring up that memory in 30 years. I try to make up for it with toys or “Special activities” on the weekend. Like millions of other dads I catch myself putting the boys into my convenient schedule and wanting to “Make it up to them”. But they don’t want make up activities. They want something that can’t be replaced or made up. Time.
They crave it. Honestly, I crave it. To stand in the backyard in my “Albert Pujols” stance waiting for a fastball that could as easily whack my in the head as much as it could fly harmlessly into my strike zone. There are too few years left where I’m still Albert Pujols, James Bond, Anakin Skywalker, and Batman all rolled into one. At the end of them I don’t want my kids to say “My dad was great…
He gave us everything we wanted, but was never around.”
You can’t replace the pride you feel in a son who puts his first Lego together by himself. Or as he stands next to you leading worship at church and sings the song he proudly worked on all week. The world disappears and in those moments heaven is real. No amount of toys bought or trips to Chuck E. Cheese will fill their memories more than those few times where they are basking in their fathers adoration. They need me. And I need them.
I refuse to let myself get to the end of this life and wish for one more night to tell stories or play foosball. I’m not willing to trade one “I love you dad” for an “I miss you dad”. For each of those “I miss you dad”s shortens my life, while the others only add to it. I could probably accomplish more professionally and have bigger, better things. But it’s not where my heart is. My heart is in the backyard or the playground or the “Man Room”. I don’t envy people who have more things than I do. I don’t lack for anything.
Except maybe another at bat before bedtime.