Things I would tell myself as a young father

I have three children. I have one kid who carries a 100-pound pack up rugged hills and across the hot desert at his Marine Corps base in California. (Can you still call your son a kid when he can buy a round of tequila shots for his buddies?) I have another kid working and living in Washington, D.C., traversing the ups and downs of working for the government, and our youngest just decided where he’s going to live and study for the next four years.

They’re deep into adulthood, but I still find myself thinking often about them as toddlers. For instance, I found Kim Holderness’ blog on the things that she would tell herself as a young mom and it got me thinking. What would I tell myself as young father:

–Stop worrying. Just keep rocking.

Catching up on work emails or challenges at night can wait. Chilling in front of the television can wait. Chores can wait. Everything can wait. Kids don’t. Trust me, they grow, they move on. I try to look forward, I don’t look back with regret on many things, but I would give all the gold in the world to go back in time and sit one more with each of my kids at bedtime in our favorite rocking chair. They would lie nestled in my arms, their little fingers gripping tightly onto my hand, and we would gently rock each other to sleep. I love that memory. I love that I was able to spend that time with my children. Nothing beats it.

–Get on the floor. 
Most anything that was good about my relationship with my kids in the early years happened when I was on the floor, eye level with them, playing or talking. Get on the floor and look them into the eyes. 

Stories of courageous princes and princesses. On the floor. Teary conversations about making friends or not making friends. On the floor. Long kid hugs of gratitude and appreciation. On the floor.

$&!@ everything else, make them the center and see what you get back. It’s all good.

–Travel in the World of Make Believe, just grab a pillow 
My back is a mess. When I have to pick something up off the floor now, it takes a lot of planning and coordination. I compare it to what Air Traffic Controllers have to do at a busy airport every day, coordinating the arrival and departure of airplanes, monitoring the movement of aircraft, and even keeping the peace. The flight controller in my head looks down at the floor and then gives a pep talk to the pilot navigating my back muscles to reach down to pick whatever has fallen. It’s rather pathetic.

Unfortunately, my back was destroyed by the kids when they were young. We would play a bunch of different games. In one game called “Sack of Potatoes,” I would throw them over my shoulder like, of course, a sack of potatoes. The potatoes, though, never seemed to stay in one place. They would magically run away, and I would need to catch them, throw them over my shoulder, and toss them back on the sofa. I have no idea how the game started, but they could never get enough of it. The crazier I tossed them, the better. In another game called Bumble Bee, I would lie on the floor and the kids would dive bomb onto my back like bees. Oh, my poor, poor back, no wonder it’s messed up. Three kids jumping from the couch onto their father. What was I thinking? The thing is, I wouldn’t change a thing about it, we shared so many laughs. I might grab an extra pillow or two, but I wouldn’t change a thing.  

–Listen 

My oldest son was talking to us via FaceTime recently about some important career decisions he needs to make in the next couple of years. These are big decisions, important decisions. He had a serious look on his face. I just wanted to reach through the phone and give him a hug. Instead, we listened and told him that we couldn’t think of anything that he hadn’t already considered and that he would make a wise decision. When he was done, you could tell that he appreciated just having someone listen to him.

After the call, I was thinking about where I saw the look in his eyes. It was when he was in kindergarten and he told us why he liked Thomas the Tank Engine and how Thomas helped all his friends. He loved having our undivided attention and being able to open up to us. I’m not going to go out on a limb and say that Thomas set the stage for future conversations, but it’s not a crazy thing to say.

Yea, it’s fun to look back on those crazy days, when the kids were young, when my wife and I didn’t know if we were coming or going, if we would survive another day, but it’s fun too to be in the present. Life has a way of bringing something new and exciting. You do the best you can and keep looking forward!

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