This past weekend I was fortunate to have my kids all weekend. I picked them up from school on Friday afternoon and dropped them off at their mother’s on late Sunday evening. In the interim, I had a chance to share a spectacular 48+ hours with them.
We had a lazy Saturday around my place, playing games and being silly. I took them to the park, pushed them on the swings, and shared slushies with them at Sonic. On Sunday we went to Mass in the morning and then headed to a friend’s house to hang out. We frolicked in his pool, grilled burgers and hot dogs, did a little fishing, and took his jet ski out on the lake. It was a great Florida weekend.
I know it may sound cheesy, but it really is a blessing to have kids and take part in new experiences and create new memories with them. You get to rediscover things, things that you may have taken for granted before they came along. You get to be the smartest person in the room – although my daughter is seriously challenging for that title! You get recurring crash courses in dictatorship, diplomacy, peacekeeping and the use of retaliatory force. You stand as a bridge between what once was and what is yet to come.
I got to thinking about all these lessons and how parenting, like so many other things in life, requires continuous education and growth. Tactics and techniques that worked with my three year-old no longer work now that he’s five. The logic that is so easily understood and accepted by my daughter simply bounces off my son. It’s as if he has a force field of some sort that shelters him from life on this planet. I envy him sometimes.
So I must constantly adjust my methods and tone with my kids. I must constantly draw on what I learned from my parents and ask myself what they would have done in this situation. Other than raise their voice – which is a given under all circumstances – how would they react if I had acted a particular way when I was younger? It still amazes me how much I draw on the wisdom of my mom and the memory of my dad to get through certain challenges with my kids.
What’s ironic is that I have the absolute great fortune of having those memories and lessons on which I can lean because my father at one time was an alcoholic. My dad was so involved with his work when I was younger, I barely saw him. I have hazy memories of him getting home late from work – by late I mean after 9:00 PM – and being gone by the time I woke up in the morning. He worked his tail off, and drank just as hard. Sure, he was making good money, but he was never around.
Then he got sick. The years of drinking and smoking caught up to him in a flash, and it was the best thing to happen to my brother and me. What turned it around for my father was a visit to his doctor at which he was presented with two options. He could continue drinking and die, or quit drinking and watch his children grow up. Not only did he choose the latter, he stuck around to see his two sons get married and meet 4 of his 5 grandchildren.
So there we were, Natalie, Daniel and myself sitting in the middle of Brandt Lake on my buddy’s wave runner. A typical, late-afternoon rain had recently passed over us and the air was cool and refreshing. I killed the engine so we could just sit and admire the rainbow to our left and the rays of sun breaking through the grey clouds to our right. It was majestic. Then Natalie looked back at me and said, “Thank you for bringing us out here today, Daddy.” I looked up at the sunshine reaching out to us from Heaven and thought, “Yeah, Dad. Thank you.”