Editor’s Note: If you are just now catching Michael’s Man Cave series on N.U.T.s, please note the guide to all previous posts at the bottom of this essay ~ Thanks.
What does it mean for a man to be involved in the life of his children? A book I’m reading right now called, “The Heart of a Father,” by Ken Canfield offers a pretty good description:
My friend Paul is an involved father. He works forty hours each week, and in fact chose a job that allows him to be home each night and each weekend. At home, he likes spending time with his daughter Susan. They play Chutes and Ladders on the living room floor, and he reads her a story before bed. Cindy is a bit older. With her, involvement means driving her to gymnastics and cheering at her meets. It means sitting down next to her at the kitchen table when she lays out her math homework.
Sometimes Paul has his own work to do, his own errands to run. “I’m going to the hardware store,” he announces. “Anyone want to come along?” Occasionally Cindy or Susan will join him. The youngest child is Jacob. Among all the things that involvement means for this toddler, it also means changing diapers. Paul participates in the daily activities of his kids.
Call me boring, but I read those two paragraphs and I can’t wait to be able to play Chutes and Ladders on the living room floor with my little Izzy in a few years. The idea of running to Home Depot or Lowe’s for some project and having her be able to come along with me thrills me to my core. And don’t even get me started about how helpful I’m going to be when it comes time to sit down next to her as she works through her math homework at the kitchen table. Not to brag or anything, but you are reading a piece of written work by a guy who also happened to score a 32 on the math portion of his ACT back in high school. More importantly, at one point in my life I earned the title of 4th Grade 24 Champion. OK… OK… now I’m just showboating. Back to the discussion at hand.
On a practical level this N.U.T. is about putting three rather simple but arguably equally rare strategies into play:
My first strategy for being an involved father is to spend lots of time with my children. Any activity that I do with my daughter, no matter how mundane, where at least a part of the purpose of said activity is simply being together with her counts as time together. Pretty much anything is fair game for this one. Taking a walk together (when she’s old enough to walk) –Physical Activity Time. Inviting her to join me while working in the yard (in a few years!) – Manual Labor Time. Attending her school performances – Awesome Home Video Time. Going shopping with her for school clothes – Empty Wallet Time. Whether we’re setting out to accomplish some task together or just trying to have fun does not matter. What matters is that we’re spending large quantities of time together. I had this from my dad and it has meant so much to me throughout my life.
My second strategy for being an involved dad is my availability. Similar to time, this one is less about how much structured time I spend with my daughter, and is more about simply being available to her as needed throughout each day. This one’s about regularly being in close proximity to her even if we’re not actually participating in some activity together. I can be available to Izzy and enjoy her presence even while focused on something else. For example, I’m a reader. If she wants to color in her coloring book and I want to read, I can be available to her just by reading in the same room with her while she colors. If she needs to interrupt me for something, giving her my availability means setting my book down and, with a smile on my face, being attentive to whatever she happens to need at that moment. This one’s also about making sure she knows that she can call me at work at any point throughout the day. It’s about letting her know that even if I can’t take her call right away that I will call her back quickly. The important thing here is that she knows she can come to with anything she needs at any time and I will be available for her.
Speaking of needs, my third and final strategy for being involved in the life of my children is that I am committed to being a part of those everyday duties of parenthood which, though they are critical and absolutely necessary, are almost completely void of any semblance of glamor or excitement. I will help change dirty diapers. I will wipe snotty noses. I will spoon feed pureed peas. I will chauffeur from activity to activity. I will stay up at night and be the nurse. I will clean up vomit. And I will read the same story over and over again no matter how many times I’ve read it before. I will be there to help meet our children’s every need – from the lowest, most basic and trivial type all the way up the ladder to those needs that are paramount to their survival and success in life.
I’m not saying I will be perfect in this N.U.T. In fact, I’m quite sure I will fail repeatedly as I stumble my way through the challenges and joys of fatherhood, but at the end of the day, this is my standard.