The minutes and measure of a man.

On Saturday night, at a small restaurant at an even smaller table, four parents discussed parenting. That’s a big topic. Broad and cavernous – so full of the space between all our ideologies and thoughts. 4 parents. 4 philosophies. No matter how intertwined, when it comes right down to it, we are always and utterly in left field. There is no amount of sameness that makes parenting truly feel simpatico.

We were talking about the rapture of current parenting. This new-age “all in” prom. Everyday, all of the children are kings and queens and we’re there to make sure no one spikes the punch. It’s lovely and exhausting; our wanting to be fully involved while functioning on the same lack of sleep as our forefathers. Four score and seven cups of coffee ago.

With all of the supposed progress, it’s much the same except the stakes are so much higher. We MUST be present or, to our children’s chagrin, we are absentee. And, we worry so much more about being absentee even though we are perpetually and stunningly there. SO there. It’s nonsense this “not enough”. It’s nonsense.

Because…

Whenever I’m in the depths of the, “I don’t show up enough.”, I always think of my father.

My parents divorced when I was very young. I saw my father only during the summer. Still, he is my soft place to land. He is my humanity ground zero. When all is broken, he is the fullness of possibility and the truthful teller of the consequences of bad decisions. He is the parent I run to and he was rarely “there”.

There is subjective. There bends.

He was always and boldly working toward fulfilling his dream of being a musician. Our fleeting times with him were mostly spent with grandparents I’ve grown to idolize and homes I’ve grown to daily daydream of. His presence in his own life, never giving up on his life’s calling, led to a very rich carousel of love and presence in the family around us; yet, I can imagine that he felt the ugly tug of parenting guilt. He worked constantly and we did what latchkey kids do – we used our goddamn imagination.

Guess what? We’re ok.

My father taught me about the value of kindness, the bravery of a great adventure, the American songbook and the weight of your own decisions.

We probably spent, on average, roughly 90 quality minutes with him every day for two months once a year.

Yet, those 90 minutes are the cornerstone of who I am.

I think of the time I spend with my children…the kitchen that I seem to occupy with every spare breath I breathe. The meals that take on a life of their own and the pure function that overrides the fun. You can’t spell function without f-u-n. But, watch us try…

As I readied myself for this Saturday night dinner, my eldest daughter was showering while I put on make-up and we spoke for about 15 minutes about friendship and secrets. Those you should keep and those you should never keep. We talked about her growing up. We talked a little about me growing up. I’d been with her all day and yet, these 15 minutes, we were both THERE. We were both all in and I think, if I can just carve 15 minutes a day just like that into their lives, that will equal success.

It’s ok that I can’t be totally and 100% present every moment. It really is. Being there is about providing the cornerstone and there’s no manual on how much time builds the foundation.

It could be 15 minutes a day. There is something stunning about that. There is something beautiful. I’m giving myself permission to truly be there for 15 minutes a day – because right now, that’s the best I can do. That means that I also have to give myself permission to not worry about how much I’m messing it up the other hours of the day while writing, cooking, laundering or just, sometimes blindly, showing up.

90 minutes for 2 months a year taught me all of the good things I know about truth, love, life and the human experience. Maybe we should all relax a little.

Happy Birthday, Dad. I love you.

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Comments

  1. I totally agree with you! Even children want space and get preoccupied with the daily tasks that go on. I think it’s unrealistic to be totally present 24/7. To be honest my son would get sick of me. We can’t make every day or event special as much as we may try.

  2. Andrea Miller says:

    PERFECT! We all grew up with out our parents being “there” 100% of the time and we all basically turned out just fine. We are competent independent adults! We can handle most situations that are thrown at us reasonably well. Todays kids are growing up unable to do that and it’s mostly because parents feel that they aren’t “there” enough or that they don’t do enough for their children when in fact they are doing TOO much for their children. Let our children figure things out on their own, let them use their own imaginations, let them experience and explore {within reason} on their own. As parents we are meant to guide them, be there for them, and help them grow into who they are to be, we are not there to DO everything and think of everything for them. Guide & teach. That’s our job. As you say supply the cornerstones and build the foundation, we can’t build the whole person. Great article.

  3. I love the way you cut through the noise and tell me exactly what my heart knows to be true.

  4. Elizabeth says:

    This is simply gorgeous. Thank you.

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