Taking Time Out To Be Dad

Children spell L-O-V-E and T-I-M-E. Paul Tournier in his book "The Meaning of Gifts" has this to say.

Toys are not the sole proof of love. The time that a mother or, even more so, a father gives to his children, or one of them, just the two -- the walks he takes with them, the explanation he gives on nature, on his own life, his confidences -- these are priceless gifts whose memory forever remains engrained as the most beautiful of all childhood!

This is true. We cannot substitute toys or any other material thing for our time -- our direct involvement with our children. Our children need to see us, touch us, hear us.

There is another excellent story of a boy who wanted time with his dad.

A man came home from work late, tired and irritated, to find his 5-year old son waiting for him at the door.

"Daddy, may I ask you a question?"

"Yeah sure, what is it?" replied the man.

"Daddy, how much do you make an hour?"

"That's none of your business. Why do you ask such a thing?" the man said angrily.

"I just want to know. Please tell me, how much do you make an hour?" pleaded the little boy.

"If you must know, I make $20 an hour."

"Oh," the little boy replied, with his head down. Looking up, he said, "Daddy, may I please borrow $10?"

The father was furious, "If the only reason you asked that is so you can borrow some money to buy a silly toy or some other nonsense, then you march yourself straight to your room and go to bed. Think about why you are so selfish. I work long hard hours everyday and don't have time for such this childish behaviour."

The little boy quietly went to his room and shut the door. The man sat down and started to get even angrier about the little boy's questions. How dare he ask such questions only to get some money?

After about an hour or so, the man had calmed down, and started to think: He may have been a little hard on his son. Maybe there was something he really needed to buy with that $10 and he really didn't ask for money very often. The man went to the door of the little boy's room and opened the door.

"Are you asleep, son?" He asked.

"No daddy, I'm awake," replied the boy.

"I've been thinking, maybe I was too hard on you earlier," said the man.

"It's been a long day and I took out my aggravation on you. Here's the $10 you asked for."

The little boy sat straight up, smiling. "Oh, thank you daddy!" He yelled.

Then, reaching under his pillow he pulled out some crumpled up bills. The man, seeing that the boy already had money, started to get angry again. The little boy slowly counted out his money, then looked up at his father.

"Why do you want more money if you already have some?" the father grumbled.

"Because I didn't have enough, but now I do," the little boy replied.

"Daddy, I have $20 now. Can I buy an hour of your time? Please come home early tomorrow. I would like to have dinner with you."

Time. That is a four-letter word almost all of us have trouble with. Many of us wish with that we could buy time. We can't. We have only so much of it. We have to decide how we will use what we have.

Most fathers are absent during most of their children's waking hours. If we are at all ambitious and conscientious, we will usually be away 50 hours a week and sometimes a few evenings and an occasional weekend.

Thus, fathers are faced with conflict between their jobs, their own needs and their family's needs. I know it's far easier to talk about time than to find it. But finding time to love, to be a father, is not impossible.

One father, a night manager for a major department store, works until 10 o'clock in the evening. Fortunately, he does not have to be at work until noon. He gets up with the children in the morning, has a leisurely breakfast with his 8-year old daughter and later has time to take a walk with his 4-year-old son.

One doctor routinely has an appointment with each child for lunch at least once a month, at which time they can discuss any topics they wish. Another young father must work long hours on a construction project. His 5-year old son takes an extra long nap in the afternoon so he is up and alert when his dad comes home at night.

An accountant friend has been so busy that he has to spend some of his Saturdays at the office catching up on certain accounts. Regretting being away so much from his 8-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter, he offered his children the opportunity of going to the office with him for a few hours on Saturday.

They would work on their homework or read while their dad worked. Since he needed to be at the office only for a couple of hours and the work was light, this arrangement yielded enjoyment for both the children and their father. The kids bragged to their friends about "working at dad's office."

Of course, the same activities don't fit every father. We all have different schedules, interests and abilities. Some fathers will be able to identify best through athletics. They will play games with their children, maybe even coach one of their teams.

They may attend athletic events with their children. Another father, who is a fine musician, has given to his children the legacy of musical talent and has taught them to appreciate good music. They have a great time playing together and attending concerts.

The same activities don't fit every child either. We must respect the individuality of each of our children. What works well with one may not work with another.

The creative solutions mentioned here represent the sort of effort required if we are going to become the fathers we want to be. We don't have to set up a program that seems stilted or artificial to us, although planned activities are sometimes helpful.

We need mostly to be sensitive to our children's needs at the moment and respond to them the best we can. And we need to share joyously in the little things children find so delightful. Our genuine attention at times like these says to the child, "Hey, you're important" and "I like being with you." There is nothing more dear to the ear of a child.

Children spell love "T-I-M-E," we've made that point. But the amount of time we spend with our children is not the only issue. The quality of that time is also important. Quality time seems to imply that parents must be able to dream up fabulous activities for their children every waking moment.

This would mean, then, that richly creative and imaginative people have more to offer as parents. But this notion is not only undemocratic; it is untrue. I believe we all can work towards being effective parents.

What do we mean by quality time? It's a chance to focus completely on our children; we are theirs totally for that period of time. Whether playing a game of badminton, working on a project or taking a walk, we are fully tuned into their needs and feelings. Quality is not, for example, talking to a friend on the phone while we play cards or pondering over an office problem while we carry on a conversation with one of the children.

It is important to realise that there is a crucial difference between the meaning of quality as we are using it here and another sense in which this word is commonly used. To illustrate this difference, suppose that two men each build a cabinet. One finished cabinet is an excellent specimen of woodwork with a mirror finish highlighting delicate wood grain.

The other is a functional piece made of plywood with a coat of polyurethane varnish. We say that the former is of better "quality" than the latter, even though both men may have worked equally hard.

But when it comes to relating to children, the parent who simply tries hard at being attentive is thereby giving his child quality time. However, gifted or ordinary Dad may be, what counts is that he is there, fully attentive to his son or daughter. The child perceives in this case but "Daddy pays full attention to me." The degree to which we listen and attend to the child communicates the degree to which we care.

Children therefore require from us both quality as well as quantity time because it needs the quantity time to build the quality time.

Fathers, let us be intentional in taking time out to be Dad. Happy Fathering.

This article was written by Focus on the Family Malaysia and extracted from "The Complete Marriage and Family Home Reference Guide" by Dr. James Dobson with permission.

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