As an American Football coach and now a TV commentator, I work long hours and travel a lot. Doing my job and providing for my family can limit the time I’m able to spend with my wife and children.
I’ve found, though, that the key to getting the most out of our time when we are together is my willingness to do what my children want to do — even when they’re not necessarily the things I’d prefer to do.
I’m not talking about big, expensive productions like trips to Disney World or vacations in Hawaii. I’m talking about normal, everyday activities like walks in the park, playing on a swing set or throwing a ball around in the backyard.
Speaking of American Football . . . as you can imagine, after a very long and exhausting day of coaching, playing football with my children for another hour after work wasn’t usually my idea of fun. But it was often what they wanted to do, and my willingness to do it let them know they were important to me; if I could do that at work, I should certainly be able to do it for them!
I saw the truth of this with one of my daughters, too, when I heard a friend of hers ask about me. My child didn’t say anything about my job or going to NFL (National Football League) games or getting to meet famous athletes that I work with. Instead she said, “He plays in the pool with me.” That told me I was doing something right.
Many times when I was coaching, I’d take the boys to the office with me on a Saturday morning. They might play on the practice fields or use my office equipment to play their video games. I knew they liked being with me — but they also liked stopping for doughnuts on the way home. To tell the truth, I think sometimes they saw the trip to the office as just part of the process of getting to the doughnut shop! But we have lots of great memories of time spent together in both places.
My wife, Lauren, has been a great help in this area. I recall her saying many times when I returned from a long road trip and she was hungry for time with me herself, “Let’s do something the children will enjoy.” So instead of the two of us going to a quiet restaurant, we would head to the park or on a family bike ride — or maybe just to our backyard pool for some fun.
In the evenings during the school year, time is at a premium. There are so many things that have to get done, like homework and chores and bedtime preparations. In the little “together time” we have, I’ve learned to emphasise the children’s interests. So with one or more children, I may find myself playing a computer game, watching cartoons or listening to one of their favourite songs.
I mentioned earlier that I don’t always feel like doing what my children want to do. I may be tired, uninspired, and just want a little “down time” for myself. But it may encourage you to know that when I’m feeling that way, and I go ahead and push myself to do the thing they’re eager to do, those often become some of our best times together. Once I get going on that bike ride or game of catch or computer contest, it’s as if I catch a second wind and start to feel rejuvenated. I don’t know how psychologists would describe this phenomenon, but I’ve seen it happen time after time. I take it as an affirmation that I’m doing a good thing.
I’m busy, and I have a job that requires a lot. But what dad doesn’t, especially these days when employees are being asked by their companies to be more productive than ever? Our work is important, and we have an obligation to our employers.
But there’s also a reminder to me not to neglect the rest of my calling as a man. We build our houses by taking care of the needs of those within — our wives and children. A big part of that is doing the things they want to do in the time we have together day by day.
So here’s my suggestion to you: Even though you don’t have as much time with your children as you spend on the job, work as hard at your parenting as you do in the office. Give your children as much effort as you give your employer.
And realise that some days — maybe a lot of days — just as you need to work through some tough challenges on the job, you may need to do some things with your children in the evening that wouldn’t be your first choice. But they’re the things your children want to do with you, and going along with their plans is the best way you can say, “I love you, and you’re so very important to me.”
That’s our job as dads, and it’s also our privilege.
Excerpted from The 21-Day Dad’s Challenge, published by Tyndale House Publishers. Copyright © 2011 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. Used by permission.