Recently I had a classic parental conundrum.
I was sitting at the computer and had just hit my stride on a project that was nearing its deadline when my 7-year-old called from the other room: “Dad, will you play a game with me?”
“Not right now,” I replied. “I’ve really got to get this done. Maybe later.”
And then came the dagger to the heart. “C’mon, please! You always say that.”
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Technically, she was wrong, because I don’t always say that. But practically, she was absolutely right, because I frequently say that.
I really don’t want to be that dad who always says, “Later,” or “I’ll think about it,” or “Maybe tomorrow,” because there might not be a later or a tomorrow. And what is there to think about, really?
Here is one of the loves of my life asking me to spend time with her. What could be better or more flattering? The bigger question: What could be more important than spending time with my daughter? In a few years she may stop asking. In a few years she might not recognize my coolness. In a few years she might not even acknowledge that I exist.
I think I’d rather be remembered as a dad who always said, “Sure, let’s go. Let’s do it, now!” Or at least a dad who sometimes said that.
So, I said, “Sure, let’s go!”
We played mancala, which she has recently learned and has nearly perfected. She won three out of five, and I didn’t even let her win.
And, yes, I finished my project on time. But, seriously, I don’t even remember which project I was working on or what was so important at the time. But what I do remember is laughing with her and noticing how everything has to be “just so” when she plays any game, and how she makes up a bunch of crazy rules that she changes as we go.
I’m not sure, but I think this has to be one of the most important things any of us could do for someone else: Stop what we’re doing, peel our eyes from the screen, remove the ear buds and look the other person in the eye.
Whether it’s a total stranger or someone we love, be present. Acknowledge their existence. Our eye contact validates. It says, “Hey, I see you. I hear you. I value you. And you matter more to me right now than any status update or stock ticker or sports score.”
Someday my kids might remember me as occasionally preoccupied and grumpy, but I hope they also remember Crazy Eights and dancing in the family room to the Who and cuddling up on the couch with a book and how my eyes crinkle up around the edges when I look at them and smile.
To reach Jim Cosgrove, send email to email@example.com.