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A Heavy Price

September 30, 2016

I’ve mentioned before that after my morning workouts at our local park district I head to the cool gym/auditorium before I hit the showers. There’s usually a toddler play session in the gym and I enjoy watching the kids stagger around like tiny drunks, having fun with a vast assortment of toys. Yesterday, a toddler around eighteen months, with what looked like a full diaper, climbed into a plastic car. I cracked up when he adjusted the glassless mirrors before pedaling away.


Yesterday there were ten parents present, seven mothers and three fathers. At first I thought it great that there were more dads present than mothers. Historically, dads have concentrated more on bringing home the bacon than spending time with their small children so it was nice seeing these dads during their children’s play time. Then I looked closer.


The three mothers were actively engaged with their children, pushing them on swings, tossing balls in their direction and helping build forts with wooden blocks. The dads hardly glanced at their children; they were all too busy staring at their i-Phones.


I wanted to scream, “Guys, trust me when I say the time is brief when your child will want to spend time with you, when they look at you and see the world’s greatest superhero.”


What could possibly be more important than this precious moment with your child? Our son is now thirty-six years old and I often wonder what happened to the little blue-eyed Hummel who more than anything wanted to sit on my lap and ask endless questions. He grew up while I busied myself with trivial matters, things I no longer remember.


Women seem more capable of multi-tasking than men, and Mrs. Chatterbox, in addition to cleaning, cooking and working full-time, would sit on the floor with CJ for hours, building LEGO pirate ships and letting him race matchbox cars over her legs. I was too busy working and fretting about the future to engage with my son as much as I should have. Only now do I realize the heavy price I paid while our son was growing up. Now that I’m retired, I have countless hours to think about all those moments in my son’s childhood when I didn’t pay him enough attention, when I foolishly acted as if his childhood would last forever.


But childhoods don’t last forever. Sometimes, if I look closely, I see our little boy in the eyes of the man who comes to visit and fix our broken electronics, but for the most part our little boy is gone. What wouldn’t I give to have an hour of his childhood back, to bask in my son’s adoration, to ruffle his hair and hear him prattle on about his day—to be in the presence of someone desperately wanting to spend time with me? What I wouldn’t give to have just one more precious hour with my little boy. I recall growing peevish hearing people telling me to enjoy this time because it wouldn’t last. I wish I’d listened.


Dads, set aside your i-Phones and spend quality time with your children. Don’t be a ghost in their lives. Childhoods don’t last forever, but the sorrow of realizing you forfeited something priceless does.









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My brother has been doing the stay-at-home dad thing for the last few months so he's been doing most of the child rearing.
By: PT Dilloway on September 30, 2016
There's a lot of truth in what you say, but take heart! Grandchildren give dads another change to get it "right."
By: Susan Swiderski on September 30, 2016
My post today is a little bit about this. About the younger generation and a young man's excitement.
By: Tabor on September 30, 2016
Steve, I got tears in my eyes reading this. Moms, too, wish there was a "do over." I have often wished I could go back and do things differently. But it does make you see to be able to help your children raise their kids.
By: Linda on September 30, 2016
Oh, how true about parents staring at their phones, but to be fair, when I grocery shop I often see a mom with young children who has her eyes on her phone or is chatting away with someone. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on September 30, 2016
I'm not surprised at all since women will say save the baby if they are in jeopardy but a man will say, save the wife. I watched, a few years ago, a documentary on how men and women are wired differently, and it showed that women can multitask much better than men. It reminded me of a story my mom told...she asked her husband, my dad, to watch over my brother while she went out for grocery shopping. when she came back, my dad was reading the paper and my brother?? He had taken out all the records out of their sleeves and was walking all over them. When my mom asked why my dad didn't watch, his answer was that my brother was quiet so he thought all was ok
By: Birgit on September 30, 2016
Wonderful and truthful post. Too often the regret comes full circle when the child looks down at the shrunken person in the hospital bed and deeply regrets the times not spent with their parent as they became absorbed with their own lives.
By: Arkansas Patti on September 30, 2016
You're so right. I'm afraid I was a bit guilty of not immersing myself more in my kid's lives, too. Not that I ignored them at all, but in retrospect I could/should have made more time available for "us".
By: scott park on September 30, 2016
Yes, you are right. If only we'd all realized this sooner.
By: messymimi on September 30, 2016
Amen! Certainly in parenting, but also in other aspects of our modern life, we need to pay attention. It is not just enough to show up.
By: Tom Cochrun on September 30, 2016
The great Harry Chapin told this story the best in his song "Cats in the Cradle".
By: Catalyst on September 30, 2016
Wonderful words of wisdom, my friend. I feel very fortunate that I get as much time as I do with my kiddos. One of the reasons I made the job change was because I was sacrificing their time for work. It isn't worth it as you have discovered. Take care, Stephen.
By: Mr. Shife on September 30, 2016
this line: to be in the presence of someone desperately wanting to spend time with me? bittersweet.
By: TexWisGirl on September 30, 2016
You made me cry a little!!
By: fishducky on September 30, 2016
Don't bet yourself up on this one. I don't think you deliberately neglected your son. It was the way of life. There is also quality time. the three Dads were not giving quality time.
By: red Kline on September 30, 2016
Even I could have put a few more thousand hours on my helicopter engine.
By: Val on September 30, 2016
This reminds me of that Cats In The Cradle song. So sad but so true. You know, I spent a LOT of time wth my first 3 kids, but by the time the 4th came along, I had to work 3 part time jobs while my husband worked 2 jobs. I had little time to spend with my youngest, and oh man, when you look at my four adult children now, you can tell the difference---mentally and emotionally. I feel so guilty that I wasn't there enough for my youngest, We are very close now and I ALWAYS make time for him, but I fear the damage is done. I can only try my best to make it up to him now. Thankfully we are able to communicate openly about all of these issues.And more importantly, he knows I love him ad that I am here for him now, no matter what. This was so beautifully written, Stephen. One of your best.
By: Marcia @ Menopausal Mother on September 30, 2016
We all do our best.
By: STL Fan on September 30, 2016
Perhaps this is why grandparents dote on kids so much -- at that age, they feel the same sort of guilt you mention. Me: I'm grandparent age, have no kids, am happily involved in lots of things, and have no regrets! To each their own. ;)
By: Lexa Cain on October 1, 2016
hopefully they will figure it out before it's too late.
By: Ellen Abbott on October 1, 2016
Luckily I had no i-phone when mine were growing up. I hated Lego's and anything building, but I tossed the ball around a lot and helped coach sporting events. I miss those growing up ages, though I think I'm a bit old for them now. I was 52 when my 4th was born and there were times when it was a struggle to "go out and play."
By: cranky on October 1, 2016
And I suspect your Hummel grew up with you as a hero, kids understand the need to work for the family and I bet you spent a lot of lap time answering questions.
By: cranky on October 1, 2016
My feelings exactly. I work at a school and see this the whole time. We do have dads who engage with their children but they are, alas, in the minority. Most are staring at their screens whilst their little one is trying to tell them how their day went. Greetings from London.
By: A Cuban In London on October 1, 2016
this is a great post Stephen- I wish I'd spent more quality time with my kids - the time flew my oldest is quite ill and I hope he recovers as well as your CJ. Big hugs to you and Mrs C!
By: Kathe W. on October 1, 2016
Looking back, we all think we could have done it better. Truthfully, I think we all did the best we could.
By: Pixel Peeper on October 1, 2016
By: Daniel LaFrance on October 2, 2016
Cats in the cradle...ageless angst. I really think most men do everything in their power to take care of their families, and it's a hard job, rife with sacrifices. I live in the past, and wish things would go back to that time when moms could just be moms and not have to leave the house to work. . Don't worry too much- you obviously did a great job and your son turned out fine. I imagine he is pretty proud of you also. Now don't get me started on people staring at their cell phones. That's a whole nuther ball of wax/can of worms. It's going to get a lot worse before it gets better.
By: on October 2, 2016
Well, duh...I forgot to add my name. The above comment is mine.
By: Terri @ Coloring Outside the Lines on October 2, 2016
Jilda instilled a mantra in me and it's one of the best things that I've ever learned. It's simple: Be Here Now. It is remarkable how this one thing has improved my life. R
By: Rick Watson on October 2, 2016
I become so depressed watching any group of humans these days. All on the phone for whatever reason. Dammit, enjoy the moment. Look around. Smell the air, hear the sounds, feel the breeze. Talk to someone nearby. Watch the damn sporting event instead of taking video of it, for goodness' sakes. And, most especially, the children in your life deserve your being there, fully. Excellent column, Steven. And now I am going to take my own advice, get off of the computer, and go tend to my poor grapefruit tree by bringing it inside to the relative warmth of my living room for the next six months.
By: Jim Sullivan on October 2, 2016
I've just got some lemon juice in my eye or something here. Not crying at work. No siree.
By: Rob Scherzer on October 4, 2016

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