Monday night at 6:42 p.m. in the Tampa airport, the world stopped right in front of me.
It was a breathtaking scene as I watched my 7 and 4 year-old nieces rush to hug the father that had been deployed for nearly five months.
The preciously heartbreaking, “Welcome Home, Daddy!” signs were not needed anymore.
My nieces’ hero was home.
My kids and I took it in from a distance – well, I took it in. My 4 year-old continually tugged on my pants, asking, “Can we go hug Uncle Chad now?”
I reassured my impatient little guy that his time would come. Right now, while my world stood still, I wanted to enjoy seeing a dad only being a dad.
I wanted to soak in that moment because, too often, when the world is moving, my “just being a dad” muscles atrophy.
Fatherhood can be the greatest medicine – the cure for my brother-in-law to having missed birthdays and Christmas morning during his deployment. It is often the cure for something less profound for me – like a tough day at work.
Being a dad is less of a remedy, though, when I’m overwhelmed with the daily chase.
If you’re a parent, there is no question that the here-to-there existence of having children collides with the romanticized version of parenting I experienced at the airport.
Time does not stop – in fact, the clock is relentless and unforgiving.
We’re left in a classic, Good-Bad lurch – wanting to create a few minutes of peace to fully embrace the greatness of being a mom or dad while struggling to find the time to even brush our teeth.
There are some “easy fixes” that, to me, are untouchable:
- I won’t take my kids out of extra school activities – they will do S.T.E.M. or Student Council or Multi-Cultural Club.
- Sports practices won’t bear the burden – we’ve made commitments and honoring those is valuable.
- Bedtime cannot be extended – little ones need sleep (and I do too).
- I can’t wake the kids up earlier – I’m not crazy.
My own “Welcome Home” moments have to be subtle – and likely not of time-stopping significance. The busy schedule that we’ve signed ourselves up for makes it so.
Maybe I can’t stop my world daily, but I can try more often by:
(1) Shutting off the radio when the kids are in the van
My audience is most captive when they have no better options. Instead of allowing the time in the car to be dominated by bickering about which channel to listen to, I’ll turn the radio off and have a chat with my kids.
(2) Instituting entire family chores
I need to get things done and my kids can be part of the effort. We can fold laundry together, rake leaves, put away groceries or straighten up the house as a family.
As long as I keep the focus on the chat and not the chore, this may work.
(3) Having a timed ending for family meals
My family eats together each night – which is to say that we sit down at similar times and leave the table in a hurried, staggered fashion with an ever-present awareness of the minutes ticking away.
I should set an alarm for the soonest, acceptable time to leave the dinner table and keep the timer hidden from sight.
If we’re hurried, maybe the clock reads fifteen minutes. If not, maybe I can squeeze out 30 minutes of family chatter.
Whatever the case, dinner will feel less like a walking drive-through and more like a sit-down.
(4) Figuring out an hour each week where, together, our worlds stop
There has to be an hour during the week that is untouchable. That should not be a big ask, even for the busiest of families.
The hour isn’t the same each week – our schedules won’t allow for such rigidity. The day and time are far less significant than the act of turning off the technology and simply soaking in each other’s company.
Any of these four strategies keep our schedules uninterrupted and allow for some needed down time.
The respite reaffirms that it is truly a privilege to be a parent.
The world will not stop, but my world can – if for only a few minutes per day or for a solid hour on the weekend.
That time is precious, unrecoverable and essential to win at parenting.
I learned this lesson by watching an American hero turn, right before my eyes, into “just” Dad.