When is being a father like a yo-yo? Read on…
When I was a wee lad I remember trying to learn how to use a Yo-Yo. Remember those things? Maybe it will or has become a “thing” again but I don’t see many of them around. As I was reflecting on my youngest daughter graduating from college in a few weeks. I see the emotion in her tweets (it’s the only way I really get a chance to stay current on what she’s doing-she uses Twitter like a journal of her thoughts in 140 character blocks). I sensed that she was doing a lot of emotional yo-yoing. Up and down. Savoring and lamenting. Smiling at all she’s accomplished while meeting so many new people and then crying at the thought of not being around them or maybe ever seeing them again after graduation. Enjoying each moment while thinking and stressing about the future. It reminded me of that yo-yo I tried to master so unsuccessfully so many years ago.
No matter how I tried, it was all I could do to learn how to do that wrist-fling to get the Yo-Yo snapped into a downward spin so I could snatch it back up without killing anyone else or me. Just the basic Yo-Yo up and down was about all I ever learned. But there were so many other tricks that I saw good Yo-Yoers perform. Like “Walk the Dog”, “Rock the Cradle” or “Around the World”. If I had tried “Around the World” I would have sent someone or myself to the moon, if you know what I mean. No, I was never a good Yo-Yoer. As I thought about the Yo-Yo reactions of my daughter I thought about the joy of being her father and how I may never have mastered those Yo-Yo tricks with a real Yo-Yo but the name of those tricks and how they correlated to various aspects of being a dad (don’t ask me how I make those connections–they just happen 🙂 ), brought me great joy in remembering some of those fatherhood efforts when my kids were young. Here are three things that those Yo-Yo tricks reminded me about being a dad as I reflect on our last child soon leaving the house for good.
1. Walk the Dog
Any of you have a dog? Yeah, like anyone who’s ever had a child that begged their dad to get a dog. We had a Golden Retriever named Ginger for 15 years.
She was so rambunctious as a puppy and in those early days when we would take her for a walk, she was actually taking us. As she grew older and had been trained she became easier to walk. We had to be intentional about taking her out regularly and when we did, it was good for both the dog and us. That’s how it is as a dad, isn’t it? There are things that are hard to do when our kids are young. They don’t seem as enjoyable and maybe not what we thought we signed up for. Late night feedings to help our wives get some sleep, cleaning up after them when they’re sick only to find yourself sick a few hours later, taking them to school and sporting events and on it goes. But, as they grow older they begin to do more things for themselves and you let the leash out a bit.
Sometimes I forgot how challenging the early days were because the latter days, though challenging in their own right, seemed so much more rewarding. Those days wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t done the intentional work of being there to teach them, guide them and love them. Like being walked by the dog to teaching the dog to walk so that she no longer fought the leash but embraced it so are the times with our children when they seem to demand everything from us to the day when they walk on their own and we are just watching them from behind. Dad, if you have young children, hang in their. Do the hard work. Take time with your children in the hard things because it will so pay off for you when they are ready to disengage the leash and head out on their own.
2. Rock the Cradle
When we were pregnant with our first child (our son, Bryan), we did what most parents did. We went glider shopping. Not like an airplane but like a rocker. The kind of rocker that sort of glides front to back instead of the conventional rocking motion. It would be the chair that my wife and I would use to rock our newborn baby to sleep, calm him down when he was crying or in distress or just sit in alone to relieve some of the anxieties of the day. There is something about the rocking motion that settles us down. I still love to rock in a rocking chair. I love the memories of having one of my children in my arms while rocking seemingly for hours. I would look at their sweet face, see God’s precious work, pray over them, talk to them and tell them how much I loved them while just rocking back and forth. At the time the gliding-rocking chair was just a piece of furniture and those moments seemed so insignificant. Though my children are much larger and it’s been a long time since I had them in my lap, I still look at their beautiful faces and thank God for them, pray for them, spend time talking to (and texting, Tweeting and Facebooking) them and sometimes just sit in a rocking chair and thank God for all He’s given us in our children. We haven’t been perfect parents by any means but we are grateful for each of our children. And, much of it started in a rocking chair.
Dad, we love action. I used to wrestle with the kids on the floor, tackle them and swing them around and do “dad” things with them. Yet, there are times when you need to just sit with your kids, look at them, talk and listen to them and just be there. Be a calming influence when they’re freaking out about a test, or a friend that did something horrible to them or not getting a role they tried out for in a play or event. My kids still come to me today, usually when they want something like advice on their car not sounding right, relationship struggles, how to handle insurance problems or doing their taxes for them. I don’t mind. I just sit in my figurative rocking chair and thank God that they come to me. Yes, there are a few times I lose it (cuz I’m still human) or don’t say the right things but we’ve developed a trust in each other over the years. They know they can come to me with any issue. I think I’ve gone into teaching mode too often so maybe they withhold some things if they don’t want to hear me teach (that’s fodder for another blog post). I’m saying that if you rock them early, you will get the chance to experience the joy of “rocking them” later.
3. Around the World
Except for a few scenes that I have to look away from (inappropriate seduction/nude scene), National Lampoon’s Vacation is a funny, funny movie. Clark Griswold (played by Chevy Chase) loads up his family in that ugly green station wagon with the wood paneling on the side for a vacation to Wally World. It’s the vacation of a lifetime that turns into a vacation they’ll never forget, for the wrong reasons. There are some classic scenes in that film.
One of the reasons it is so funny to us or at least me is that it reminds us of those vacations we remember. Dad loading up the car for the big vacation to the mountains or down to Disneyland (or Disneyworld). Murphy’s Law would always kick in. Whatever could go wrong, usually did. And, like the father wrestling with the furnace in the movie, The Christmas Story, we probably recall our dad doing some things that he had told us we could never do. Sometimes the vacation itself was less memorable than all the work and things that happened just to make it happen.
So, what’s my point? Dad, take your kids with you. Take them to work. Take them to ball games. Do the hard work to plan and take a car vacation or two. Even just a weekend away, just you and the kid(s). Do the planning, the reserving, the mapping, etc. All of those times you do those things together will build a book of memories for both you and your children. I know you’re busy. But don’t miss the special times you can have together with your children. And, like Clark Griswold, you will likely find that there’s as much joy (or memories) in the journey as there is in the destination.
Here’s a warning, though. You may do all the work, thinking it’s going to be so appreciated by the child that they’ll say you’re the greatest dad alive only to have them complain, tell you it’s the worst time they’ve ever had and they never want to do it again. They may not. But if they do, don’t let that detract you from doing it. There are a lot of things I did that I thought my kids/family would LOVE. They were at best ambivalent toward if not resentful of it after we did it. I was a bit discouraged. Yet, later on during family gatherings they would share things about some of those times and I realize that it wasn’t about the event itself. It was about making memories together. Moments in time that would last in their minds for the rest of their lives. You can’t plan those kind of things. They just happen because you plan to do SOMETHING. Don’t let this summer go by without planning an outing with each of your children, no matter how old or young they are. You are building lifelong memories together.
Which Yo-Yo Trick Will You Try?
Well, maybe there was something in one of those three Yo-Yo tricks that you can do as a dad. Don’t go out rushing to do them all. The key is to start thinking about how to start today to build into your children’s heart, mind and soul. One day you’ll be in the position I’m in, reading your daughter’s tweets about the myriad of emotions she is having about her last few days in college, helping your other daughter work through job and career opportunities and connecting with your son as he grows in his relatively new marriage while going to graduate school. It happens faster than you can imagine. Remember to “walk the dog”, “rock the cradle” and take them “around the wold” while you still can. Be a Yo-Yo Pa.