Being a father and a Type A personality myself, I look back on my parenting experiences and recall instances where I could have done a better job. I wish I could relive some of those busy days at a slower pace. Unfortunately, none of us is allowed do-overs or mulligans. When our record is finally in the books, not a word or a deed can be altered.
Would it be self-serving to tell you that I also did some things right during my early days as a father, and that the memories of some very special times with my kids rank at the top of my list of accomplishments today? Among my favorites are recollections of my daughter, Danae, when she was five years old. We used to take bike trips together to a nearby park on Saturday mornings. We would play in a sandbox with shovels and buckets. I taught her to build sand castles, explained what a moat and a drawbridge were, and talked about anything else that seemed to interest her. Then we would go to a nearby taco stand and have lunch before riding home. On the way back, we listened every week to a favorite recording of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella on a small Craig recorder, and we sang the songs together. Danae loved those outings, and she can tell you in detail about them today. And guess what? I loved them too.
Our son, Ryan, and I had our fun adventures together too. When he was three years old, I would hide his stuffed bears, lions, deer, and giraffes around the house. Then when it was dark, we'd take my flashlights and his toy guns, and we would creep around on a big game hunt. When he was twelve, we began hunting and fishing together for real. I will never forget those days in the great out-of-doors with my only son. We still hunt together today.
From where I sit today, I can say that nothing, and I mean nothing, from that era turned out to be more significant than the hours I spent with my little family. The relationships we enjoy today were nurtured during those years when it would have been very easy for me to chase every professional prize and ignore what mattered most at home.
What I am trying to convey is addressed specifically to dads who are still raising kids and want to respond to the desires of their little hearts. My advice is also relevant to fathers whose daughters are grown. The woman who used to be "Dad's little princess" may still long for what she didn't receive when she was young. Even though these fathers can no longer play in the sandbox with their five-year-olds, it is never too late for them to say, "You are precious to me."
I asked our radio listeners to call our organization some years ago and record a message for their dads. More than six hundred people participated. I listened to quite a few of the recordings, and we aired some of them on Father's Day. Not one of these messages focused on what the father did professionally. None of the callers said, "Thanks, Dad, for earning a lot of money" or "Thanks for the big house you provided for us" or "Thanks for the Cadillac [or Mercedes or BMW]." No one mentioned living in an upscale neighborhood. Instead, caller after caller said, "Thanks, Dad, for loving me and for being there for me." Some said with strong emotion, "Thank you for letting me interrupt you, even when you were busy." Nearly all of the calls coming from women mentioned the presence of tenderness in the relationship.
We kept a transcript of those recordings, and there is one that I wish everyone could hear. These are the actual words of a caller. She said quietly:Hi, this is Kathy from Georgia, with a letter for my daddy. I don't know where things went wrong, when the pain, prescriptions, and alcohol began. I was just a kid. You tried to never let me down, Daddy, but many times you did. Daddy, in 1978, always and still, I was thinking of you as Father's Day approached. I searched for just the right card for you, my darling daddy, and mailed it late. But Daddy, all day long your phone was busy. You died alone on the floor, beside your upturned phone, on Father's Day. When I got to Portland, my card was still in your mailbox. You never knew, Daddy. I was too late. God, help me always remember that late is better than never, but it's not good enough. Daddy, you died without experiencing my care and my love on Father's Day.
Kathy's words still echo in my mind today: "Daddy . . . ," she said, "always and still, I was thinking of you." Even though decades have passed since the painful experiences of her childhood, this woman continues to grieve for her renegade father. The recording reveals no anger or resentment in her voice—just lingering sorrow because her "darling daddy" was never there for her. I can't tell you how many grown women have told me similar stories about their fathers who disappointed them again and again.