Umberto Eco wrote, “I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren’t trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.”
I’ve been a father for 14 years—so here are 14 “little scraps of wisdom” from a daddy who specializes in odd moments.
1) Kiss their momma.
It helps your kids and you to feel secure. And it is fun.
2) Trust providence.
Recently one of our sons explained to me how he planned to text his way out of a situation on his team with his coach. I said, “Well, son, it rhymes with ‘No.’” If it is at all important, even 21st-century humans need to actually speak to a person. Divinely, in that very moment, the coach called me on a completely unrelated matter and I said, “Hold, please,” and handed the phone to my son who sometimes wonders how I do that.
3) They’re watching.
We were in an ice cream store and a delightful girl, with green hair like The Joker, was our server. I complimented her hair twelve ways from Sunday. The child I was with said, “I like how you do that.” I asked, “What’s that?” He said, “Be nice to everyone all the time.” I responded, “Do you think a person with bright green hair might have an unmet need for attention?” He smiled. I said it didn’t cost us anything extra, but it meant the world to her, and doesn’t it feel good to be kind?
4) Will it be fun?
This is a question you will often hear me ask when one of our great delights asks me if they/we can do something. Life is short—it ought to be fun. And if it isn’t at first blush, is there any way we can re-imagine it to make it fun? Crank REO Speedwagon’s “Roll With the Changes” while doing whatever it is. Do it in costume, hand-made, from a certain period in history. Game-ify, or if you have boys, add cartoon voices and fart noises. Add origami. Set a timer and add gratitude races into it while you do it. Cook something after. (Or just stop whatever you’re doing and kiss their mother. Always the most fun!)
5) One at a time, add sugar.
Coffee and cocoa dates are some of the best wind-them-up-and-hear-them-out opportunities. Or take them fishing. Driving, auctions, bowling, skipping stones, bike rides, nature hikes—whatever—one-on-one. A movie and some Junior Mints, but pick one you can whisper through every minute. A little sugar goes a long way toward unlocking what they forgot you needed them to tell you. (Take Momma, too, for that matter one-on-one, and then, you know, if there is a lull in conversation, put a smooch on her).
6) Obviously, go anyway.
Our kids are, well, never really in the mood to pile into the Fam-Van and roll on towards the next in a long line of courthouses on our Iowa, 99-county tour. But I know that love is patient and one day they will look back on these very times and be quietly pleased that I made them go. Because we live in a land of forgetfulness and it is important to learn how to make memories on purpose.
7) Recognize epochs.
Epochs are a big deal. Momentous moments. So when I woke up at three in the morning last year on our eldest son’s thirteenth birthday with a strong sense that I needed to get him together with the men in my life who impact me, I, of course, yanked him out of school for the day. These men imparted their hearts and deep wisdom to him. A ridiculously powerful rite of passage. We recorded them all, and I was so impressed by who he is and who they called him to be.
8) Make them laugh.
Once in awhile, I will look at our daughter Tess and say, “Tess, no!” And she will say, “But, Daddy, I didn’t ask you for anything.” And I will say, “I know. I am just practicing.” Her brothers will roll their eyes because they think I can’t say no to her. A “Dad Joke” is also an effecting laugh inducer.
9) Enter their world.
Earlier this year, I was in a play with Miss Tess. She’s been acting in local productions since age eight, but it had been thirty years since the last time I was on a stage. The experience was terrifying, but unforgettable because I got to do it with her and she with me.
10) Really listen.
I’ve watched my children leave the room with their eyes as I was just taxiing down the runway of “tremendous insight.” When I spot it, I say, “I did it again, didn’t I?” And they nod and I remind them they’re supposed to stop me sooner (because parenting is hard) and then I say, “Ok, so how is your heart?” And maybe, just then, they burst into tears because somebody finally noticed their hurt and I still get to feel like I’m likely the most insightful Daddy on the planet, though not because of what I shared but because of how I, gratefully, got them to share.
11) Ask questions.
The Shepherd’s Guidebook to Raising Wise and Healthy Children says “Without a vision, people cast off restraint.” (Proverbs 29:18) In an eyes-down time, where we as a culture literally slipped from ten hours a day to eleven in screen time (according to CNN last summer), we simply must train our little favorites to stop and look around. What are we missing that we can help them to better see? The ones who can actually focus for more than the mighty goldfish (8 seconds) in the hours and days ahead will be the ones who thrive.
12) Make traditions.
The kids know on Halloween they have the freedom to dress as whoever they want. But since they were itty-bitty, we’ve chosen family, Halloween themes from Wizard of Oz to Superheroes. We go caroling in our neighborhood every year. Each spring, we go to visit my folks’ grave. These traditions unite us as a family and mark the years as we look back and look forward.
13) Out yourself.
When I gave up complaining last year, I told everyone because we have blind spots and selective hearing and I knew I’d need the help. So we are standing at a basketball game where the ref was allowing the other team to get away with everything from shoving to shiving our players. I may have been narrating a little louder than I needed to. Tess loops her arm in mine and says, “Daddy, isn’t it great that not complaining also applies to youth sports?” She almost heard me practice my “No, Tess,” but since she was calling me out, I agreed and shut my mouth.
Our children know that the library gives you stuff for free except for when you return it late, in which case they charge you almost nothing a day until you find it so you can bring it back. I tell our local librarians routinely that they need bookmarks at the checkout that say, “Sorry, Library of Congress. Second is not that far down the line!” Readers are leaders. Read, I mean lead, by example. If they claim boredom, take them to the library and don’t let them back in the van until they have their little arms full of new worlds to explore. Read a book aloud as a family and watch the hours and imaginations expand.
These are my 14 scraps. I’m just a teenager at being a daddy. But I have to say, next to being God’s son and Christine’s husband, it’s without question the greatest thing I get to do every day.
So make sure for Father’s Day, you put a smooch on the old dads, too!
Michael Meggison is contributor Christine’s favorite husband and the daddy of their three delights. If he isn’t selling commercial real estate for the York Companies, he is brainstorming, fishing, drinking coffee with friends, or hunting for hidden treasure. He is probably more Donkey than Shrek. Read more about his adventures and faith journey at Michaelmeggison.com.