Hello, and welcome to Parent Like You Mean It – the podcast where we talk about parenting with intentionality, rather than simply letting life happen to you and your kids day after day. I’m Jefferson Drexler, and just like you, I have some days when I feel like my first aid kit isn’t sufficient and it should contain head-to-toe bubble wrap, but then there are so many other days when I’m incredibly proud that my little guys rubbed dirt on their scratch and said, “I’m all good!”
You see, the bottom line is: I wish that I could be there for my kids at every step of their journey. I wish that I could scoop them up and bandage their wounds when they fall, pat them on the back, hug them and tell them how proud I am of them each time they succeed, walk with them and teach them everything I know about this world (which really wouldn’t take too long).
But the reality is that I have responsibilities. I’ve got a job that I have to go to, a lawn that needs to be mowed regularly, meetings to attend and other obligations, not to mention that any time I devote entirely to son 1, I’m not devoting to sons two through four.
The other reality is that there are so many things in this life that are better learned when the boys learn it on their own. They’ve got to learn that it’s okay to cry when you’re injured, but not okay to throw a fit when you’re hurt. And there is a significant difference.
I was recently reminded of all this last Sunday when we gathered around the TV like most of America to watch the Patriots intercept their way to their fourth Super Bowl victory. No, it wasn’t the Legion of Boom suffering through injuries to play on the big stage, nor Katy Perry overcoming a less than cooperative dancing shark that struck me, but a car commercial, of all things.
First off, let me offer a peek into my personal past. For a couple years, while in college, I was a camp counselor at a summer camp for underprivileged kids – many are foster kids or came from some sort of rough background. A lot of them came from single-parent families. One year, I was in charge of music time at the nightly campfire. I loved singing loud, rowdy camp songs and hearing the campers’ snorts of laughter as they tried to sing. I also loved calming things down with Rainbow Connection or some other slow, contemplative campfire songs to wind the day down.
What I found surprising was this: So many – I’m talking dozens upon dozens of kids would request Harry Chapin’s Cats in the Cradle.
Maybe it was the catchy chorus, or maybe it was the lyrical longing for relationships. I didn’t get it, but I obliged. And the song has had deep meaning for me ever since.
You see, for a few years, my dad worked one full-time and two part-time jobs just so we could make ends meet. When I was about seven, he realized how important it was to him to be around for my ballgames and to tuck my brother and me into bed, so he made new choices and figured out ways to be home more.
And dad passed this priority down to me.
We both want to avoid being the dad Harry Chapin described who was always to busy to spend time with his son.
So, flash-forward to Super Bowl 2015, I was watching the big game with my dad to my right and my oldest son to my left. My other sons were running around waiting to hear if their numbers came up on the chart each time a team scored. We were all hooting, hollering, yelling and laughing, second-guessing the coaches and eating too much pizza, when all of a sudden, I heard the unmistakable opening lyrics Harry Chapin’s classic.
The room paused as we all watched Nissan’s latest ad, depicting a race car driver’s wife giving birth and the new dad whispering, “I’m a dad!” The next several seconds traced the lives of this family with Dad on the road racing while his son learned to walk and mom took care of things at home. When he could, the dad squeezed in bedtime stories with his son, and a vacation or two, but the reality was that his son was growing up and the dad’s career kept him away from home. Mom was there to clean up the messes and bring down the hammer when the now adolescent son needed it, but dad was busy. All the while, the dad longed to be with his family – a faded picture taped to his dashboard reminding him of why he worked so hard. After a minute and ten seconds of peeking into this fictitious family’s life, dad’s hard work finally paid off and he got the checkered flag, as we heard the lyrics “you know I’m gonna be like him” and saw the son, once again, proudly yet long-fully watching his dad on television. The commercial ended with the teenager exiting his school to see his dad parked at the curb. Dad’s eyes are full of regret and love as his son sits down in the passenger seat and the two exchange a long-overdue hug. They smile. Chords fade out. Nissan’s logo filled the screen.
And I screamed at the TV!
Are you kidding me?! Prioritize your career over your family for over a decade, miss out on every pivotal moment of your son’s life, and it’s okay so long as you win, make it home before he graduates high school, and oh, drive a Maxima… then life will be okay.
Now, to be absolutely transparent, my son’s reaction was much more positive than mine. In the interest of the equal time rule, he thought that the ad showed a dad who loved his family, wished he could be with them, but couldn’t and eventually hung it all up to spend time with his boy. He said he liked the commercial.
But, when I asked if he wanted that boy’s life and that type of father-son relationship, he quickly said, “No way!”
You see, Nissan’s ad made me realize how lucky I am to have a dad who, despite being exhausted after working a full-time job, a part-time job, volunteering at church and coaching our teams, still took time to spend with my brother and me. But he didn’t just spend time with us, he invested time in us (and still does today).
This is a lesson in priorities that I try to live out today and strive to teach my boys as well. Someday they (God willing) will be dads themselves. What will be their priorities when it comes to work, family, church, social and other obligations?
Now, I know – just like our decision to homeschool our kids – that these choices aren’t what’s best for everyone. They’re what’s best for us, and for most every other healthy family I’ve known; but I understand that there are exceptions to my rule. I get that there are some careers where families are separated for a season. I get that there are families where parents have to spend more time away from home than they’d like, simply in order to keep the lights on and mouths fed.
My first question to some of these dads is this: how much are you willing to lower your standard of living in order to spend more time at home?
My wife and I took Dave Ramsey’s Financial Freedom class last year and it opened our eyes to a paradigm in regards to pruning down our lifestyles with the governing priority of getting rid of financial debt and eventually being financially liberated to, as Dave puts it “Live like no one else”.
It’s a simple pill to swallow for most people when we think about it in regards to credit card debt and financial investments; but does the door swing both ways in regards to investing in the life lessons of values and character of your children?
You see, Nissan’s commercial, in my mind, reinforced the importance of intentionally making the time to spend with my kids, so that they know me and not my reflections. In other words, they know me by their interactions with me, the time we spend together, the lessons I teach them, the discussions we have, and the laughs we share – not by what they saw reflected in my work, in our home, from what they hear about me from others.
Nissan titled their commercial “With Dad”. When I watched it, all I could think of was, “Thanks, Dad”. Thanks for parenting like you mean it.
For the e squared media network, I’m Jefferson Drexler.