Why is it that most mornings I’m half distracted when my girls are talking to me on the way to school?
From Katie’s stories which are always far too detailed to hold my attention, to Neela’s ridiculous little ramblings about butterflies, it’s hard to focus.
My older two talk on a different level about relationships and their subsequent pressures and joys, and I can’t help having this alarming thought that they probably realize more things about me than I would like them to, but am I really paying attention to them?
It’s funny that there was a time in my life I didn’t feel like I saw my daughters that much during the week. I would leave the house for work before anyone was awake and would return after dinner and a half hour before bedtime. I always told myself that if I could change my schedule and be around more, I would squeeze every moment of enjoyment out of it.
Now I’m in a different career with a somewhat flexible schedule during weekday mornings (albeit I work a lot of evenings and every weekend), but the time I spend walking my daughters to school is largely consumed mentally with plans for work when they’re gone. Am I truly engaged or am I just appearing to be?
For men particularly the pull towards projects and the sense of fulfilment upon their completion is often an easier mission to embark upon than family life. Things on the job are much simpler and the short term benefits easier to see. Respect is earned after a few years, almost assumed thereafter, and the more experience you have the less problems you face.
Family life is weird that way. The older your kids get the less you seem to know what’s going on and how to handle it. And don’t get me started on marriage! In my younger days I imagined marriage was like hanging out with a buddy from school: “Hey, want to watch football?” “Sure!”
What happens when you still want to watch football but she wants to watch something terrible where people on the television are crying and talking about their feelings and everything ends on an emotional cliffhanger every episode? I want to feel happy! Give me an action movie where the bad guys stay the bad guys and get what’s coming to them and no one is that “complicated”.
But family is complicated.
Every minute I spend with my daughters is a long term investment that I need to make a short term sacrifice for. It should consume my best energy and focus. My “win” should be to coax a smile from Ailish and listen to Arwen’s common sense view of the antics of her classmates, complete with wry humour. I should rally my energy and excitement around it rather than let the tyranny of the urgent and it’s addictive adrenaline rush spin me. No one on their death bed ever wished they could have spent more time working or making money. These things are only tools to build what really matters.
One day it felt like I woke up to the realization that I was always going to be behind in my work life and were those the life long relationships I really wanted anyways?
I think back to my past career and how many work friends I had and the years I spent cultivating those relationships only to realize that I’m not friends with any of them anymore. My people are my family and my church community.
I’m a pastor and that makes things weird because there are times when I have to choose which people I’m going to help first. My parents were pastors and if you’re unfamiliar with the type of cloudy pressures with a chance of nightmares a pastor endures you should buy one coffee sometime and ask them to tell you some weird stories about what people are really thinking and doing… It would probable cheer you up and make your office politics more bearable.
“Pastor Corey! Everything was fine with my son and then he turned evil at the age of sixteen!” Um… the rest of us are pretty sure there were signs a long time ago, but those are stories for others days…
So I always said that I didn’t want my wife and kids to feel like I spent my best time with everyone else’s family than I did with them. I get this right most of the time even if it means not dropping everything every time someone has a mini crisis they’ve secretly been working on for a decade.
What I’m struggling with is how to pay attention in all of those small, unremarkable moments that make up a child’s life. The amount of effort it takes morning to morning is not all that great, but it takes discipline.
There will always be problems involving real people and pain and I’ll do my best to help, but I want to be a man in a crisis that says “Excuse me, but my daughter is calling and I always take her calls:)”