My dad’s passing in May 2017 knocked a big hole in my life. Sadly, his last several years on this Earth were diminished by Parkinson’s disease, so he had not been the same energetic, physically engaged guy that he was when I was growing up, but his wry sense of humor never left him. In some ways, it took his absence for me to truly appreciate all the great times that we had together and the things he’d taught me simply by being himself.
For American parents in this modern era, it’s not unusual for us to have maybe 15 minutes to an hour of contact every day with our kids. For years, a lot of us have assumed we’re getting the job done if we have a brief conversation driving home after a practice or a check-in chat over a rushed dinner. For me, I too frequently put my service to the state at the top of my priorities, often shortchanging them on time together. In a word, as parents, we’ve often gone missing.
Over the past three months, as we’ve spent time at home to protect ourselves and others from this pandemic, it has been abundantly clear that more time with our kids is better.
I hesitate to say that this pandemic has given us any gifts, but the amount of time that I’ve gotten to spend with my boys since March has been a blessing. (I’m sure they’d say it’s a curse from time to time, but that’s relationships for you.) Time together has caused me to want to be a better father. Over the last few months, even as I’ve raced to Austin for press conferences or paced the neighborhood on my cellphone, I’ve tried to be present when I’m with my sons, to listen. What I have learned about them has blown me away. They are funnier, smarter and more compassionate than I ever imagined.
When they grow up, I hope that they, too, aspire to fatherhood, first because it’s been so rewarding for me and, second, because I know they’ll do it better than I ever have. Their character, empathetic natures and work ethic not only make them the kind of young men I am proud to call my sons, they are the kind of men who will make great husbands and fathers.
Because I’m not running for reelection, and I’m doing my best to live in a way that protects other people in the midst of this pandemic, I have more cherished time with my boys and I am excited to think of how the next years can be as they work their way through high school and spread their wings on their way into adulthood. I’ve never done anything perfectly in my life, so there’s no reason to expect that I’ll approach perfection as a father, but I’m certainly willing to put in the time.
So, today, on Father’s Day, I hope that Fathers out there will renew their commitment to simply being present with their kids. More time together means that not every word out of one’s mouth is a lecture or a correction. More time together increases the opportunities to discover more about them, like what music they enjoy, what they think about world events or what they aspire to be. More time together allows opportunities for listening, laughter and reflection.
Gifts are nice, but, until we run out of it, our time is the best gift we fathers can give.