I’ve been working hard lately on this idea of being present where I am at. It is so easy to get caught up in the next text message that comes through on the cell phone, “checking in” on Facebook when I’m out, or becoming focused on describing an experience in 140 characters or less so I can make it tweet-worthy. Don’t get me wrong – I love social networking and I believe it is a powerful force for good, but I’ve noticed that too often I miss what’s going on around me for the sake of trying to preserve it for other people to experience by reading about on Facebook or Twitter.
This weekend I had the honor and privilege to take both my daughters out on very special Daddy-Daughter dates. This past Monday Celeste, my 3 year old, and I attended our local Chick-fila for their annual Daddy-Daughter night. I had to make a reservation a couple of weeks ago, and when I “asked her on a date” last weekend she was so excited. I picked her up straight from work, and the two of us arrived at the restaurant (she in her fancy, red and black dress and me in my fancy work clothes). I gave my name to the hostess, who then escorted us to a reserved table and we ordered chicken nuggets, french fries, and chocolate milk from the server (well, I had tea instead of milk :)). We chatted and talked for about 15-20 solid minutes about her day, about my day, and about our plans for the rest of the evening. Then we found out there was a limo ride!
So when it was our turn, Celeste and I got into the stretch-SUV limo, rode in it to the local convention center (about 1/2 a mile), and they dropped us off. Once inside we did a craft project (making a ring), had our picture taken, then got back into the limo to return to the restaurant. The entire time I made a point to not check my cell phone because I wanted to just spend time with her (though I think I took about 4 pictures); at the end of the evening we went out to one of our favorite frozen-yogurt places for desert.
Tonight Chloe (five) and I got to go on our date – this time to the Daddy-Daughter Dance put on by American Heritage Girls (which she joined this past fall). She got all fancied up (Melissa did her hair and nails and I got her a corsage), I put on a suit, and we arrived at the location right at 6:30 when it started. As we walked in she said, “Daddy, what do we do at a Daddy-Daughter Dance?” Then, for the next two hours, she found out! We danced (if you could call it that) fast songs and slow songs (at one point she looked at me when we were “slow dancing” and asked, “Daddy, are we waltzing?”). Again, I tried to make a point of not looking at or using my cell phone while we were there (okay, I used it once, when she said, “I want to dance by myself and you sit her” to make a comment on Facebook about the music). One thing I noticed, though, was that I was so focused on her and having fun with her that the thought of picking up my phone – even to take pictures – rarely crossed my mind; I found myself more interested in making a memory than taking a picture of a memory I was missing. (granted, it helped that I knew there were photographers all around taking pictures for us, but every time I thought “I need to get a picture of this” I literally found myself saying, “I don’t have time, because it will only distract me from her”).
I love spending time with my girls – partly because they’re just fun to be with, and partly because I really believe it’s important for them and for me. Several weeks ago Chloe was playing Legos when I woke up from my nap (yes, I fell asleep and she was awake!), and so I went to see what she was doing. I sat down and just watched her and chatted with her (even though I “needed” to be doing some other things, like fold laundry and read homework), but when she said, “Daddy, will you play with me?” I immediately said, “Sure – I’d love to play with you.” So often – and I’m as guilty of this as the next person – we get distracted from what’s really important for what “needs” to be done. When Chloe asks me a question like, “Daddy, when I get sick does that mean God’s up in heaven saying, ‘Hey – Chloe needs to be sick – so bam! now she’s sick’?” or Celeste climbs in my lap to “tell me a secret” (which is generally something along the lines of “Daddy, I love you sooooooooooo much”, I have to believe that one of the reasons they feel comfortable doing so is because we’ve spent time together. Time together doing Legos and swinging at the park, and time together going out on Daddy-Daughter dates.
I get discouraged easily about families in my line of work (public schools) because I see so many kids without fathers, or from homes where they spend more time with a TV than they do with a person. But tonight, holding Chloe and dancing to Cinderella by Steven Curtis Chapman, I was encouraged to see a room full of Dads pouring into their daughters’ lives. I was on that “dance floor” with dozens of other guys, and I could see them moving their mouths to the words, I could hear them around me singing the lyrics to the song, as they did the same thing I did – danced with their Cinderella.
Why do I do it? Why do I take the time to take the girls out on dates? It used to be simply so that some day when some guy comes up to them and asks them out, they’ll know what a date should look like and how a guy should treat a girl. But I’ve come to realize it’s more than that – it’s about investing in them, spending time with them, and letting them know they are cherished and loved – that they are special.
And one way to do that is being present where they are when they are. It’s more than just taking them out one on one; it’s about focusing on them, turning off the cell phone, and just being present. I realize I don’t need to tweet about it, I don’t need to check-in on Facebook about it – at least not while it’s going on – because when I do that I’m ultimately not doing it for them, but I’m doing it for me as a way to say, “Look how good a Dad I am.” to all the people who follow me (many whom I barely know). I’m robbing from them to feed my own ego.
Yet we do it all the time – I do it all the time. I do it with my kids when we’re playing at the park and I’m checking email, I do it with my wife when she’s trying to talk and I’m texting at the same time, I do it at my job when I’m trying to read an email while talking on the phone and responding to a question via Google chat, I even do it to God when I’m praying and I start thinking about other things instead of focusing on Him. I need to just stop – stop and be present. And, at least on two occasions this week, I did.
I would encourage you to do the same. Just be where you are at when you are there – don’t worry about sharing the experience with everyone else in the world while it happens, focus on sharing it with the ones you’re with and share it with others later. And, yes, that includes putting down the camera phone and just making the memory – don’t try to record everything, simply experience it. That way when you think back on it and remember it you’ll remember the experience, rather than remember taking the picture of the experience you wish you had been involved in. Stop standing on the sidelines and get in the game. I’m not great at it – not even sure I’m any good at it most of the time – but I can tell you it’s the best place to be.