My 3 Biggest Dad Regrets

It was 30 years ago last week I heard two words that changed my life forever. I celebrated the occasion with my son, Christopher, at Orioles Fanfest in Baltimore.

He and I are both huge baseball fans and this annual event was conveniently held on his 30th birthday. Can you see where this is going?

Yep…those two words weren’t “I do”. As life changing as they were nothing has had the impact on my life as dramatically as the two words I heard the day Christopher was born.

Anniversaries lead me to reflection. So, last week I spent some time pondering how I did as a dad. After Christopher was born, Ava and I had five more children. Only our youngest, Emma, is still at home. The others have scattered around the world.

They live in Maryland, Virginia, California, and Australia. Our active parenting days are  coming to an end. We’ll always be parents, but there’s a significant change in the dynamic as your kids become adults.

And, so last week, prompted by this big round-number anniversary, I was thinking about my parenting regrets and successes. Let’s start with my three biggest regrets:

Family Time Fail – I tried over and over and over again to put in place a weekly Family Night. Some might call it Family Devotions…a time to teach your children about faith and how to live it out. My desire included that, but was broader. I wanted to create a weekly night where we could have fun, learn, and grow together as a family.

It was a great goal, but I failed miserably because it wasn’t an easy thing to do. We had our first five children in the span of seven years. At times it felt like a struggle to keep my head above water. So, in the early years I kept putting off starting something. That’s when I could have more easily established the habit. But, I kept waiting. And, then when I did get going, it felt more like crowd control than a fun family event…so I’d give up. And, then start again. And give up. And, start again…

Oh, I wish my adult children could reminisce about how much they enjoyed and even looked forward to Family Night. But, no. Their memories of Family Night are sparse and probably not very fun.

Dinner Time Fail – Close on the heels of Family Night is Dinner Time. This is a great opportunity to bond together as a family…sitting around the table over a fine meal discussing the events of the day.

But, it takes time to lead young children to make this happen. Sadly, when it got difficult, I gave up way too easily and dinner time often dissolved into everyone being forced to sit quietly because I felt it was getting out of control. If only I had more patience to gently and consistently transform this into a sweet daily oasis. But, I didn’t.

Desire to Escape – The best definition of the difference between introverts and extroverts is this: Introverts need alone time to recharge. Extroverts need to be around people to recharge. I’m a full-on introvert.

Therefore, I spent a lot of my emotional energy during those active parenting years looking for ways to “escape” so I could recharge. To be clear, I needed that time. I just wish looking back I had been more intentional to put this on my schedule so I could have been more fully present when I was with my family. I regret that.

The problem with regrets is they can’t be changed. I don’t get a redo on these three things. They are forever baked into the fabric of my history and the life of my children.

I also think I did some things right as a dad. And, I spent some time thinking about that last week as well. Here are what I consider my three biggest successes.

Family Vacations – We made annual vacations a priority. There were a few years in the early chaos when we did not go away, but not many. Most of our vacations involved a beach. Ava and I love summer and we love the beach so that’s where we went.

Even with a tight budget, we found a way to make this happen. Before long we started inviting other families and the friends of our kids. There were a bunch of years where we had several dozen people under one (BIG) roof at the Outer Banks for two weeks.

I know our children have many warm memories of these vacations. I do too.

One on One Time – One of the by-products of those Family Time fails was my recognition that I do better with my kids one on one. So, I created opportunities for this. There were ice cream nights with a different child each week and lots of one-on-one commutes to sports practices and games.

And, for many years I took each one on an annual overnight trip to a place of their choice. One of the advantages to living in Maryland is how close we are to a lot of fun opportunities. My kids picked Manhattan, Washington DC, Cooperstown NY, Williamsburg, Cape May NJ, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia to name some of our destinations.

It was great fun and I think my children would agree.

I Loved Their Mom Well – By far, this is what I consider my greatest success. Even before Christopher was born, I decided Ava would always be a high priority. I also wanted my children to see that lived out in front of them.

Ava and I went on weekly dates. This started two weeks after Christopher was born and continues even now. We also went away (without the kids) for a long weekend at least once a year.

I was never shy about how much I adore their mom. It may even have embarrassed them because of how often I gushed about her. There were also times when they saw me get mad at her. When that happened, I made it a point to apologize to her in front of them.

I wanted to make sure there was never any doubt in my kids minds and hearts about how much their dad loved their mom.

And, just like my regrets, these three things are also baked into the fabric of my history as a dad and will forever be a part of who my children are.

None of these six are simply one big event. They are each the accumulation of lots and lots of little events which are the result of lots and lots of little decisions.

Every decision has two impacts. There’s the impact that happens today and there’s also the impact that happens later. Every time I decided not to do Family Night because it made my life easier in the moment also had a future consequence. I wish I had more fully understood that. But, the same can also be said of intentionally loving Ava well in front of our children. It had an immediate impact and a long term benefit that will be felt for years to come.

I’m reminded of how that same dynamic is still at play. Every decision has two impacts. The biggest difference is now I’m more aware of that. I recognize this 20k One Year Step Challenge helps me today. It’s also going to make a big difference for the future me.

I don’t want my older self having the same fitness regrets that my current self has about being dad regrets. I can’t do anything about the past, but I can still impact the future.

Last week I wrapped up Week 21 of this 20k One Year Step Challenge. I reached my target of at least 20,000 steps every day. You can check out my daily updates HERE. I also mentioned last week was the 30th anniversary of those two words that changed my life forever.

Not too many minutes after the calendar rolled over to January 26, 1989, my very pregnant wife gently woke me. And, in a tone much softer than the drama that was about to unfold, she looked me in the eyes and said…

“It’s time…”

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