The Choices Fathers Make
by Jim Mitchell
“Daddy, you wanna hear me count to 10 million?”
Not a question I expected or necessarily even wanted to hear from my 5-year-old.
“Um… well… no, not really,” I was tempted to say (lovingly, of course).
Maybe you’re a mom and for you … a question like this is precious! But I’m a dad and after a long workday, it’s most definitely not precious. “Let’s see, what’s the best way to waste time tonight? Ooh, I know, let’s count to 10 million.”
I’m pretty sure my 5-year-old can’t even count to 10 million, much less do it fast enough to fit the jammed schedule I had planned for the evening:
Put on comfortable clothes? Yep.
Eat dinner? Uh-huh.
Watch playoff basketball game? Now you’re talking!
Count to 10 million? Negative. I could hear it already. “One, two, three, four, five, um… wait, I’m starting over.”
Oh sure, you’re probably more spiritual than me. Cast the first stone if you must. But most of you with young kids can relate. They’re growing fast and learning about things too big for them. So they look to you for help sorting it all out. You want to be a great parent, but time and energy run short.
As I thought about the choice I had to make that night, God began to remind me of a few important things about spiritual life and parenting:
I needed to view this from my child’s eyes, not just my own. I joke that in my flesh I’m not really interested in hearing my son count to 10 million. But truthfully, from his perspective, that’s a huge deal and an incredibly worthwhile investment of his time. And for me to spend my evening doing that is even bigger to him.
I agree with what Steve Farrar writes in his book, Point Man: “Quality time comes at the most unusual moments. You never know when it will happen. It usually makes an appearance someplace in the realm of quantity time.”
Remembering to look through my child’s eyes gets me out of “quality time” mode and into “quantity time” mode. Don’t ask me exactly how to measure “quantity time,” though I figure counting to ten million is a pretty good place to start.
I can’t use up all my energy at work … I need to save some for when I get home. I’m as guilty as the next guy of putting every ounce of energy I can into my workday. I’ve got plenty of good reasons to do it, too. There’s also the economy to think about. I mean, who wants to be the guy found not working hard these days?
Unfortunately, none of that makes any difference to my son. All he knows is that I don’t want to hear him count to 10 million. For me, preserving some physical energy for when I get home actually helps me set the right pace for myself at work—sort of a parenting twist on the “render unto Caesar” concept. Render unto work the things due at work, but don’t render everything you’ve got every single day.
I needed to see this as an opportunity, not an interruption. Spontaneous “teachable moments” are the very essence of parenting. But I’ve found that it’s up to me whether I view them as opportunities or as interruptions. A steward has opportunities. An owner has interruptions. The wise parent spends his days as a steward.
On this occasion, though, I think God just wanted me to feel like a parent and to make a choice. My choice whether to count to 10 million or not was really a choice between my son and me … between self-sacrifice and self. And that’s always the rub isn’t it?
To be fair, a tired mom or dad may actually need to choose rest over the kids. But for me it’s usually not that complicated, and I still pick me more often than not. But sometimes I make the better choice.
I have no idea who won the basketball game. But I’ll never forget the time I discovered that my 5-year-old son really does know how to count to 10 million.
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