Being in the same room as my daughters isn’t the same as being fully engaged with them
I will only get one shot at being a great Dad to my two daughters. Every day that passes is lost to the past, never to be lived again. There’s little point living with regret over what we could have or should have done the day before, but we must use it as motivation to make the most of each and every day as it happens.
From the moment my first daughter arrived on a snowy afternoon in January 2009, I was determined to be a hands-on Dad. What’s the point, I thought, in having this baby if I’m going to spend my life working excessive hours meaning I hardly ever see her? I now have two girls and I’m more convinced than ever that providing for my children is about so much more than merely working hard to pay the household bills.
My daughters need to be fathered. They need me to be there. They need to know that they have my attention and that I’m always ready to listen to them and play with them. They need to see me involved with the nitty gritty of everyday life, not just showing up at the last minute to kiss them goodnight. They need me to be present: reading them stories, and entering in to their imaginary worlds; helping them get dressed in the morning, and getting them bathed and ready for bed at night.
Being present is also, I’ve learned, about more than simply being there. My girls need me to be more than just present—they need my presence. They need me to be engaged with them, not just in the same room as them. With the whole world accessible via my iPhone, it’s so tempting to disengage and get lost in Twitter or Facebook rather than get on my knees and help with a jigsaw or reading them a book. I’ve made the wrong choice here more times than I care to remember. At different stages in their lives both Eloise (now five) and Imogen (nearly two) have made their displeasure very clear when then they’ve seen me spending time with my iPhone rather than being in the moment with them. They deserve better.
Honestly, slumping on the couch and playing with my iPhone comes much easier to me than getting off my backside and getting involved with my kids sometimes. I convince myself that it’s OK because I’m there in the same room, watching over them while they play—but I know I’m fooling myself. Eloise will sometimes ask me to come and play with her and I’ll flat out lie. ‘I’m busy,’ I’ll say. ‘You can do that by yourself.’
I’m not even sure why I do this. Laziness. Apathy. Feeling inadequate. All these and more no doubt. It’s not just this though. When I function as a disengaged Dad like this, I’ve noticed I also have a shorter temper. I’ll be reading an article or checking Twitter—both of which could easily be done later, or not at all—and I’ll get excessively frustrated when my girls disturb me and require me to get involved or resolve some toy-sharing crisis. So when the iPhone takes priority over my girls, not only am I not fully in the moment with them, I’m also less patient and more prone to yell at them unfairly.
It’s not that we can give our children our full attention all the time. That’s simply not possible or even healthy. But I’m sure I’m not alone in knowing there are too many times when I’ve made the wrong choice. There are far to many occasions when I should have embraced the moment, entered their world, and given them my best. Instead I’ve held back and devoted my attention to an electronic device rather than the two small, beautiful human beings who have been entrusted to my care.
But, like I said at the start, what’s done is done. Living with regret about the past won’t change anything. I can though choose to be a better Dad today—and tomorrow and the day after that. And I know I want to be a Dad who gives my daughters quality time. I want to be present, but more than that I want to be engaged. I won’t always get it right, but I do want to progressively keeping getting it right more often than I get it wrong.