Creating special in the lives of our kids is critical to fatherhood. To that end, I took my daughter on our first outing of 2017 this past Saturday. I try to follow the rules that Jim Sheils uses about Family Board Meetings (link here). Every 90 days, do a fun one-on-one activity with each child with the following rules: (1) your child picks the activity, (2) at least four hours, (3) no electronics, and (4) have some time to talk at the end. I committed to doing these with my kids in 2017, and my daughter won the drawing to go first.
She wanted to go to an entertainment center named Champs where we could skate, play laser tag, miniature golf, etc. She had softball practice that morning, so I dropped her off and went to the office to get some work done. I went back and watched the last half-hour of her practice, then we headed out. Since Champs didn’t open for another hour, we went to the mall to look around. As we walked down the corridor, we spotted these massage chairs out in the middle. We’d walked by these chairs dozens of times, but never sat down and paid to have a massage. She mentioned how it would be fun to get a massage in the chairs. She wasn’t asking to do it, she just kind of mentioned it in passing. I almost missed it. Having four kids, my natural response to the “extra” stuff that’s available for purchase is “NO”. Otherwise, I’d spend a small fortune everywhere we went. But this time, after walking about ten yards past the chairs, I thought “why not?” So I asked her if she wanted to do the massage chair, and the huge grin was all the answer I needed.
We went back, paid the $5.00 a piece and got a 15-minute massage, side by side. And it was the highlight of our day. We oooh’d and ahhhh’d and laughed the entire 15 minutes. She wanted me to hold her hand. So we held hands and got massages. And I’m not sure I’ll ever forget the look on her face while we did it – smiling, laughing, anticipating what was next, and looking at me the whole time. I’d have sat in those chairs all day with her. We went on to have a fantastic time at the entertainment center, then ate a late lunch at her favorite spot (Qdoba). But it never got any better than the smiles and laughs we shared getting chair massages in the middle of the mall.
Today’s message is not about the focused time with your kids. We’ll talk about that later. What I learned from this outing was about creating the special moments, the ones where that validate your fatherhood, the ones that are deep and fun and special. Those can’t be manufactured. They come when you break out of your routine and do something spontaneous with an attitude of fun. There’s nothing special necessarily about getting chair massages. Special comes as a result of fatherhood that is open to the unarticulated, barely articulated, or poorly articulated desires of your child. It comes from making sure that, every once in a while, you do the unusual, you break from policy, you change the routine, you make the impulsive decision; every once in a while, do the seemingly irresponsible and immature thing.
In Tim Ferriss’ book Tools of Titans, he recounts the response of cancer researcher, TED speaker, and human longevity/performance expert Peter Attia to the question “what is your best recent purchase of $100.00 or less”? Attia’s response was spending $20.00 for a rickshaw ride with his daughter. His initial response to the rickshaw driver’s approach sounded much like mine when initially passing the massage chairs in the mall – “no thanks”. But when he saw his daughter’s eyes light up when looking at the rickshaw, he knew he had to do it. And in his calculation, looking back at the time he had with his daughter on that rickshaw, it was the best money he could have spent. He had created special.
The ordinary days and ordinary ways are the fabric of our lives, and they create the stability that kids and families need. And it’s true that a large part of parenting isn’t giving your kids what they want, but rather what they need (see this post). We still aren’t going to get massages most of the times that we walk by those chairs. But it’s the times that you break from the routine that create special. I almost missed it with my daughter. I’m certain I’ve missed it a thousand times in the past. I’m committed to finding it more in the future.