Top Father’s Day Gift for 2018

June 8th, 2018 by | Print

It was 3am on a hot summer night and I just couldn’t sleep. I tried to relax my mind and slip into dreamland, but I just couldn’t get it together. Vivid memories were colliding with anxiety and I was flooded with emotion. We had a big day coming up and a long drive ahead of us and I just couldn’t find the rest I desperately needed. In the next few hours, after 18 years of “all-in” fathering, I would be releasing my son into the world and taking him off to college.

Looking back, the arrival of that little guy rocked my world in a profound way. There’s nothing like the birth of a child to give crystal clarity to your meaning and purpose in life. The first time I saw him I was bowled over by a tidal wave of protectiveness and responsibility I’d never known before. I remember taking him home from the hospital and feeling like the staff must have violated some sort of child endangerment law by letting us leave with him. I didn’t know what I was doing and there was no owner’s manual to consult. I was completely out of control.

As I tossed and turned on the eve of the big drop-off, those same feelings of protectiveness, responsibility and lack of control overwhelmed me again. But there was one big difference that was making the drop-off even more emotional than his birth – I now had 18 years of love and memories invested in our relationship. All of my fathering instincts to protect and support were shifting toward something brand new – letting go.

There are a few seminal moments in the life of a dad – times when you can’t help but pause, reflect and ask yourself the big question – what kind of dad am I? Most of the time we are too busy and distracted to even ask. But dropping your kid off at college makes you wonder if they are ready and how they will do….and how well you did in preparing them for life.

After staring at the ceiling some more, I finally snuck out of bed and headed downstairs for a change of scenery – to quiet my mind. Unexpectedly, I heard voices out on the front porch. I opened the door and found my two sons hanging out, reminiscing and saying their final goodbyes. I joined them and we spent another hour chatting and laughing (and crying). It was one of the best times the three of us ever shared together. It was what I needed to release the ball of emotion that was sitting in the middle of my chest. He was going to be fine. I was going to be fine.

While I was confident he was ready to take the next step in his journey to manhood, there were plenty of things I regretted. You see, those high school years, weren’t always the best between my son and I. We had to work through the normal push and pull of those “freedom” years. He pushed the boundaries and I reeled him back in. It left some damage and scars in our relationship. And I wondered whether those “battles” were all worth it. Was I too hard on him? Was I too lenient? Did I give him all he needed?

As we said our final goodbyes outside his dorm room, my son surprised me with the gift of a lifetime. He told me he had left a special something in my sock drawer at home – my Father’s Day gift. It was a few months late, but I already knew what it was. You see, every year when the kids ask me what I want for Father’s Day, I always say the same thing – “write me a card or letter”. I don’t need any more ties, golf balls or Starbucks gift cards, so I ask for a gift from their hearts. When they were little kids they’d simply write me an “I love you because” card. During the teenage years, they blew off the request and bought me a token present. I was pretty confident I was going to get a letter from my son!

The trip home from New York City was pretty tortuous. My 7-year old daughter sobbed for 3 hours straight with varying spurts of hysteria. My wife was somber and reflective (she cried the entire way to New York). My 15-year old son was pumped to get back home and take over his brother’s bigger room. After months of anxiety leading up to the drop off, I was finally at peace. I was confident he was in the right place. Also, I was excited to get home and read my letter. I remember having the same feeling as when I get my annual performance appraisal at work – overall I’m pretty confident, but heck, you never know. As a dad, receiving real and raw feedback from the kids is pretty rare. I was getting ready to get some.

When the car pulled into the driveway at around midnight, I raced upstairs to get my letter. When the rest of the family was sound asleep, I found a quiet place and read it. It was the gift of a lifetime. It was heartfelt, sentimental and affirming. He told me things I never knew….things I longed to hear. Overall, he let me know that he wouldn’t change a thing about his childhood and our relationship. Even through the challenging times, he said he never doubted my love and support. He specifically referenced his ManQuest experience and thanked me for my guiding hand in his life. It was great to hear that he was excited about college and felt well-equipped for life.

I turned off the light and sat in the darkness by myself. I couldn’t help but feel a sense of satisfaction and relief. Satisfaction in the knowledge that I had given him my absolute best. And relief that my best seemed like it was going to be enough. In today’s world, when it comes to raising kids, you never quite know if your best will be good enough. This business of fathering is full of dangers, pitfalls and potential disasters. There are no guarantees out there when it comes to raising kids. And it’s tough because you never really quite know how you’re doing until they are gone….unless you ask.

So, as this Father’s Day approaches, I encourage you to take a risk. No matter how old your child may be – toddler, teen, tween or adult – simply ask them for a handmade card or a letter for Father’s Day. You never know what you’re going to get. It could be amazing or it might be a little rough. Who knows, it may even change your approach to fathering. Regardless, there’s a pretty good bet you will hear something that will touch your heart in a special way, which is the greatest gift any dad can receive.

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