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The Importance Of Being Around: A Life Lesson On Being A Dad

“Be around.”

That’s the first rule on being a father. It’s the easiest to accomplish and the easiest to fail. Men want to be around. They have wives. They have children. They know they should be with them. So where in the hell are they?

It turns out men are everywhere we don’t want to be. We are at work, working. Or we are in our cars at 6:30 a.m. rushing pell-mell from the house to work, because we want to avoid the traffic jams and we want to get there early to read The Wall Street Journal, which every man knows is work. Or we are in our cars at 6:30 p.m. stuck in traffic while our wife reminds us tonight is soccer night and she’s cooking dinner early and are we just swine or is it a birth defect that keeps us from eating with our family?

Or we are on the golf course. Already I can hear the jeers and catcalls from abandoned wives who cannot make the connection between golf and work, work and golf. Let me clear this up right now: Golf is work. Looking for a stupid little white orb buried in a marshy swamp in 95-degree heat while some guy you want to sell a $150,000 project to laughs at your pathetic game hole after hole, only to tell you at the end that he gave the project to his brother-inlaw who doesn’t have time to play golf…it’s the definition of humiliating, hot, torturous work.

Or we are at the baseball game. With clients. That’s work. Or we are at dinner. With prospects. Working. Or we are still at the office, working on reports. Or we are in our home office, on the company Intranet, uploading reports to the European headquarters. Or we are on an airplane. Or we are exercising, because if there is one thing men have learned over the last 20 years, it’s that out-of-shape men cannot possibly do their best at work. Or we have passed out.

Meanwhile, we keep telling ourselves we’re great dads because we’re working 60 hours a week and providing for our families, because without us working 60 hours a week how would the family be affording all those Volvos and houses and soccer clubs and clothes and vacations? And we’re mystified why our wives don’t appreciate our hard work and we don’t understand why our kids have a closer relationship with the postman than they do us.

It’s estimated that a great many dads have no more than a 30-second interaction with their kids five days a week. Just enough time to say “Wipe your nose,” “Mind your mother,” “Do as I say,” “Eat your turnips,” “Say your prayers,” and “I’m off to work.” There, that’s a good, healthy 30 seconds of communicating. Meanwhile, our kids get four hours of TV.

Here’s a serious paradigm shift: four hours of Dad and 30 seconds of SpongeBob. That would require some serious shifting of priorities: shelving the golf clubs, eating breakfast with the family, leaving work early to maybe even make dinner for the family, taking your kids to the game instead of clients, spending nights with your wife instead of with expense reports. That would mean talking to your children about their day—their friends, their teachers, their accomplishments. That would mean making time to drive them around, hang out with them, do nothing with them but just be a dad. Showing them how to eat an Oreo, how to ride a bike with no hands, how to catch a pop fly.

What about work? Is this a pipe dream in an age of cutbacks and rollbacks and rising unemployment? Actually, no. Men’s souls need to spend time with their family. Men who make their families a priority find that they achieve even more. But more important, they’re laying the groundwork for emotionally healthy and stable children. Those are rarities these days. And that’s the most important work a man can accomplish.