I’m an old father now. Suddenly it seems.
My sons have sons. I own lots of memories. I polish the sweet ones and never dust the ones that hurt.
I mind time now. I didn’t used to. In fact, like lots of you, I was reckless with time. Not any longer.
When I was a boy of about 9 or so, I had the temporary misfortune of being the last to the dinner table … and that meant sitting just to the left of my father. That was like sitting next to the district attorney … or the pope. My brothers loved my dilemma … because that’s what brothers do. It’s in the Irish Manual of Life.
So … there I was … waiting for my moment of challenge. The knives were clanging plates and there were two or three different conversations happening around this table with the fat legs. Someone mentioned that my grandfather had a birthday in a few days … and that little-bitty mention sprung my father’s mind.
“So, young Denis” said my father, “ how long would you like to live? What is a good, long life?”
Right off the bat I’m thinking this is a trick question … because my father was never familiar with the obvious. So, there I sat … and my brothers had caught wind of my dinner-table distress … and they were loving every minute of it.
Meanwhile, my father was sipping his usual cocktail and pushing some food around his plate … which means he’s kinda waiting for an answer … to the trick question. And I don’t have much in the way of trick answers … because … I’m nine. Gimme a break.
After several long minutes he leaned over and asked,
I went full-out bravado … more for my brothers than for any other reason. I gotta live in this family after all, right?
Strong is the key. Trust me.
“Seventy. Seventy years old is a good, long life.”
I was so pleased with my answer, I smirked at every guy at the table … until I noticed that my father was completely unimpressed … still sitting there … at the head of the table … playing fork-hockey with his peas.
And me? I’m waitin’ for a sign … any sign! … that my skinny answer is sufficiently smart. I’m dreaming of the big back-slap … or even the dreaded hair-muss.
There was none.
In fact, it seemed I was completely off his radar for a long moment.
I shouldn’t have been surprised. My father didn’t do that sort of stuff. I must’ve had him confused with my best friend’s father … who was really normal.
After a few long minutes, he clasped his hands and leaned over toward me. And then the verdict.
“You’re a silly boy.”
Mind you … he said it softly. No mocking at all. Just a soft, blunt statement … designed to make me think all over again. To spin my brain-gears a bit more. And I did. Even my brothers were cranking their brains. I think that was part of my father’s strategy … to make the moment belong to everyone. To glue everyone into the lesson.
Then he leaned over once again … and in a loud whisper … so all could hear … he said …
“If you live to be seventy … you will have lived just 840 months. Does that seem long enough for you?”
And, of course, it didn’t then … and it doesn’t now. And I learned the lesson he intended me to learn … to be careful with numbers and to respect time. And to not waste time … or let others waste my time.
So, from this old father … to you young fathers and young mothers … mind the time.
Mind those sweet moments with your children and seldom say “Hurry up!”. Don’t wish for anything except this moment.
Leave tomorrow alone. Tend to today.
Don’t let anyone hurry your child.
Don’t let anyone sandpaper their softest years with grit or rigor … because there’s plenty of that stuff in the eight hundred months ahead.
Don’t let anyone run innocence out of your child’s life. It has its own cadence and rhythm … and it’s plenty fast enough.
Don’t let others spin those clock hands faster than they already spin.
Mind the numbers in your life as never before. Pay as much attention to the little moments as you do the big moments.
Remind yourself that a five-year old is sixty months on this planet. Less than 2,000 days old.
They’re still brand new people!
No one has the right to whisper anything about college or careers to a child determined to conquer the monkey bars. All adults should respect the Law of the Chair … if a child’s legs do not reach the floor … well … they are reality-exempt.
That eight year old … the one who sleeps in his Little League uniform? He’s a third grader. Not yet 100 months old. Let that sink in. Why is he rip-roaring mad at himself over some junk-test? That’s not the worry of an 8 year old. He should be anxious about base hits … not base line scores. His only career thought is what professional team to sign with … and that’s heavy enough.
That music-blasting “tween” is maybe 150 months old. At that age their job is to not walk into door jambs … and to try to put a lid on some hormone havoc.
They’re still closer to babyhood than adulthood.
Why do we let schools bum-rush them into anxiety-hell over tests? Mother Nature has already over-supplied them with all the anxiety they can barely handle. Why don’t we just lay off ‘em … and let ‘em outgrow this messy moment? It’s bad enough as it is … leave it be.
I’m glad my father cured me from becoming number-numb.
My hot-seat moment has served me well for … for lots of months. Maybe this will shake up your consciousness … and slow you down some. And maybe … maybe you won’t say “Hurry up!” quite so often. And perhaps you’ll remind that school to slow down … that there are children on board … and they are entitled to every last drop of innocence.
Don’t let them tug your child into their warped world. If they think education is all about numbers, well, they’ve already forfeited their privilege to enjoy your child. They’re just as silly as I was … but I was only about a hundred months old. What’s their excuse?
This was written by father, grandfather, and education activist, Denis Ian.