The time with my kids is never enough. The trip is so grueling that the first day is often spent trying to recover and adjust to being together, and the last couple of days are often full of pleadings to stay longer and have more time with Daddy. It’s emotionally exhausting to hear your children tell you time and time again that they would rather live with you because you spend more quality time with them and give them more affection and attention than they get at “home.” It’s difficult to want nothing more than to keep them with me but to be powerless to change anything.
In between the difficult beginning and ending, we usually have several days full of laughter and hugs and intimacy. My sons love me, and I love them, and the moments we share are truly special. On this trip, there are many of those moments that I hope to hold onto and cherish until I see them again. The following are some of the highlights, in no particular order:
On New Year’s Eve, my youngest nieces spent the night with us, and we got a kit for making cookies on a stick. The kids mixed the dough and pressed out the cookies on the baking sheet. All four kids laughed and giggled as they worked the dough and sifted the flour, and once the first batch was ready, they beamed with pride as they ran around the house devouring the cookies they had just decorated with icing and sprinkles.
Also on New Year’s Eve, I took Collin and Finn outside to help me plant trees along the far edge of our property. At first, Finn was upset that he couldn’t dig his own holes and plant his own twigs, but once he got to use the water jug to soak each one, he had a blast helping me. Collin stayed by my side the entire time, watching intently as I buried the roots with soil and ashes, created the water-holding ring around the perimeter, and placed mulch around the tiny trunks for insulation. We spent a couple of hours working together, and both boys asked me each day after if they could check on our trees.
One afternoon, Collin asked me to help him play Dynasty Warriors 5 with them to help him beat a difficult battle. When we won the game, he hugged my neck and gave me a high five in celebration. The look on his face, the pride and excitement at having won together as a team, almost made me cry.
Another afternoon, Finn asked me to play Super Mario Smash Bros. with him, and he beat me 3 out of 4 tries, and he really beat me. I didn’t just let him win. His excitement at having defeated me was fun to watch. He hopped around on the bed and smiled with each victory.
The most intimate moments were the times I got to sit one-on-one with each of them and just talk. They both would snuggle up against me, pressing their heads against my chest and telling me how much they loved me, and we would talk about whatever they wanted. Those moments happened at least once a day, and I cherish each one.
On the drive to Florida, Collin got upset about leaving me, telling me how much he was going to miss me and how badly he wanted to stay with me forever. As I tried to sooth him, he said, “You’re a great dad. You’re everything I want to be.” My heart completely melted. Hearing that from my oldest son was almost too much to handle, especially while driving. I know the day will come when he will see my flaws and shortcomings, and I my greatest hope is that each of my sons will be better men than I am, but hearing that Collin looks up to me so much right now validates for me that all of my efforts to remain active in their lives have at least given them a positive role model to look up to. All of the sacrifices to spend time with them have been worth it because no matter how little attention and affection they get at “home” they know in their hearts that when they are with me, they are important and special children. No matter what failings and shortcomings I do have as a person, so far, I have succeeded as a father, and that means more to me than any professional accomplishment.