As a football coach and now a TV commentator, I work long hours and travel a lot. Doing my job and providing for my family can limit the time I'm able to spend with my wife and children.
I've found, though, that the key to getting the most out of our time when we are together is my willingness to do what my kids want to do — even when they're not necessarily the things I'd prefer to do.
I'm not talking about big, expensive productions like trips to Disney World or vacations in Hawaii. I'm talking about normal, everyday activities like walks in the park, playing on a swing set or throwing a football around in the backyard.
Speaking of football . . . as you can imagine, after a very long and exhausting day of coaching, tossing the pigskin around with my boys for another hour after work wasn't usually my idea of fun. (It's like being an insurance adjuster and finding that your child wants you to work on actuarial tables with him at night.) But it was often what they wanted to do, and my willingness to do it let them know they were important to me; if I could do that at work, I should certainly be able to do it for them!
I saw the truth of this with one of my daughters, too, when I heard a friend of hers ask about me. My child didn't say anything about my job or going to NFL games or getting to meet famous athletes that I work with. Instead she said, "He plays Marco Polo in the pool with me." That told me I was doing something right.
Many times when I was coaching, I'd take the boys to the office with me on a Saturday morning. They might play on the practice fields or use my office equipment to play their video games. I knew they liked being with me — but they also liked stopping for doughnuts on the way home. To tell the truth, I think sometimes they saw the trip to the office as just part of the process of getting to the doughnut shop! But we have lots of great memories of time spent together in both places.
My wife, Lauren, has been a great help in this area. I recall her saying many times when I returned from a long road trip and she was hungry for time with me herself, "Let's do something the kids will enjoy." So instead of the two of us going to a quiet restaurant, we would head to the park or on a family bike ride — or maybe just to our backyard pool for another game of Marco Polo.
In the evenings during the school year, time is at a premium. There are so many things that have to get done, like homework and chores and bedtime preparations. In the little "together time" we have, I've learned to emphasize the kids' interests. So with one or more children, I may find myself playing a computer game, watching "VeggieTales" or listening to one of their favorite CDs.
I mentioned earlier that I don't always feel like doing what my kids want to do. I may be tired, uninspired and just want a little "down time" for myself. But it may encourage you to know that when I'm feeling that way, and I go ahead and push myself to do the thing they're eager to do, those often become some of our best times together. Once I get going on that bike ride or game of catch or computer contest, it's as if I catch a second wind and start to feel rejuvenated. I don't know how psychologists would describe this phenomenon, but I've seen it happen time after time. I take it as God's affirmation that I'm doing a good thing.
I'm busy, and I have a job that requires a lot. But what dad doesn't, especially these days when employees are being asked by their companies to be more productive than ever? That's what I see in Proverbs 24:27, where it tells us to "finish your outdoor work and get your fields ready." Our work is important, and we have an obligation to our employers.
The rest of that verse goes on to say, however, "after that, build your house." To me that's a reminder not to neglect the rest of my calling as a man. We build our houses by taking care of the needs of those within — our wives and children. A big part of that is doing the things they want to do in the time we have together day by day.
So here's my suggestion to you: Even though you don't have as much time with your children as you spend on the job, work as hard at your parenting as you do in the office or factory. Give your kids as much effort as you give your employer.
And realize that some days — maybe a lot of days — just as you need to work through some tough challenges on the job, you may need to do some things with your kids in the evening that wouldn't be your first choice. But they're the things your children want to do with you, and going along with their plans is the best way you can say, "I love you, and you're so very important to me."
That's our job as dads, and it's also our privilege.