After spending the morning with my daughter on a Christmas tree farm exactly one year ago, I came home and wrote, “Dear Distracted Dad.” It has since become one of my most widely read and shared blog posts.
But here’s the thing …
I’m not sure I would even notice “Distracted Dad” if I were to see him at a Christmas tree farm today.
Because as I have grown in my journey to “let go” of distraction, my focus has shifted.
Now instead of noticing the people with their eyes and ears Superglued to their electronic devices, I tune into the “Hands Free“people around me, particularly the dads.
I am greatly inspired by the men I notice in public settings who are making the choice to be fully present in the company of their children and significant others.
Furthermore, I am profoundly moved when a man takes the time to express appreciation for the messages I write, like this sentiment from Chris following the emotionally-charged post, “Now Is The Time:”
“This is such a great post! If I weren’t at work, I’d be balling my eyes out right now. Yep, I’ll admit it; I’m a man and I cry. Real dads usually do. I’m sharing this post and subscribing to your blog right now.”
A few weeks ago, a father pulled me aside at a dinner party. He told me that the post, “A Well-Loved Child,” struck a chord with him.
He explained it like this, “After I read your post, I couldn’t wait to get home. As soon as I walked in, I asked my six-year-old to come cuddle with me. And when she ran right over, I was so relieved that she hadn’t gotten too old to be held by her Daddy.’”
Comments like these give me hope that the tide of distraction is starting to turn, that perhaps electronic distraction is no longer going to rob my generation and my children’s generation of human connection and meaningful memories. Yet, my heart keeps urging me to write messages that illustrate the gift of human connection and the damaging cost of distraction.
And last week, my urge to keep writing the distraction message was affirmed.
Yahoo published its top 40 articles read on their site in 2011. The #29 most popular article is entitled, “A father’s day wish: Dads wake the hell up!”
Author Jeff Pearlman boldly states, “Kids grow. Age 1 turns to age 3, which turns to age 7, which turns to 15 and 18 and 21, all in the blink of an eye. If you're there, as I am, it flies. If you're not there — if you're almost never there — it barely exists at all. Which is why I just can't stomach those millions of dads who view their days at home as recovery from work, who'd rather rest than engage, who have no problem with passing the tykes off for more alone time with mom and who, literally, moan to their wives, ‘You have no idea how hard I work.’”
Pearlman goes on to offer what he calls the “10 commandments of righteous fatherhood” which I dare say are some of the easiest, yet most powerful ways I have ever read to create memories and show your kids you love them.
I strongly suggest reading these commandments, printing them, or passing them along to someone who might be in need of a wake up call. If it is indication that 100,000 people have already shared it on Facebook, I am pretty sure there is something to this list.
Which goes back to my point that I shouldn’t stop writing the distraction message.
Something tells me there are people who haven’t yet heard about the beautiful connection that comes when you go Hands Free.
And something tells me that we just might need reminders about the cost of distraction every now and then. (Let me be the first to admit, I know I do. In fact, it is necessary to remind myself to choose what matters every single day because the lure of distraction in our world is so strong.)
Although I have the ability to write a powerful reminder that can bring a grown man to his knees, I believe the most profound reminder comes from the kids themselves.
I thank one of my readers for giving me permission to share her story, an undeniable distraction reminder to us all, provided by her 15-year-old son:
“I was out to dinner with my daughter and my oldest son who is now a freshman in high school.
A man came in with his two sons and was seated at the table next to us. The two boys were deeply engrossed in their hand held electronic games, and the dad was talking on his cell phone.
As we finished dinner and got up to leave, I noticed the father was still on his phone. I was trying to figure out the best way to make this a teaching moment for my kids.
Just as we got out the door my son said, “Did you see that? That dad never put down his phone, and he never said one word to his kids.”
Huh? This came out of the mouth of my almost 15-year-old boy! The typical teenager that does not notice when his clothes are all over the bathroom floor … the one who does not notice that he just ate the last of all the “good” snacks … the kid who does not always remember books, assignments and tests … but yet, he noticed this.
The teaching moment was now his. He taught me that everything his father and I do to encourage communicating as a family and being fully present during mealtimes and while in the car matters greatly to him.
And while we may not do things perfectly, we are trying. Moments like this make us realize we are doing some things right, which makes the daily effort to live Hands Free so worth it!
After I read this note from one of my readers, I could only imagine the newfound appreciation the son felt when he came home to his dad, the man who makes a conscious effort to engage with his family when he is in their company.
And then I thought about several other men who recently caught my eye, which caused me say a mental “thank you” to them …
Thank you to the dad at Veteran’s Park who happily ate pretend ice cream and twirled his daughter around until they were dizzy with laughter.
Thank you to the dad with the encouraging expression on his face who was jogging along side his son on 126th street.
Thank you to the dad who promptly put away his laptop when his daughter asked to play a game of cards on Southwest Flight 3005.
Thank you to the dad at Café Patachou who held and cooed at his baby while his wife enjoyed her breakfast and sipped her coffee.
Thank you to the dad at the local elementary school Holiday Village who re-arranged his work schedule so he could accompany his eight-year-old son as he bought small handmade gifts for his family.
Thank you to the dad who walked up to me at church last Sunday and said, “Instead of buying material gifts this year I want to give my kids the gift of time. Do you have any ideas of what we could do?”
Thank you to the beaming dad who arrived at the community Operation Shoebox Event with a baby strapped to his chest in a Baby Bjorn and the three other children by his side.
Thank you to the fully engaged and present dads out there who sometimes feel a little weird when they click “like” on a Hands Free Mama post, but do it anyway as they quickly wipe away an unexpected tear.
Thank you for inspiring me to raise the bar on my own efforts to let go of distraction. You motivate me to take time each and every single day to be a little more Hands Free than I was yesterday.
But I know you don’t need my thanks.
You have all the thanks you need, and it radiates from the admiring eyes staring back into your own.
And I know you don’t miss it …
Because you are present in every way there is to be.
Although this post was inspired by men, it applies to every person who yearns to let go of distraction a little bit each day and connect to what matters.
So whether you most often fall in the category of “Distracted” or in the category of “Hands Free,” there’s hope. Because all it takes is making the choice to choose what matters over distraction. And in that moment you put down the phone and look into your loved one’s eyes, all that matters is the present moment.
Today’s challenge is to come up with one way you will create a holiday memory for your family. This is not about getting the “perfect gift” or spending a lot of money; this is about giving quality, focused time to the people you love.
–Paint fancy glasses with your family to later be used for a special family holiday eggnog toast.
-Invite visiting relatives to make a family recipe in the kitchen while everyone helps and learns. Better yet, record it on video. It might possibly become a treasured keepsake of your mom, dad, grandma or sister making a famous family recipe with your kids.
-Watch old videos from your childhood or look through old photos as a family. I guarantee the permed mullet you used to sport will create family laughter that will laugh for days. (Sorry, all permed mullet photos around this house have conveniently disappeared.)
If you would like further inspiration for curbing holiday distraction and making meaningful memories, I will be posting ideas all week on “The Hands Free Revolution” Facebook page. Simply click the link and hit “like” to receive these ideas in your news feed. I have a feeling the most meaningful, connected holiday we have ever experienced is just weeks away!
*If you feel this post has a worthy message, please click “share.” These messages manage to find their way to those who need them at the precise moment they are needed.