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For Parents, Time with Kids Is Shorter Than It Seems, So Make the Moments Count

by on June 18, 2019 5:00 AM

If you read the column last week from this website’s other alternating-Tuesday columnist, my friend Joe Battista, you know that we shared a watershed moment 10 days ago. Both of our youngest children — James for me, Ryan for Joe — graduated from State College Area High School on June 8. Both boys will soon be heading off to college and leaving their parents.

Where did the time go?

Combine the preparations for that watershed moment with the arrival of Mother’s Day less than a month before, and then add to that the annual day of golf just two days ago – better known as Father’s Day – and it made me reflect on one of the most important things we as human beings do: be parents.

As Jacqueline Kennedy once remarked, “If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do well matters very much.”

In the United States Mother’s Day was officially designated as the second Sunday in May by President Woodrow Wilson in 1914. It’s interesting that while President Wilson was formally recognizing an event created to honor the sacrifices mothers made for their children, women could not yet vote in this country. Congress didn’t approve the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution allowing women to vote until June 4, 1919 – and it wasn’t formally certified until Aug. 26, 1920 after being ratified by the requisite number of states.

Father’s Day was officially recognized years later in 1972 when President Richard Nixon signed Joint Resolution 187 which had been passed by Congress two years earlier. It called on Americans to “offer public and private expressions of such day to the abiding love and gratitude which they bear for their fathers,” and is celebrated on the third Sunday in June.

However, for some people Mother’s Day and Father’s Day bring forth different emotions than the honor and love that were the intent of those who created the holidays. For some the ache of parenthood has eluded them. They are unable to have children for any one of a number of known or unknown reasons. Or they have gotten pregnant only to lose the child during the pregnancy or soon after birth. For my wife and me, years of fertility issues, ectopic pregnancies, and a miscarriage colored our view of these two holidays and used to make them more a day of mourning than celebration.

On the other end of that lifetime arc are those for whom the loss of a parent emotionally looms as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day approach. Moms and dads who are no longer with us and with whom we shared times and memories. Hopefully many more good than bad, but in either instance the absence of the parent causes feelings to surface that may be inconsistent with the positive holiday spirit atmosphere that pervades these dates.

In addition, the traditional concept of mother and father is, while still solidly in the majority, declining as the advance of different living arrangements continues. The Census Bureau began their data collection for “Living Arrangements of Children Under 18 Years Old” in 1960. At that time 88% of all children lived in a two-parent household. It could easily be expected that in 1914 when Mother’s Day was originated that percentage was the same or higher. By 1972, when Father’s Day was created, that percentage was 83% — still an overwhelming majority. As of today the Census Bureau estimates that 69% of all children live in a two-parent household. Still above a 2-1 margin versus all other living arrangements, but an almost 20 percentage-point drop in the last 60 years.

This past Sunday as I spent part of my Father’s Day on the couch watching golf with my wife and daughter (my son is away with his youth group), I thought about all this. Of course social media also reminded me that my previously mentioned other alternating-Tuesday columnist, Joe Battista, was out playing golf with his daughter that weekend rather than being a couch potato. I rationalized that by reminding myself that he had been a college athlete and I had not. Not to mention hitting that little white ball around tracts of land is more difficult than it appears.

After my juicy rationalization I thought about the journey the universe had provided to get me here as a son and father.

How in 1858 a baby boy, my great-grandfather, was born in Ukraine, the conditions of his life and family lost to the sands of time. How that boy grew to a man and emigrated to the United States in 1897, took the name George Hook, and settled in Mount Carmel, Pa. How he married Mary and they had two girls and two boys, and one of the boys, Edward, would be my grandfather. How my grandfather stayed in Mount Carmel, became the justice of the peace, married Cecelia Strike, and they had three girls and three boys, including my father, Robert.

And tragically, how my grandfather left his wife and kids on Sunday, Sept. 19, 1948, for a fishing trip with friends in Quebec, Canada and drowned late the next day when the canoe he was in capsized in a storm. It was Just over a month after my dad turned 15 years old.

Then how my dad grew through his teenage years without the benefit of a father, joined the Air Force, got out and got a job, met Cecilia Orme, married, moved to Harrisburg  and had their oldest son, me, just over a century after my great-grandfather was born in Ukraine.

And how I grew up in Williamsport, came to Penn State, met the most fabulous person on the planet, was married, and after years of fertility issues we were blessed with two wonderful children – a daughter and son.

After I thought about this journey and asked that most fabulous person, my wife, about her thoughts, she said what she often does. Parenting, as with most of life, is about the experiences and seizing each day. She used an example of a young couple we saw recently when we were out on one of our walks. The couple was jogging along with a double-baby jogger, one pushing and one just to the side, with two young kids in the jogger. The parents both had earbuds in. We thought, what an opportunity lost.

Both our kids can still tell the stories, all these years later, of running through the “goose-poop minefield” as we called the jogging path in Yardley, Pa. During many days of the year there were flocks of geese populating the water-retention ponds and lakes near our home and the geese would wander all over the bike-path and jogging trails in the area, leaving large “bombs” of material in their wake that required deft driving skills of the baby jogger to avoid running over and tossing the bombs rearward toward the jogger. We called these areas the “goose-poop minefield” and had great fun swerving here and there to miss these piles, a game we enjoyed many times during our years in Bucks County.

It’s the experiences and what you make of them.

Seize those experiences as a parent. When your children arrive – in whatever form or time – you think you have forever. Many days may seem like they last forever. But the time is finite and you have a lot less of it than you think. The years you have solely with your children will account for less than a quarter of their lives.

Years ago I was asked to give a short speech in Philadelphia City Hall about the importance of fatherhood. I used a chart similar to the one at the top of this column. It represents the average lifespan of your child if he is an American male – just over 76 years (an American female would be 81 years so just envision extra red at the right side).

The first 18 years of your child’s life you spend a great deal of time with them. That time is represented in green. The dashed line is at the five-year mark which signifies the traditional “off-to-school” age. After that there is a transition period of five years marked by yellow. They may be off to college, join the service, or get a job, and you see significantly less of them. The last 53 years they are off on their own. Maybe you see them for holidays, maybe not.

Look at the red. Now look at the green. That’s the time you have. Take that green time to have the experiences you want to have, because it will turn red before you know it. So while you get your one-day-a-year celebration of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, make sure to make every other day of the year Children’s Day.

John Hook is the president of The Hook Group, a local management consulting firm, and active in several nonprofit organizations. Previously John spent 25 years in executive, management and marketing positions with regional and national firms. John lives in Ferguson Township with his wife Jackie and their two children.
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