A few months back, I remembered reading a story about the importance of being present. It was a column in The Huffington Post by Ian Colvin, where he began with a story of a dialogue between him and his son. It started like this:
"Why were you looking down when I was skating tonight, Daddy?"
"I wasn't looking down, buddy," I answered. "I was watching you."
"But I saw you looking down, too," my son responded. "Why were you looking down?"
"Busted!" my husband laughed.
And I was busted; I had been reading and responding to work emails on my BlackBerry during my son's skating lesson.
Was I proud? No. But I was proud that I had made it home from work on time to take my son to skating; something I hadn't been able to do the week before.
Yet, what's worse, not being there, or not being present in the moment?
As I read this story, I was reminded of a song by Harry Chapin called The Cats in the Cradle. The opening lyrics are
My child arrived just the other day
He came to the world in the usual way
But there were planes to catch and bills to pay
He learned to walk while I was away
And he was talkin' 'fore I knew it, and as he grew
He'd say "I'm gonna be like you, Dad
You know I'm gonna be like you"
The closing verse is:
I've long since retired, my son's moved away
I called him up just the other day
I said, "I'd like to see you if you don't mind"
He said, "I'd love to, Dad, if I can find the time
You see my new job's a hassle and kids have the flu
But it's sure nice talking to you, Dad
It's been sure nice talking to you"
And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me
He'd grown up just like me
My boy was just like me
Both of these stories get at the question of the importance of being present. For Colvin’s son, “, it was probably worse that I wasn't present in the moment. When he looked up, expecting to see me proudly smiling, he saw me looking down, completely missing his skating across the ice without falling. I had missed the moment, even though I was there. I disappointed him.” Not only do we disappoint those we love, but also for those who are parents we teach our children that not being present is acceptable. It is what enabled the son in Chapin’s song to grow up just like him.
Being present for those moments is not just between parent and child, it is about each of us. This month I have come to realize how much more intentional I need to be about being present for those I love. It is important for us to find that balance between the demands of work and the world and those of our family members. I am learning to be intentional about not bringing my phone to the dinner table with me or to unplug from technology for a few minutes when my wife wants to talk to me. what are we teaching our family members and those we love about the importance of being present, when we make the external more important than them. So as we come closer to the end of this month’s focus on being present, may we take time to think about the choices we make about our presence for those we love and care about. As Colvin discovered, while emails are endless, the time we spend with those we love is not.