Last summer, my 8-year-old daughter, Jessie, and I traveled from Georgia to Pennsylvania for our annual visit with family and friends. I can’t remember another drive with so much rain. The hour-long traffic jam didn’t help. I also could have done without trotting down six flights of stairs at four in the morning when the hotel fire alarm went off. By the time I reached the Mason-Dixon line, I was ready for a little “me” time.
While Jessie fished with her granddaddy, I drove to the cemetery to pay respect to a few loved ones. I know, the cemetery isn’t the most exciting place for “me” time, but as I visited each grave, wonderful memories surfaced, along with a few tears.
My next stop was to the ball field, where I spent much of my childhood. I stepped into the batter’s box, tapped my imaginary bat at the corner of the plate like I’d done a hundred times before, and swung at a few make-believe pitches. The memory of the grand-slam home run I hit 40 years ago came flooding back. I walked to first, and as I rounded second, I put on my pretend glove and fielded a few grounders. I was a boy again — and it felt good.
When I got back to the house, Jessie excitedly reported she caught her first fish, a 14-inch bass according to granddaddy, though Jessie told me it was at least two feet long. Her grin said it all.
Though I had returned feeling rejuvenated from time alone, I was disappointed to have missed seeing her bass. “Me” time is important, but family time is better.
Now, not seeing Jessie’s first fish is one thing, but missing her wedding? Recently, I ran an errand and when I returned, Jessie greeted me wearing her mother’s wedding dress. “I was only gone 20 minutes!” I said with a laugh. She and my wife, Mattie, had cleaned out a closet while I was gone. Mattie’s wedding gown was too big for Jessie, but not by much. Seeing her took me back to my wedding day 28 years ago and the vow I made when asked if I would love, honor, and cherish my bride. “I will,” I replied.
As another year comes to a close, I’m thinking about how I will spend time in the new year. I will continue to keep the promise I made to love, honor, and cherish my wife. I will put gas in Mattie’s car because she rarely looks at her gas gauge. I will come running when I hear, “Spider!” I will take the dog out, whether it’s early or wet. I will make sure our bathrooms never run out of toilet tissue. And as often as possible, I will hand Mattie a glass of iced tea as soon as she wakes up, and let her keep my favorite pillow when she falls asleep first.
I will also enjoy some “me” time, to play tennis and pursue my writing goals. I will nurture relationships with phone calls and visits and remember loved ones no longer with us. Most importantly, I’ll spend quality time with my daughter. I’ll shoot baskets, watch her improvised shows, and eat her beautifully decorated cupcakes.
One day, Jessie may be dressed in a wedding gown for real, and as with that early fire alarm, I won’t be ready. In the meantime, I’ll cherish my time with her. Each day, I’ll step up to the plate — not at the ball field, but as a father — looking out for her well-being. And when I throw balls off the roof of our house and Jessie catches them in her pink glove, I will remember that fatherhood is even better than a grand-slam home run. In a few years I will have plenty of “me” time, some of which I know I’ll spend missing these hectic days of childhood.