The secret of quality time

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Meet my Dad. He’ll be 80 this year. He’s a strong, quiet man, not much for novelty or fads, yet interested in what’s happening in the world. Retired for 10 years. A devoted gardener, exerciser, and reader. Amazing cook.

My dad was born in India and arrived here in his early 20s with a college admission slip and the clothes he was wearing (the airline lost his suitcase on the flight over). He jokes that he was on “Pan-Am scholarship” because the reimbursement for his luggage paid for a year of tuition.

I’m an only child, so growing up it was just my parents and me. My dad didn’t have much time to talk or play; he was out the door to work before 7am each morning, and back after 6pm. Ours has always been a relationship of few words but shared experiences. Sitting on the couch together watching football, trailing after him doing garden chores, leaning against the fridge watching him cook.

Now, we take long walks in the neighborhood where I grew up. We talk more now (perhaps because we’re both adults and there’s more to talk about), and I’m hearing bits and pieces of his life at various stages. I have to connect the dots, as he’s not going to do it for me. But I do, and we laugh, and then we walk silently again.

Quality time with our kids is within reach every day, in the simplest of activities, even the boring ones.

My dad did not fit the picture of today’s engaged parent.

Our worlds were separate. But I never doubted his love and support. It came through without words, without flourish. Our “quality time” was spent in the back yard weeding, or in the driveway washing the car, or at the dinner table. There were no fancy vacations or father-daughter “special times” that had to be carved out.

The mortar of our relationship was the mundane, everyday stuff of our middle-class, suburban life.

My dad only knows how to be himself. The idea of affecting the persona of “good parent” makes no sense to him. He’s not perfect. He has a temper, he tends to procrastinate, and he had limited tolerance for emotional displays when I was a kid. (His stern response to whatever momentary trauma I was dealing with was, “Stop crying.”) And none of that matters. I am grateful that I know him, not a manufactured version of what the culture of the day told him he should be.

The lessons I learned (and continue to learn) from my dad come from a place of authenticity. The most important thing I learned is that quality time with our kids is within reach every day, in the simplest of activities, even the boring ones.

The secret lies in letting our kids know — and love — us for who we are, not who we think we should be.

An earlier version of this post appeared on my Babble Voices blog, The Accidental Expert.

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