It’s that special time of year – Spring turns to Summer, flora and fauna become more visible and radiant, more time is spent outdoors and of course, countless graduation ceremonies. Even though the latter are long gone for me, I pondered the concept of time while watching Brian Williams deliver a commencement speech this year at Elon University – where his son was among the graduating class.
The overarching theme of his speech was “time”, which he skillfully wove into a running joke about how they had only given him 10 minutes to deliver his speech. He spoke of being in Moore, Oklahoma a few days before the ceremony, where just a couple short weeks ago the town was practically leveled by one of the most powerful tornadoes in history. He said he met the father of a 9-year-old boy who was killed in the storm and he learned that this boy loved one thing… throwing a baseball with his dad. He said, “You think his dad isn’t thinking about time right now?” He went on to offer the typical words of wisdom to the graduates, but then made a very touching act of personal privilege. He concluded with these words, directed towards his son, “And because there is a dad in Oklahoma who would give all he has to be able to throw a baseball to his son… you ready?” He then took a baseball out of his pocket and tossed it to his son who was seated in the first few rows. He said, “Here’s the deal: when you get home, you throw that back to me, into the same mitt you learned to throw into as a child, and we will be whole again.”
As a father, I couldn’t help but get just a little choked up at the whole series of moments. Even though I haven’t thrown a ball to my kids yet, I know those days are fast approaching. And I know they’ll be gone even faster. That’s what got me thinking to the concept of time. When you strip away all the material things we humans have distracted ourselves with, that’s all we’re left with – time, and those we spend it with.
Being a parent (especially of multiple children), time is the constant enemy. There’s never enough time for everything – not enough time to go to the beach before naps, not enough time to take that family trip together, not enough hours in the day to get everything done. We live in a world of perpetual deadlines: when that homework assignment is due to your teacher, when those figures are due to your boss, when that big exam is scheduled to take place. But we can’t forget life’s deadlines either, especially those we don’t know are coming: the last breastfeed, the last hand-holding, the last football toss in the backyard, the last bicycle ride. As parents, we try to “get everything in” with our kids before the deadline of them becoming adolescents. By then it’s too late, Mom and Dad aren’t cool anymore.
I think what bothers me the most is the perpetual “rat race” our society has engaged itself in over the last few generations. And I get where it all started – the parents of the Baby Boomers wanted to give their children all the opportunities they didn’t have (since they were at war). According to sources: “The Boomers are widely associated with privilege, as many grew up in a time of widespread government subsidies in post-war housing and education, and increasing affluence. As a group, they were the wealthiest, most active, and most physically fit generation up to that time, and amongst the first to grow up genuinely expecting the world to improve with time. They were also the generation that received peak levels of income, therefore they could reap the benefits of abundant levels of food, apparel, retirement programs, and sometimes even ‘midlife crisis’ products.”
With each subsequent generation, that mindset has grown and mutated into what some people mistakenly now call “The American Dream.” Working hard to get enough money to afford your children all the things that you didn’t have. Fair enough, but most people these days take it too far. I understand the need and desire to raise yourself and your family out of poverty, but there’s a term in Economics called “The Law of Diminishing Returns.” They begin to sacrifice too much to achieve their numbers, make that sale, or get that bonus. They spend long hours in the office or on the road all for that extra dollar and they lose sight of what’s really important – time. They convince themselves that if they just get that bonus this year, they can buy their children that new shiny toy, or throw them a killer sweet sixteen party. But how special will it all be if you’re not around for them to share it with?
You can buy yourself and your family all the material things in the world, but will it really make you happy? Once you’ve climbed the corporate ladder and are making more money than the Gross Domestic Product of some small countries – then what? Your kid is still a little butthole because you were never around to hug him, to teach him right from wrong, or to throw him a baseball. It’s just like the old saying goes, “You buy your kid a big expensive toy, and they end up playing with the cardboard box it came in.”
I once saw a video where a company had one-on-one interviews with a group of moms. The interviewer asked each mom to describe how they saw themselves as a mother. Most of them responded by saying they wished they were more patient with their child(ren), or that they didn’t consider themselves to be a great mom because they felt they didn’t spend enough time with their kid(s). The interviewers then brought in their children (one by one) and asked them to describe their mother. With the moms watching the interview with their child from another room, they were shocked as to what they heard. One child said that his mom was the best peanut butter and jelly sandwich maker in the world. Another said that their mom gave the greatest hugs and she always cheered them up when they were sad. Obviously, it proved to the mothers that they needed to reexamine their priorities. The moral of the video was that they really needed to step back and realize the most important thing to a child is the time you spend with them… because until that final deadline hits, you are the most important thing to them.