a few years back a friend of mine told me of a ritual that happened in her home when she was growing up. her family termed the ritual "father interviews" and they happened every sunday. the reason behind father interviews was the dad was tied up during the week with work and didn't get a lot of time to participate in his children's lives. so on sundays after church and breakfast he would receive each of his six children, one after the other, in his bedroom for a brief visit. me being me immediately asked about the nature of the father interview location but i was promptly waved off and told it was just so the child and father could talk without being disturbed.
i asked my friend what they were like, what happened. she explained that her interviews mostly involved her throwing herself on her parent's bed and talking of her hatred of school and her belief that she was hideously ugly and that no boy would ever, ever like her and she would never be married. to this the father would calmly talk of the benefits of education, tell her how truly beautiful he knew she was, and how foolish young men are. i immediately fell in love with the notion of the father interview. to my dismay, my children did not.
my first attempt at conducting my own father interviews possessed none of the ease or comfort that i sensed in my friend's experience. ours were held in my office (as i didn't feel like spending my life explaining the location), they were slated to last ten to twenty minutes and the kids were called in one after the other in no defined order. the meetings themselves consisted, entirely, of me asking the child questions and them responding to me with monosyllabic, spiritless answers and looking like the only thing they wanted was to be told their father interview was over so they could return to their siblings, friends, and toys. my attempt at establishing my own father interviews lasted a scant six weeks.
more than a year later i had an idea for a revised form of the father ritual. i called it dad hour. dad hours happened on sundays. each child gets one dad hour every sunday. in this hour the child gets to pick what they want to do and the child and i go do it together. no mom. no siblings. no one else. just me and the kid. the only requirement to their selection is it has to be something we can do in an hour's time. some options included biking, tennis, walk the zoo, or lunch. with three children this obviously had significant implications to marty as she was somewhat stuck at home every sunday while i had one of our children out and about. i asked her if she was ok with this. she said she was. i asked her if she would like a similar mom hour. she looked at me with a slightly cocked head and said, every hour of every day for the last nine years have been mom hours, by her estimation, and she felt covered. at that moment, i saw where bella gets her trained hand on hip retorts to questions and points she deems silly, ludicrous and beneath her pay grade.
from the moment i first explained dad hour to the kids, they were excited. bella was elected to take the first dad hour on the first day of dad hours. for her activity she chose the rip-stick (a rip-stick is a new kind of skateboard). she and i learned how to ride one together and had been in a summer long competition to see who could ride it the furthest down our street without stopping. i was the current record holder. when our hour began, bella excitedly grabbed the ripstick and we walked, hand in hand, to the top of our street where we always begin. bella cockily put the rip-stick down and taunted me about how my record was about to be beaten. i helped her get started and then walked/jogged alongside her as she worked her way down the street. we were jawing and making predictions about the day's contest as we always do. she then broke my record, convincingly, and continued on. she had built some momentum and was a bit ahead of me but started to slow. she was struggling to eek a few more feet out for her final mark but had slowed down quite a bit (making it extra-hard to keep balanced). the front wheel hit a rock and she pitched forward landing hard on her bottom. the fall on the street looked jarring enough that she may have been hurt so i ran to her and knelt down. i asked if she was ok. once she realized she was only bumped and bruised she got angry. she said it was my fault she fell and this was a stupid idea. she pushed me away, she kicked the ripstick, and after a moment stood and began an angry march home. i picked up the rip-stick and quietly walked next to her. she said she had only wanted to read but i made her come out for this stupid dad hour now she got hurt and she was never doing another dad hour ever again. in her pauses, which grew in length the farther we walked, i said i was sorry that she fell and that i didn't care what we did and i just wanted us to hang out and if she wanted to read together, we could read together as she got to pick our activity. her mood subsided but stuck as we continued up the street. sadly, i felt my struggle for this sunday ritual was doomed to never find its stride. when we got in front of the house i turned to go in. i was stopped by bella who grabbed hold of the rip-stick and made a motion towards the starting point at the top of the street.
what are you doing?
BELLA (with a grin)
ok. so i'll try one more time on the condition that i get another turn.
and take my turn?
no deal. it's my turn. i have to try to break this new record.
ok. you can go. but only because you'll never beat my record. no way.
on her first turn after the fall, before she pushed off to start, i stopped her by putting my hand on her shoulder. she looked at me to see why i did this. i held both her shoulders in my hands and said, "bella, there's going to be lots of times in life when you fall on your butt, be it in school, with friends, with your brothers, your mother, me, and the only, only, only thing that matters is that you get up, you shake it off, and you try again. i'm glad and proud you're still here. and you should be glad and proud to because i'm going to beat your record today." she smiled at my final comment and told me i was dreaming, and as easy at that dad hour was back on the road. sadly she was right about that record as it still stands today.
curiously, that inaugural father hour set a unexpected pattern and tone to all subsequent ones. in virtually all of them, the sixty to ninety minutes of dedicated one on one time gets you about one sixty to ninety SECOND moment where something significant and meaningful happens. but, like the bella example, the moment you get is big and meaty. since that first one several months ago the talks have covered everything from best buds to bReast buds. the breast buds day proving nothing is out of scope (thankfully!).
a second unforeseen boon of this investment has been the amplified comfortability i'm seeing in my relationship with my kids. that one hour buys four to six days of good will and out-of-the-way respect and kindness towards one another. and given the heightened ease between us, it's uber-easy to sense when the mo-jo starts fading and we're due for another walk and talk.
it's now later and i've just re-read the above text and fear i'm overselling the seriousness of the ritual which would mar the reality. in example, just this last sunday as anthony and i were driving back from the zoo, he, in a scientifically serious manner, asked me why balls were another word for wieners.
so much work, so little time.