Time; the one priceless gift we can give

Published 8:30 am Wednesday, July 23, 2003

By By Gary Palmer
It must have taken at least three hours to build, but it was a great sandcastle.
The base was a rectangle about three and a half feet long, three feet wide and six inches high packed down with buttress towers that rose about four inches above the base at each corner. A wall with parapets ran all along the outer edge of the base connecting each tower. In the center was another elevated area that was a square about two feet by two feet with a tower in the center and towers at each corner all connected with another wall with parapets.
The entire structure was surrounded by an outer wall about six inches high and two inches thick that ran along the inside edge of a deep moat. For a nine-year-old boy and his dad, it was a grand accomplishment.
But what took hours to build took only a few minutes to disappear in the incoming tide. The waves rushed over the walls and lapped around the base causing the towers to topple and collapse and the foundation to crumble. Soon every trace of their painstaking effort was gone.
Seizing one of those teachable moments in parenting, the dad asked his son, "What is the Bible lesson we can learn from this?" The nine-year-old replied, "You shouldn't build your house on the sand."
As he thought about it, he wondered how much of what he has spent his life building is built on sand and how much is on a solid foundation. Spending those hours in the sand with his little boy reminded him of how many hours he had not spent with his children, of all the hours that he has spent in front of a computer or on the road or at the office. He regretted all the vacations where, instead of building sandcastles with his kids, he caught up on his paperwork or his reading.
In the years since I entered the work force full time I have seen too many people building their lives on foundations that will not last, grasping for things that will not satisfy, that cannot bring them real joy or real peace. I have seen people pour their lives into their careers, deceiving themselves that they are sacrificing for their families when in fact it is their families that are being sacrificed.
As one CEO put it, everyone who lives long enough eventually retires, and many of them say part of the reason theyre retiring is to spend more time with their family. The problem is that your family has passed you by.
Most of us will spend the vast majority of our childrens' growing up years trying to make a living, trying to provide a good home for our families, a good education for our children and hopefully enough to live on after we retire. These years are the quality years in terms of our ability to make a living, but they're also the years that our children need our time the most.
According to the National Fatherhood Initiatives publication Father Facts 4, most of us fathers are not investing enough time in the lives of our children and we know it. One survey indicated that 70 percent of fathers and mothers feel they do not have enough time for their children. Another report indicated that children spend less than an hour per week talking with their dads. Yet a growing body of research is bringing to light the importance of a father for a child's happiness, well-being, academic success and social adjustment.
Unfortunately, in today's culture with all the pressure to build a successful career, parenting has become just an extension of the workday; something that you have to do when you get home from work creating a stressful home environment. To cope, many parents equate buying things for their kids as evidence of their care for them. But what kids want is not what you have; they want you.
After they returned home from their vacation, the dad asked his son if he thought he was a good dad. His son said, "You're a real good dad." The father asked, "Why is that?"
What our kids want is our time; time talking, playing, fishing, hunting or even shopping. They want us encouraging them, affirming their importance, loving them and when needed, disciplining them.
Another survey, one by MasterCard, found that 85 percent of the fathers polled said that to them the most priceless gift of all was time spent with family. That response would seem to indicate that time with our children is not only critical to the well-being of our children, it is critical for the well-being of the dads, too.
The moral of this story is that the nine-year-old boy and his dad did not just build a sandcastle that washed away in a matter of minutes; what they built was a memory that will last a lifetime. And the value of that, as the MasterCard ad would say, is priceless to both of them.

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