Traveling can introduce you to interesting people. Once I was sitting on an airplane next to a hippie and a Marine. I know, it sounds like a joke, but this is a true story. The hippie was youngish, maybe late 20’s or early 30’s. The Marine was a grizzled old veteran.
The hippie was traveling between jobs. He was an itinerant worker in the National Park system, putting in 6 months at one park, then moving on to another. Apparently this is a regular way of life for a whole tribe of National Park drifters, traveling around the country from park to park, living in bunk houses. They’re limited to 6 months because if they worked longer than that at any one park, they would become eligible for benefits. So they moved from park to park, working six month stints at each. He talked about the places he’d been, and asked us where we’d traveled.
The Marine answered: “I’ve been in all 50 states, and 106 countries.”
“Whoa, dude,” the hippie said. “That’s boss, how’d you travel so much?”
“Been a Marine 30 years,” he said. “Became an embassy officer. Get stationed all over the world.”
“Wow, man,” the hippie said. “That’s cool. What’s your favorite country you’ve ever been in?”
The Marine looked at him.
“The United States of America,” he said.
The answer to our questions, or our prayers, is sometimes an unexpected one, and sometimes right under our nose.
I thought about the hippie and the Marine recently when my daughter was clamoring for my attention. I was at the computer, trying to finish some things. She kept crawling over to the desk and tugging on my pant leg. When I’d take my eyes from the screen and look down, she’d reach her arms out.
With a sigh, I’d stop what I was doing and pick her up. I’d carry her to the toy basket and try distracting her with a singing giraffe. As soon as I could get her focused on the giraffe, I’d sneak back to the computer.
A few minutes later I’d feel that little hand tugging my pant leg.
After several iterations of this, I looked down at her and said: “Love, if I could just have ten minutes I could get this done.”
She looked up at me.
“Daddy’s got important things to do, Little Love.”
She reached her arms out to me.
Alright, I thought, I know when the jig is up. This time, I turned the computer off. No more trying to placate her with plastic facsimiles of reality. It was time for real attention from a real person.
I picked her up. Her face broke out in a huge smile, she gave a screech and wriggled with excitement.
Then the thought came to me that Daddy did have important things to do, and the unexpected answer was that I was finally doing them.
As fathers we’ve got to fight the temptation to slide down the path of least resistance, which often leads to putting-off the kids. Jesus said: “‘Let the children come to me . . .’” (Mt 19, 14_. And Jesus told us: “‘See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father’” (Mt 18, 10). Jesus said that whatever we do for one of the least among us, we do for Him (Mt 25, 40-45).
That’s the problem kids face: they are the least among us. They’re small and inarticulate, and sometimes we plant them in front of the TV just because we can. It’s not so easy with big people, and not just because they weigh more. They kick-up more ruckus. Squeaky wheels get greased and quiet wheels get rolled.
When it comes to important work, how does our work compare to Jesus’? If Jesus made time for kids, for His children (including us). If we make it a priority, we can find a way to make time for our kids. Remember, when we do, we’re not just doing it for our kids. We’re doing it for the least among us, and Jesus let us know how important that is — to Him.