The Day It All Changed

So I've just finished booking two return tickets with a discount airline for a day trip for myself and my four-year-old daughter. Not without hesitation mind you; my money conscious wife and I realise that this expense doesn't come easy for a below average, single income family. Extravagant? Some might think so, but my thinking changed a couple of years ago when I took my eldest daughter, at age three, on a daddy-daughter date.

Inspired by an online clip* I'd seen I decided to document the date. Little did I know that this "date" would change my relationship with my daughter forever. Nor did I realise it was a culture setting event for my growing family.

As you may see in the video, I tried to make it special. I tried to make it… well, memorable. I think I achieved that. I knew it would be fun. I knew I could make my daughter Ruby smile but what I didn't realise was the dramatic impact it would have on our relationship.

You see I'm not always the best dad. Like many dads, I struggle to forget about work, deadlines, and my own "grown-up-ness", and too rarely make an effort to just "waste time" my kids.

I still remember the day after our first date. We were sitting down for family prayer and for the first time I can remember Ruby fought to sit on my lap. She didn't want Mummy. She didn't need convincing. Her dad's lap was the prized seat, the only place to be. No longer was I the enforcer, or the smelly, hard bodied, rough-faced parent. I, Daddy, was the first choice.

It has now become a family tradition for me to spend "date nights" with all the girls in our family. This has made our kids supportive of date nights with my wife and most of all has created great anticipation for spending quality time with dad. I also greatly look forward to these dates and enjoy the thrill of creating new and fun ways to show my love. I also get to discover the things that make my girls tick, the things that make our relationships strong and discover first hand their true love language.

Now, before I start sounding like the dad of the year, let me say that I'm far from perfect. In fact, a dedicated date night every few months is far from quality parenting. But you know what, for our family, it has been a game changer. Dare I say though, what I call "mini-dates" might be even more important. Consistent deposits of time rather than infrequent blocks of time are in some way more crucial in displaying how valuable our kids are to us. I'm not as good at these, but taking the time to stop and have some quality time regularly with our kids can really strengthen the relationship. For me, things like doing a puzzle, asking every child each day to share about their day, or my personal favourite, jumping on the trampoline, can all serve to strengthen a relationship and fill up a child's love tank.

Author Ross Campbell speaks about the three major things we can do to love our kids as being; 1) eye contact 2) physical contact and 3) focused attention. I've noted that when I do these things there is a noticeable change in our relationship and also sometimes an associated general behavioural change.

For me, when I first planned the epic first date, it was more about me setting an early example of how my daughter deserves to be treated by males. In my work with Real Talk International, I see weekly the devastating effects of young people being treated poorly in relationships. If my kids grow up with an expectation that they are precious, and deserve to be treated as such, then I think that will put them in good stead for adult life. What I didn't realise was that this date would have an immediate and more general effect on my daughter and our overall relationship.

On a practical note, dates don't have to be extravagant but a touch of "specialness" goes a long way to creating memorable dates. Some other daddy-daughter dates I have been on included night swimming, ice-creams on mountaintops, days fishing and trips to the circus. As author Steve Biddulph says, the magic of spending time one-on-one is that each child "knows the joy and memory of having you all to themselves". So if you have never done something like this I say, ‘give it a go’! Win the hearts of your daughters. There is nothing to lose.

So spending money on four flights? Extravagant? Maybe to some, but for daughter number two, who stops every day to point out planes in the sky, I'm pretty sure this will kick our relationship up a notch. Most of all, it will be the currency for conversations in the lead-up, food for fond memories in the years that follow and it will provide us with a day full of one on one time. In my book, that's money well spent. 

* The viral clip that gave me the idea