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Time together is a priceless gift

Published July 21. 2012 10:55AM

On an absolutely beautiful Sunday, we spent the day with other water lovers on Charlotte Harbor near our Florida home.

There were lots of colorful kayaks as well as powerboats of all sizes. Some were lounging on big yachts while others were bobbing along in plastic floats or rubber inflatables.

With so much to see, my eyes stayed riveted on a little girl in a tandem kayak with her father.

She wasn't just along for the ride. She was the principal paddler on the boat. At least she thought she was. Her high wattage smile was probably as bright as Fourth of July fireworks.

The little girl sat in the front of the kayak, dipping her paddle from side to side into the water. Her father, sitting behind her, deftly used his paddle to keep the boat on course without hitting anyone.

But the youngster didn't know that. She thought she was in charge. I had to admire the way the father was building her confidence.

When I paddled over to talk to her, she proudly told me she was seven. I told her I thought she was the luckiest youngster there because she had a father who was teaching her to kayak at such an early age.

Seeing that child and her father in the boat brought back my own memories of childhood, memories of sitting in aluminum fishing boat with my dad for hours at a time. It's probably my fondest childhood memory.

Sure, I loved fishing and crabbing. When I would hook a big fish I would yell in excitement, scaring the other fish away, according to my dad.

But the best part of bobbling along in a boat all day was getting to spend hours at a time with my father.

He told me stories about his past, stories I would not have gotten to hear if we didn't spend so many hours together. When I shared my hopes and dreams with him, he never told me anything was silly, even when I said I wanted to live in a pink and green house.

It was father-daughter bonding at its best.

My dad had a lot of friends and certainly had his favorite fishing buddies. But he made sure he spent plenty of time with his daughter.

Spending hours together with no distractions was the way we got to listen to each other's heart. With just the two of us sharing an outdoors experience, it made an impact on me that has lasted my entire life.

Today, they call it "quality time."

But it's becoming a rare commodity.

Part of the reason is our busy world. So much of a parent's physical and emotional energy is tied up in just getting by - getting to work then getting all the other "gotta do stuff" finished.

Do you think there are many fathers out there with the time and the desire to while long hours away talking with an adolescent child?

We are the most connected people in history. We are connected to the world by all forms of instant communication. We can take the Internet with us on our cell phone, iPhones and all the little gadgets that tell us anything we want to know in an instant.

Then there's text messaging and instant messaging that makes constant communicating faster and easier than ever before.

We're connected to the world. But how closely are we connected to each other?

I'm not the first person to think that as we connect through all that technology, we are sacrificing face-to-face contact.

It's just one more thing that pushes us away from the true intimacy of family relationships. TV used to be the lone culprit. Now, there are other time eaters stopping us from true conversation.

I have a friend who is raising his teenage son alone. He tells me how tired he is after working 10-hour days then traveling another hour to get home. But at the end of the night, he saves time to play video games with his son. It's the way he connects with his teenager, he says.

Sometimes, they stay up until 2 a.m. on the one day he doesn't have to get up for work. I know how hard he is working to stay close to his son.

But I wonder how much sharing goes on when both are engrossed in video games. Does the son get a glimmer of how much he is loved? Does he learn anything about his father or get to understand what dad is all about?

Does the father get to know what's going on the mind of his son?

I think my friend's situation - too little free time and too much time playing video games, is fairly common. That makes it hard for parents to know what's really going on with their kids.

When kids get to be a certain age, they don't tell parents what they are up to. They stop sharing feelings. I hear so many parents complain about that.

When kids are home, they are engrossed in their favorite forms of technology.

Perhaps there aren't many opportunities for sitting together for hours with no distractions.

I know I was drawn to that father and daughter in the kayak because I don't see that much of it anymore.

When that little girl grows up she might forget the cell phone she was given or the other material presents. But I suspect she'll never forget her time on the water with her father.

We can give our kids a lot of stuff. But time together is the most memorable gift.

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