I went for a walk with my 18-year-old daughter, Morgan, the other day. She's been away at college since June, so we haven't had a lot of father-daughter time lately. We've always been close, and it's been difficult to have her so far away these last few months. She's been home for a week for the holiday break, so I've been trying to spend as much time with her as possible.
She started dating a boy at her college a few months ago, so even though I've been in the same room with her a lot recently, she's been sending and reading texts instead of having long conversations with me. She met her boyfriend while we were on vacation in Florida right before the fall semester began. Morgan's a bit of a romantic like me, so words like "fate" find their way into her conversations more often than they do for the average person. She says things like: "We met at the beach and, turns out, he goes to same school as me. Must be fate!" I'm not ready to use that word to describe their relationship, but this is her first real boyfriend and I'm happy for her. Do I get frustrated? Yep. Do I understand? Yep. Am I thankful for the unlimited texting package from AT&T? You betcha.
We didn't talk much for the first half mile or so. We walked side by side, staring out at the beautiful scenery that surrounded the trail. We stopped and took a couple of pictures at the point where the path enters a canopy of trees. The explosion of fall colors looked like something right off the box of a jigsaw puzzle. We saw wild turkeys nibbling on something on the ground, and we joked about how lucky they were to be still gobble-gobbling on the day after Thanksgiving. We talked about her boyfriend and how happy and lucky she is she met him. We talked about her love-hate relationship with art history. We even talked a little about religion and politics. Neither of us were wearing the appropriate shoes -- I was wearing loafers and she was wearing boots -- but we walked and talked for more than 4 miles without once complaining about our footwear. It was one of the nicest hours I've had in a long time.
I watched an interview on television with the author Nicholas Sparks several years ago. I don't recall what program it was on or who was asking him the questions, but I do know it was done around the time "The Notebook," the film based on his best-selling novel by the same name, was released in theaters. I like Sparks even though the ending of the aforementioned movie made me make a face like a puffer fish and ugly cry into my popcorn in front of my wife, children and about 100 other movie-lovers at the Carmike Conyers Crossroads 16. That face is one of the reasons why I've refused to watch any of the other flicks based on his novels outside the privacy of my own home since that day. Sparks is a fine writer. He has written some of the most beautiful lines about love and relationships in recent history. But the part of that interview that has stuck with me through the years has nothing to do with his writing. He and his wife had young children at the time, and the journalist asked him several questions about being a father. One of his boys was buzzing around the house, making a lot of racket when Sparks said something about children that really struck me as true: "They need time with their parents. And not just quality time; they need quantity time, too."
I think that's about the best advice one parent can give to another. Don't get me wrong ... the big moments are very important. Every parent should attend as many ball games, chorus concerts and ballet recitals as possible. Mommies and daddies should take their kids to as many amusement parks and go on as many vacations as they can afford ... but the other 95 percent of the time we have with our kids is just as important. Most days aren't filled with awards ceremonies and they don't usually end with fireworks displays. The average day for a parent and their children is filled with homework, dirty dishes and towels that need to be folded. And that, my friends, is usually where the magic happens.
When Morgan and I were almost finished with our walk, she told me she believes the world would be a better place if people focused on doing the best with the talents God gave them and always tried to do good things for others. She said she believes people make bad choices because they haven't been exposed enough to those who make good choices. "It would be so easy," she said. I love her and her optimism ... and I believe we could get to that place if we took more walks with our children.
Patrick Best is the co-founder of Halfoffdepot.com. He lives in Conyers.