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Natural Fathering:
Saving Memories of Your Children

By Mark Brandenburg

A few years ago, my three-year-old son and I settled in for the last stage of his good night routine. It had been a good day for him, he’d been very active and had spent a great deal of time in the sand and water. Right now he was tired, and I was as well. We lay down together in his little bed and after a few moments he said, “Daddy, when I get big can I live with you?” I assured him he could live with me any time he wanted to.

A moment later he said, “Dad, when you die you’re going to feel something on your face and it will be me touching your face.” Then he added, “I will kiss you on your cheek.” He moved over, kissed me lightly on the cheek and cuddled in next to me. I was aware of tears suddenly welling up in my eyes and rolling down my cheeks. I was also aware that I didn’t want to have to explain why I was crying; as I opened my eyes to look at my son, I noticed he was fast asleep.

Cherishing the moments
I spent some time just looking at him, savoring the moment and wondering about the depth of the reaction I’d just had. It occurred to me later that I didn’t remember having many of these kinds of tender moments with my own father. I felt both happy for a chance to experience it with my son and saddened that I didn’t remember more of them with my own father.

It also occurred to me that this was a time in our lives that would be extremely short-lived. This time of innocence and the magical moments that make up a three-year-old’s life would soon be gone forever. What will remain, however, will be my memory of this moment that we had together. It was a moment that made all of the difficult work of being a father worthwhile.

Being a committed father can at times feel like an incredibly thankless and unending job. It can feel like you’re no more than the janitor, chauffeur and handyman in the house where you live.

And then you will have “a moment.” A moment like this in which your child expresses absolute, pure, and unconditional love for you. When your kids have left home and you look back at these years, it will be what you have left — all of these memories strung together to make up the recollections of their lives with you.

Collect your memories
As we collect these important memories, it seems worthwhile to consider how you remember them -- both for yourself and for your children. Here are some ideas:

Write a letter to each of your children in which you remember the experiences you had with them and share reflections on what you were experiencing as they grew up. It can be a valuable way to remember these experiences and a wonderful gift to your children when they get older.

Regularly tell your children about some of the most memorable times you‘ve had with them and some of the entertaining, funny things that they said or did. Kids love to hear stories about themselves from their dad or mom, so have a boatload of them on hand.

Form rituals around your children whenever possible, whether it’s for some event in their lives or a changing of the season. Using rituals will be a great way for all of you to remember these things and to make them more meaningful.

Start your own parenting journal in which you chronicle the joys and struggles of being a father. It will not only give you a priceless piece of reading years down the road but will help you to better understand yourself as you reflect on your own joys and struggles.

Encourage your children to start their own journals when they’re old enough. This is a great way for your kids to help themselves process their own feelings. They’ll be more likely to do it if they see you’re doing it as well.

It seems that most parents lament the speed at which their kids grow up and leave the house. There will be a time, soon after your kids leave home, when all you’ll be able to “hold” is your memories of them.

May you find a way to hold them that honors the precious times.

© Mark Brandenburg.

Mark Brandenburg MA, CPCC, is the author of 25 Secrets of Emotionally Intelligent Fathers and is a personal coach to fathers and business owners. Read more about our NFO contributor Mark Brandenburg.

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"The media have become the mainstream culture in children's lives. Parents have become the alternative. Americans once expected parents to raise their children in accordance with the dominant cultural messages. Today they are expected to raise their children in opposition to it."
-- Ellen Goodman, Boston Globe columnist

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