If we want to be remembered as good dads, we have to both put in the hard work of being a good father and also carve out time for fun, memorable shared experiences with our kids. Here are some ideas on how to maximize the latter.
Flying in an airplane is much safer than covering the same distance riding in a car. Yet, most people are more afraid of flying than driving. One of the main reasons why is “Availability Bias,” in which things that are easier to call to mind (like the rare plane crash that is all over the news) are given greater weight than things that are less memorable (like the thousands of car crashes a day).
Most of the time, the availability bias is a problem that leads us to make faulty decisions regarding risk (at the beach, we may be more concerned with shark attacks than skin cancer; after watching Law & Order SVU, we vastly overestimate the incidence of child abduction, etc.). But we can also use this quirk of human memory to our advantage.
In a past FWF piece (one of my absolute favorites), I asked a variety of dads what they most wanted their kids to remember about them as fathers when their kids looked back at their childhoods. The over-riding answer was that dads want to be remembered as constant, loving presences in their kids’ lives.
This is actually a two-part aspiration. It involves BEING a constant presence and also BEING REMEMBERED as a constant presence. The former involves being a good father. The latter can be helped by using availability bias to our advantage. In short, we have to:
1. Do all the everyday, sometimes unnoticed work of being a good father
2. Punctuate the everyday with occasional bursts of something memorable
My dad was a constant loving presence throughout my childhood. Upon reflection, I know he did all the grunt work of being a good father- providing for our family, maintaining the house, buying the presents Santa gave us, reading to me, teaching me to brush my teeth, disciplining me when I needed it, etc etc etc. This is the most important work he did for me and my family.
However, when I think back to my childhood, I don’t really remember those things. I remember the above-ground pool he built in our back yard and swimming with him. I remember my summers at Great Kills Little League with him as my team’s manager. I remember watching Dave Righetti’s July 4th no-hitter with him. I remember the Galoonky-rides (our silly version of a piggy-back ride) when it was bedtime. I remember our camping trips in the tiny Shasta trailer. These are the fun, memorable events that, thanks to availability bias, are in the front of my mind.
I try to do the same for Nick. Like my dad, I put in the thankless everyday work- providing for the family, packing his lunch, buying Santa’s presents, helping him with homework, restricting his screen-time, driving him to gymnastics, etc etc etc.
Perhaps because I teach stuff like the availability bias in my management/psychology courses, I am very mindful about building fun, memorable traditions with Nick. Like my dad did for me, I coach Nick’s little league team. When Amy has to work nights, especially during the summer, Nick and I spend evenings at the town pool or at the local minor-league stadium.
I share all things Star Wars with Nick- and we spend a lot of time watching the movies, engaging in elaborate light-saber battles (we even developed characters- I am Darth Taraco, he is Jedi Qui-Son), and playing the Wii LEGO Star Wars games together. I even decorate his birthday cakes in elaborate Star Wars scenes, our group Star Wars costumes are epic, and Nick and I built the Lego Millennium Falcon together. The payoff- his last year’s father’s day card to me said “the galaxy is better with you and me, Dad!”
Amy does similar things with Nick. They share all things Harry Potter, including the books, movies, Wii game, and even a trip to Universal Florida (mmmm butter beer!). When I work nights, Amy and Nick bake cookies. They share a love for epic fails and those funny “Sign Spotting” books. And that’s just a small part of their shared activities.
When Nick looks back on his childhood, I think he will remember feeling secure that both his parents were constant loving presences in his life. But he won’t remember how great his mom was when he was sick with the stomach flu or how I picked up a summer class to get a little extra money for the vacation fund.
I do think he will remember Star Wars, baseball and swimming with dad. I think he will remember Harry Potter, baking cookies and laughing the night away with mom.
While it is definitely more important that we do the less-memorable, less-glamorous hard work of being a good dad, creating happy lifelong memories is important too- for us and our kids.
Thank you, availability bias.
I’m no fatherhood expert, but I think this strategy works well for my family and could work well for yours- the financial costs can be minimal, all it takes is some creativity and time. And you can find something to suit your and your kids’ interests- art, science, reading, travel, cooking, outdoors, sports, etc. So, how can we build fun memorable events or common hobbies into our kids’ childhoods?
I’d love to hear from you! What are some of the fun memorable events and common hobbies you share with your kids? Please share some in the comments section below- I’d like to develop a follow-up article based on your input. Thanks!
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