This column originally appeared in Richmond Family Magazine, October 2014.
For a few weeks last fall, my daughter was mad at me. No hugs, no kisses, and she picked Mama to read every night at bedtime.
I tried not to take it too personally, but I couldn’t imagine what I possibly could have done to make her so upset with me. And she hadn’t even turned two yet.
Good grief, I thought, this parenting thing is going to be tougher than I imagined.
My wife, being the genius she is, suggested we have a daddy-and-daughter date. And, being the smart guy I am, I agreed. Then I needed a plan.
So what in the world was I going to do with my almost-two-year-old when it was cold outside? Parks, walks, and any outside-only activities were most likely off the table. I thought hard for a few days coming up with the perfect date for just the two of us.
I realized I was planning this daddy-and-daughter date like I was engineering a skyscraper – as though this would be the one and only time we would ever do this. Then I remembered this needed to be the first of many dates. The stakes were lowered, and my own expectations became much more reasonable.
So Monday morning came, and we went out for coffee. She stepped right up to the barista’s counter, and in her sweet little voice ordered her own chai. She loves taking little sips of her mom’s chai tea, but on this morning, I made her a two-year-old version: one cup of milk and two shakes of cinnamon.
She loved her drink and our time together, and I loved it, too. When we finished, I took her to the sitter and then made my way to work for the day, just a little later than usual. And all of a sudden, we had started a regular thing.
Since it’s fall again, and it’s getting cold outside, here are my top five dates for dad and the kids. These ideas do not require a great deal of planning or financial investment. All kids really need is our time.
- Donuts with Dad
Coffee and 2-year-old-style chai was great, but adding donuts to the outing made it even better. Our thirty minutes out of the house on a Saturday morning gave her mom a break and some quiet time to herself, and it was a chance for us to have breakfast together.
Our top pick is Dixie Donuts on West Broad Street for the donut holes. These days, it seems like most every neighborhood in Richmond has great donuts, though. From Sugar Shack to Country Style, Dunkin’ Donuts to Krispy Kreme, we’re living in the donut capital of the South, and donuts are not very expensive either.
Don’t like donuts for breakfast? We even had breakfast at a diner on the way to the doctor’s office one Saturday morning. We like our early-morning dates.
- Projects with Dad
My wife and I often laugh about our own childhood experiences. She would take trips to the hardware store with her dad, and I would visit the local craft store in Bon Air with my mom. We both explored these places and still feel nostalgic when we go there as adults.
I vividly remember my daughter’s first trip to Lowe’s. She was only a few months old and definitely won’t remember anything about that night, but I do, and we have pictures to prove it. Now, she loves riding in the cart with the supplies for whatever we’re building. She explores the aisles with me and helps pick out what we need to make the project a success. And when we get home, we work together. Or I work, and she helps.
- A Night Out with Dad
Do you have school-aged kids? Pay attention to your school’s parent newsletter and look for PTA activities and other opportunities from school like Donuts with Dad or Dedicated Dad. There are local restaurants which also schedule date-night-with-dad-type events, featuring a themed meal or special entertainment.
If your school or favorite local restaurant doesn’t have something on the calendar, you might ask about a special event and help make it happen. Your kids will be proud, and you’ll have the top dad award (at least for a while).
These experiences offer you a chance to get out of the house, enjoy some time with your kids, and give you the opportunity to be around other dads who are doing the same thing.
- A Trip with Dad
I’m not there yet, but I have heard dads of teenagers who plan a rite-of-passage trip with each of their kids. When the child hits one of those teenage milestone birthdays, they spend a few days together in a state park, on a camping trip, or in a nearby city.
The point? Spend focused time celebrating the young adult your child is becoming and develop your relationship. The rewards of these trips will manifest themselves throughout your child’s young adult years. Of course, day trips are an option as well.
- Play Time with Dad
Put down the phone (except to snap a quick photo to remember your day), leave work and chores behind, and just play. Bundle up and play ball in the front yard, go for a brisk walk in a neighborhood park, or jump in the leaves. The more outside-the-box you go, the more memorable the time will be. Remember, it doesn’t have to be an all-day affair.
Kids benefit from the active involvement of their dad. Any one of these experiences will make them feel special, increase their confidence, and give them something to talk about on the playground or with their friends.
With baby number two on the way this fall, my dates with both girls will be even more important. Each of my daughters will need to know she’s important to her dad. If you have more than one child, try to take them out together and individually. Those moments will breed the memories they carry with them throughout life. Here’s to making great memories with your kids this fall!
Real Dad Aaron Lee is husband to Kim and dad to a 2-year-old and a baby girl. By day, he is director of programming at First Things First of Greater Richmond, strengthening fathers and families throughout Richmond.