One father came up with a weekly ritual to connect with his daughters and it’s paid off big time in the form of memories.
As busy fathers, we all try to connect with our children. I believe it’s even more true when we have daughters. With my two girls I’ve found it even more of a need because I don’t have that gender connection. Though what I lacked in estrogen, I made up for in experiences.
Growing up, my parents both worked, sometimes two jobs at a time. Time was very fleeting with them. When my wife and I were first married, we both worked exceptionally long hours. I didn’t want to repeat history. We made the decision once the children came, we’d start scaling back and work alternating shifts, so that someone was always spending time with the kids.
Most of the time, it was my wife who was with them during the day, and I would have night and weekend duties. This is where I began realizing that it was the experiences that counted, not necessarily the money that was spent or giving them a certain amount of prestige. It was having experiences with my children and spending time with them that was memorable.
With my wife working generally every Sunday, I am home alone with the girls for an entire day, at least until 5:00 at night when my wife comes home.
I began a process, and I call it a process because I’m a productivity geek, but I began the process of saying, “OK, let me plan out my Sundays and activities with the kids to be able to do something.” This led to what I called Sunday Somethings.
One of the first Sunday Somethings adventures was taking my children, who were then pre-school and kindergarten age, to a Paddlefest on the Hudson River. What do a four and a six year-old know about kayaks? About as much as their old man, but we walked around, we talked to the vendors, and we just had a good time.
From there, Sunday Somethings evolved into many different things. We saw many movies (we all wore Avengers t-shirts for the movie launch, one of my favorite pictures of the three of us), and explored other areas of the Hudson Valley where we lived. I made them explore nature and visit local trails, museums and historic sites. They would say, “Boring”, the whole ride there. Then ten minutes of trudging them through the gardens of the Vanderbilt Mansion in Hyde Park, NY, they would lose themselves in the views and the large fields to play in. By the end of the day I would hear, “Let’s go back there again.”
We would, for a long time, write stories on Sundays and perform them. These were called “Sunday Shorts.”
Sunday Shorts began as an inspirational idea because my youngest daughter didn’t enjoy reading and writing, so I thought on Sunday, how can I get her to do this? Sunday Shorts started with us each taking a topic, we would take turns picking the topic, and then we would write a story about it, no shorter than five sentences.
Again, for a young second and third grader, this was torture, but we wrote the stories, they could illustrate them themselves, and when they were done we had three different stories on any one topic. We would then stand up and perform the stories to each other, voting at the end whose story we liked best and why.
Part of the telling process also included clapping at the end, showing appreciation for the work the person had done, as well as stage presence, where they essentially gave a performance of their story. Amazing, the things that happened when we did this.
The first Sunday Short we wrote I came up with the title and it was,” My Favorite Thing I Did On My Summer Vacation” I allowed the kids to either tell something that actually happened, but I also allowed them to dream and use their imaginations with their story.
“My favorite thing I did on my summer vacation was to go scuba diving. When my family went to Lake George, I went on the Mini Ha Ha and it sailed to the center of the lake. I suited up and jumped off the side of the boat. I saw a large creature at the bottom that looked like a dinosaur. When I went back to shore, I told them I had discovered the ‘Lake George Monster.'”
I made it simple to show my youngest how easy it was.
My nine year-old daughter Ally wrote:
“I did a lot of things like sleep until 1:00 (sorry to interject, but truly a proud parental moment here). My favorite was when Harold gave me his purple crayon. I drew a lot of things and everything came to life. I drew a pink sports car and a pink cellphone. I made a box around Cassie (sisterly love) and she did the mime thing. It was fun.
And Ally proceeded to decorate the bottom half of the page with clouds and rain and all sorts of weather phenomenon.”
My eight year-old daughter Cassie wrote:
“This summer I went on he Disney Cruise. I went on a zipline on the cruise. I went on the water slide. I went in the arcade and won a million tickets. I like it because I did it by myself.”
Short, sweet and to the point, that’s my Cassie.
Further titles included:
Me and My Pet Walking
A Day In The Woods
My Pet Reindeer
My Day With Santa Clause (Holidays=Great Topics!)
In The Kid Cave I Painted!
When My House Caught Fire! (We had lost our house in a flood)
Then I decided to get a little tricky and take a hint from Chopped, where they add in mystery ingredients, ta-da! Mystery words to make a story up with. Here are some of those hit titles:
Lamp, Salt, and Flower
Green, Pot O Gold and Magic
And it ended with One Direction, Flag and Tent Pole
That idea died out after three tries but we progressed and cranked out stories for the next year.
One of my favorites has been,” I Am Thankful For…”
Of course I went first:
“I am thankful for my family. Coming from a small one, it really changed my life for the better to be surrounded by such a large, loving and caring group of people. Through them I have built relationships that will grow for the rest of my life. Those people, The ones I now call family, have touched my daughters lives so much and they are an inspiration to them as well. Giving, caring, loving, helping are all things they do every day, and in turn these actions are reflected back to them from me.”
“Going on vacations. I like Disney because of the rides. I like Hershey because of the chocolate. I like NYC because of the buildings and stores. I like these places because I have a lot of fun on these vacations. I can’t wait to go again.”
And I’m OK with this, since her vacations are always spent with Mom and Dad.
“School. School is fun and we play games too. I did Girls On The Run after school this year. I ran a 5K and it was fun. We get to do a lot of clubs in 4th grade. 4th grade is really fun but it is my last year of COH (Cornwall on Hudson, her elementary school).”
This ended with a frown face, and it was nice that even though she was sad, she could express herself.
We didn’t write stories every weekend, but enough to show the snapshots in time of their attitudes, likes and dislikes. A peek into the world of their imagination. I created an experience, a memory and a legacy that my girls will always remember. The best part was that the stories were only a small part, the performance and the little competition, made for an entirely memorable experience. We shared something truly special, if you get a chance and your children are into trying something new, give Sunday Shorts a try. I guarantee you will reflect back on those times with your children and understand it was a very simple process. Thank goodness the guy wrote about this in the Father/Daughter book.
The stories are only one part of our Sundays, but we enjoy going to fun places, and having a good time together. The point is that we’ve had these experiences along the way. As I mentioned in the beginning of this story, my children are now 10 and 12. I can look back, and I’ve got a multitude of experiences that my parents didn’t have with me. I’m very proud of that as a father. Thank goodness my wife works on Sunday, it allowed me to connect with these beautiful young girls and create many memories.
NOTE: I’m very happy to have this co-authored by my daughters, Alexandria and Cassandra Ackerman
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Photo: Getty Images