Up until this past year, I have always been a busy person.
That’s not a complaint or a concern. It is simply a statement.
Since I’m no longer the mayor or a county commissioner, and since I’ve been retired from my former hospital management position for over 14 years, I find that there are days when I have absolutely nothing on my schedule. It only happens every few weeks, but when I have a full day with nothing to do, I just don’t know what to do.
So, on those days, I read, write, watch TV and do as little as possible. Debbie and I might take a nice drive and have dinner at some out-of-the-way little restaurant. Not being busy is nice for a change.
At various times during my career in healthcare, I managed the departments of respiratory therapy, cardiac diagnostics, EEG, cardiopulmonary services, cardiac rehabilitation, EMS and trauma services.
There were times when I dreaded going on vacation because I knew it would take weeks to get caught up when I got back to the office. There were times when I was saddled with program development or a new project that I felt … not just busy, but swamped.
Added to my professional work schedule, was the fact that I spent many years as a single parent. Josh and Danny were great kids to have around. They did chores, played sports, included me in their street football games and made my life a lot more interesting and a whole lot more fun.
When I would travel to the Bahamas for a week of scuba diving, the boys would go along. We had adventures. I tried to never be too busy for my boys.
However, one year in the early 1980s, I was exceptionally busy with hospital projects. For a few months, I was home late almost every evening. I’m embarrassed to say that I was not being a very attentive parent.
I got home one evening in early April to find that the boys hadn’t completed their chores. I got upset and started threatening punishment. The boys were sent to their room. To take a little time and calm down, I started reading the mail. That’s when I noticed that Josh had received several cards.
It was his birthday.
I had been so busy with work projects that I had forgotten. Josh hadn’t said a word about it. He just took the scolding I had dished out and went to his bedroom. I felt completely rotten. Whatever chance I had of winning the “single-father-of-the-year” award (if there is such a thing) was completely gone with the scolding.
Following a heartfelt apology, we went out to eat. Josh got to choose the restaurant. We had some fun, but I still felt lousy.
I vowed never to be that busy again. At least I tried. It wasn’t always easy to carve out all the time needed to divide my time between work and family, but I tried a lot harder. I never wanted to feel as guilty as I did the day I forgot Josh’s birthday.
Once Debbie and I became empty-nesters, our focus became more just the two of us. Dining out became more fun and more frequent. After a period of years, our likes and dislikes became more and more similar and simple. Friday night on the town became an early dinner and weekly shopping at our local Kroger store.
A shopping trip that should take no more than 30 minutes, became an hour or more of strolling the aisles of Kroger and visiting with friends. It became a simple evening or chatting, laughter and fun.
It dawned on me a year ago, that the most precious thing I had to give my grandchildren was my time.
Taryn has the first birthday every year. Last year, Taryn received a lot of gifts at her birthday party. When everything had settled down and most of the little girls had gone home with their parents, I said, “Sweetheart, did you see what Pappy got you for your birthday?” Taryn said, “No. What did you get me?” I smiled and said, “I got you absolutely nothing.”
The expression on her beautiful little face was priceless.
I said, “Here’s the deal. You and Pappy are going to go a movie together. You get to pick any movie you want to see. We’re going to have popcorn, candy and soda. After the movie, we’re going to go get ice cream and nobody gets to go except you and me.”
Her face lit up. A new tradition was started.
Since then, every time one of our eight grandchildren have a birthday, we have a special Pappy-movie date. I usually show up with a flower or small box of candy. We head to a special movie that was picked by my special birthday grandchild. It’s one-on-one time with Pappy and that special birthday grandchild.
I love it as much as they do. It’s a special, special time.
Mother Teresa once said, “Never be so busy as not to think of others.” Unfortunately, I’ve been there. I’ve been too busy to remember my son’s birthday. I’ve been too busy to prioritize family over business. That’s sad.
Never be too busy for family.
Randy Riley is President of Council of Wilmington.