It's been 10 years since I first celebrated a "Daddy-Kid Day." My oldest daughter was 5 years old, her sister 2.
The oldest reminded me at dinner that while it wasn't her actual birthday, Dec. 6, it was still the sixth of a different month. "We should do something super special!"
My wife, exhausted from a long day of playing dolls, diapers and dress-up, smiled so sweetly at me from across the table. "Yes, Jason, you two should do something super special. Something far away. Something she really wants to do that will last long enough for me to put the other to bed and treat myself to something incredibly glamorous. Like a shower."
Thus was born "Daddy-Kid Day." But because it was hers and hers alone, she chose to call it "Daddy-Oakli Day." And you don't have to have a degree in brand marketing to know where we ended up that night.
Fifteen minutes later we ate vanilla ice cream cones together in a McDonald's parking lot. After we'd cleared the drive-through and parked in the very last stall, I invited the wide-eyed little girl to climb up front with me. I'll never forget this date, partly because it became a tradition that's lasted a decade, but mostly because it was the first time I saw my daughter as more than a child.
For a few minutes and for reasons I cannot explain, my eyes looked at that person in the passenger's seat and saw her as a teen, a wife, a mother and a friend. She was a soul of her own, not just an extension or responsibility of her mom and dad.
Ever since that first "Daddy-Oakli Day," we've repeated the tradition on the sixth of each month. Sometimes it's as simple as a Slurpee run. Other times it's a movie 30 miles away at our favorite theater. It can be a walk, a trip to the library or playing "Guess the Price" at the grocery store.
Things happen. There are months when I'm traveling on the sixth or when one of us is ill. Homework happens. Meetings happen. Life happens. But we do our best to reschedule, juggle and make it up. No matter the day it occurs, we look forward to the special moments alone, and there's simply no forgetting what the sixth means to Oakli and me.
Naturally, my other daughter also has her own special holiday. We celebrate "Daddy-Jadi Day" on the thirteenth, and every month when her day hits, I'm sure to be reminded of it before I've even finished breakfast. Her tastes and interests differ from her sister's, and our activities together vary accordingly.
I've got two boys as well, both younger, and each has his own 'Daddy-Kid Day'. Neither of these tigers even bothers for me to get downstairs for breakfast on their respective days. Their reminders come when they pry my eyes open in bed.
Their interests are unique from their sisters' and from one another. If I tried to play Littlest Pet Shop with my 7-year-old on "Daddy-Kason Day," he'd shove a tiny plastic animal up each nostril. Not his, mine.
My 3-year-old is the easiest to please. "Hey buddy, it's 'Daddy-Koleson Day.' How about we swing in the backyard as long as you want?" Done. "Want me to read your favorite dinosaur pop-up book and make scary roaring noises while attacking you?" Even better.
Obviously this isn't the only time I spend with my kids, and none of it will win me Father of the Year. They'll tell you I still don't spend nearly enough time with them, and it's something I'm constantly working to improve. But this simple tradition, at least for our gang, has proven valuable because even when life is at its busiest, when church and work responsibilities feel overwhelming, when the kids are being tested by pressures seen and unseen, we always see a "Daddy-Kid Day" right around the corner.
It could be the needs of your family are dissimilar. If you're a single mother with more than one child, perhaps a sitter would watch one while you celebrate "Mommy-Kid Day" with the other? If you're an empty nester, find an afterschool program or youth center to volunteer at once a month. Call it "Mentor-Kid Day," and take on as many days and as many children as life will allow.
I cannot help but smile when looking back at 10 years of "Daddy-Kid Days." There have been slices of pepperoni pizza and frosty glasses of root beer, arm-wrestling and cheese fries, roller skating mishaps and mini-golf controversies. There have been more laughs than I deserve and tears I was honored to wipe away. They are adventures every one. Memories I will cherish forever.
So schedule at least one "Daddy-Kid Day" on your 2011 calendar. I bet you two vanilla ice cream cones you'll schedule more.