As dads, we daily think about and focus on our immediate family. But, when the holidays hit, thoughts also wander to the whereabouts and well being of extended family and friends. It isn’t that we don’t care about those we love, not living in our houses, taking extra long showers, and eating all of our food, but something about the holidays makes us think of all those we cherish.
For our brood, “extended” has extra meaning. By “extra,” we mean, “extended family and extra family we’ve adopted along the way.” Our boys are grown and yet blessed to have all of their grandparents still living. In addition, they have a plethora of aunts, uncles, cousins, and now, in-laws, nieces, and nephews to love. That stated, while growing up, they spent many years and countless holidays far from extended family. And that is where the “extras” came in.
“Extras” were not second-class stand-ins, nor did they take the precious places of “blood” family back home. Our boys just learned early on that the heart could always miraculously make more room for love. So, with all of this family and “extra” family, how does one build bonds that stand the test of time, distance, and stages of life? As with anything related to family, and especially to raising kids, it takes intentionality and work.
Making time for extended family “back home,” as we labeled it, was harder 20 years ago than it is today. At first, our boys quickly yelled, “Hi, Grandma!” or “Hi, Uncle Tony!” into the phone on a Sunday afternoon call. When the cell phone made its way into our lives, things got markedly easier. My wife would pick the kids up from school, and if one had done particularly well on a spelling test, both grandmas – the one in Texas and the one in Kansas - would hear the good news before the car pulled into our home’s driveway. Those little efforts kept far-off family a constant in our children’s lives. During the summer, especially as our boys hit upper elementary, we made sure they went back to “the lake” and “the farm” in the Midwest, to visit respective grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Though they saw many of their cousins only once, or maybe twice a year, those summer weeks with the “gang” fostered a bond that is clearly seen in the relationship of cousins now in their 20’s and 30’s, with families of their own.
I am happy to say that so far, making time for family and extended family has still not been a huge issue. But, we all have had to come to terms with the thought of making our time together special, no matter where, when, or how long it is. To make time for all those you love, you have to truly love at the deepest level, which to most of us means some sort of sacrifice. Making time for one another means something or someone typically will have to give. And truly, isn’t that what family is all about? Happy Thanksgiving, with the emphasis on “giving.” Give your time, love, and flexibility this holiday season. In my humble opinion, expressing that kind of love will make you a great dad no matter what stage of life you find yourself in.