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Dads Take Over — Counting the Future

My father, my brother, and I were in the middle of perhaps our seven hundredth game of pool in my folks’ basement when we realized something: this was our last one. That was this past Christmas. My parents retired this year and moved south—without their pool table. It hurt to let go. Not the table, of course, though we toasted to good times and called my absent brother to commemorate the event. Between turns around that table, over the years, we discussed family, dreams, careers, politics, spouses, and children. That nostalgic rush isn’t what got my attention. As I watched Dad line up his next shot, I thought, “How many times will we all be together again?” I didn’t guess, but I knew the number was less than twelve. The next morning, I gave my folks their 16,235th hug and my wife and I began our 92nd road trip.

I don’t really number things as they happen in my head. However, last Christmas, I let my vague notions of mortality crystalize. I’m a computer scientist—so bear with me. I imagine I can see from now until a peaceful death late in my nineties. Before me, I have two columns. The left column is a long list of life events, and the right one is blank. Next to death, at the top, I write a one.

dads take over Nashville Moms Blog the future

My new clairvoyance makes for quick bucket list scoring. It isn’t easy, but both ‘Write a novel’ and ‘Hike the Long Trail’ get zeroes. ‘Hike the Grand Canyon’ and ‘See Stonehenge’ get ones. Next to ‘Own a Home,’ I jot down a four. ‘Own a Cabin’ gets a zero, as does ‘Own a Boat’ and ‘Run my own business.’ ‘Get a PhD’ gets a one, ‘Get married’ gets a two, and I put a three next to ‘Have a Child.’

‘Three’ is a poor summation of parenting. There are first words, first steps, first days at school, first bullies, first ER trips, first bikes, first sleep overs, first wins, first failures, first curfews, first cars, and first heartbreaks. Looking forward, my children and I get 30 great snow days, a dozen camping trips, 96 days at the beach, 435 sporting events, 185 board game nights, and 45 driving lessons.

snow day future dads take over Nashville Moms Blog

Next to ‘Hug my child,’ I think of my son, put down 16,315, and stare at it for a long time. 16,015 of them happen before he leaves for college. Accounting for late nights and work trips, that is three hugs a day until he’s a teenager, two a day until he is 16, one a day until he is 18, twice a month in college, and four times a year from that point until our last. I contemplate hugging him ten times a day, but that isn’t the point.

Counting the future is a futile estimate of my life. Everyone plans for an unknowable tomorrow. When my career takes me away, I know each week drops my counts by seven bedtime stories, four family dinners, a lunch date with my wife, and maybe a milestone moment with one of my kids. My career is my passion, our security, and an example for our children. The point isn’t that I need to be with my kids all the time. The point is that I can’t skim read my life. I can’t let my numbers shrink because I’m not paying attention.

So, when I get to change my daughter’s diaper, I talk to her and make her laugh. When Saturday yardwork beckons, my son gets to help. It takes twenty minutes longer, but he gets dirty, finds bugs, spots rabbits, and uses tools. And now we have more than a clean diaper and a nice lawn.

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I am fortunate. I spent my first seventeen years doing yardwork, stacking wood, shoveling snow, cleaning up, and playing hard with my Dad. He showed me his work, set limits, and helped me set goals. He pushed and praised me in school, on the sports field, and in my profession. After we toasted our time together around that pool table last Christmas, Dad smiled when he said he might have ten good years left. In retirement, he gets up every morning and jogs with my mother. They swim, they dance, and they spend sunsets at the beach. The example is simple. Work hard. Play hard. Pay attention. For my own wife, my kids, and myself, I intend to make my present count.


This post was prepared by Jason R. Cody in his personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of the United States Army, the Department of Defense, or the United States Government.

About Jason: Jason R. Cody is an active duty Army officer. He is a 2000 graduate of the United States Military Academy and a 2010 graduate of Vanderbilt University. He and his wife, Jocelyn, have moved several times with the Army and most recently enjoyed an assignment in Germany. They have a nearly four year old son, Logan, and a five month old daughter, Caroline. Jason is currently pursuing a PhD in Computer Science in preparation for a faculty position at USMA.

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