Being There

By Michael

You never really come to any of my programs, Susan said. She didn’t mean it literally, of course. I showed up at just about all her events (Valentine’s Day, President’s Day, spring concert, fall concert, winter concert, no-particular-reason concert, class play, science fair, Thanksgiving, Christmas, dance recital, field trips…not that I’m keeping score or anything.) and I had the pictures to prove it.

I was the guy who showed up with the video camera, tripod AND a still camera, ensuring that every moment of Susan’s growing fame was recorded for an adoring public. If she ever got to be a rock star or a prima ballerina or president or a supreme court justice, it would be soooooo easy to see how it all began.

And she appreciated it, really, because it’s pretty sad when you’re a kid and you’re standing on the stage and a classmate says, “There’s my dad. Where’s yours?” and you have to say he isn’t coming. Susan could always point to the back of the room and say, “You can’t see him, but he’s behind that camera.”

So she wasn’t talking about my physical presence when she said I wasn’t at her programs. She just thought I was so busy taking pictures that I never really enjoyed the experience of watching her—and she missed the fun of knowing I was focusing only on her, instead of F-stops and white balance.

She was right that both of us were missing out on something, although we also have lots of photos that remind us of school programs, vacations, birthday parties and millions of shared moments. Today, most of what I remember from grade school programs is based on the pictures I took, rather than my all-too-fractured memory.

Susan’s point about my life behind the lens led to a much longer conversation about what it means to really be there. It’s not enough to simply walk in the door. Something must happen when you get there. We agreed I was spending too much time documenting events and not enough time experiencing them. We never could figure out exactly the right balance, but I did have the EXPERIENCE of an adult conversation with my teen-aged daughter.

I was reminded of Susan’s comment recently when I saw a family in a restaurant. The parents were talking to each other and checking their cell phones, while the kids were engaged in their own activities on some type of handheld devices. In a very real sense, these family members were occupying the same space, but they weren’t together. They were in the same room, but nobody showed up.

I’m sure all of them have memories of the dinner, but I suspect no two of them share the same memories. Too bad. As far as I could tell, nobody even bothered to take some pictures.

Michael Rosenbaum is 5 Minutes for Parenting’s first dadblogger. He is a business consultant, playwright and author of Your Name Here: Guide to Life.

Michael blogs on life issues at Your Name Here Guide to Life and manages the Adult Conversation discussion group on Linked-In.

5 Responses to Being There
  1. Kelly
    January 5, 2010 | 11:49 pm

    I understand this truth. But honestly, I’m bad at implementing it. My brain is now hard-wired to multi-task. I have great difficulty just being in the moment.

    Still, for the sake of our own sanity and our children, it’s a skill I need to learn.

  2. Michael
    January 6, 2010 | 2:04 am

    You can do it all. You just can’t do it all at once. It’s like those news stories where they show how much time a person takes to text while driving, just before the crash. We think we’re handling two things at once, but the people with us can see that we aren’t paying attention.

    Except for you and me, of course. We can handle it all at once.

  3. candace
    January 7, 2010 | 9:46 pm

    I take hundreds of pics of my son because I want to remember everything and eventually show him all things he did when he was a baby and toddler. Preschool functions are awesome for me because of this. I scrapbook soccer, preschool, and every year I do at least 2 scrapbooks of his everyday life. Now he is just used my ever ending pics. I even bought a new camera with faster shutter speed and my memory card holds 3500 photos to accomodate my love of photography/son.

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