If that isn't cruel enough, in a world perfectly suited to live life unnoticed, we were born yearning for just the opposite. We emerge from the womb screaming for our mother's attention, and don't let up until our obituaries take one last stab at leaving a mark on this world, if only for the slightest chance someone will remember us.
The real problem with this yearning comes when our desire to be accounted for starts competing with the desires others have for the same. We are all lured to believing at one point or another, and we often go there quite willingly, that recognition and belonging comes in the form of the biggest house, car, or 401K. We stand at the edge of the grocery checkout lane, mesmerized by the fame and fortune slapped half naked across the front of People magazine, or eloquently listed up and down the Billboard Top Twenty. When we buy into this competitive and envious version of recognition, we've entered a competition that never ends. One we'll never win, a reality we find opportunity to discourage ourselves with each and every day.
As dads, we have the opportunity to help our kids steer clear of this race to nowhere. Our kids come into this world unarmed with bulging at the seams bank accounts or world renown talents. They can't buy our recognition or ask us to score their routines. All they have to offer is the heart of a child - humanity in its simplest form. Dads, how we choose to notice that heart, and how often - that will largely influence what it becomes and where our children ultimately seek their recognition.
This need for recognition. This desire to be noticed. It really boils down to the smallest denominator of this human race - one simple human being among seven seas of them - feeling like they're living a life of value in a world presumably overflowing with it. Early on, as children, that value comes solely from being noticed by our parents or those closest to us. When we took our first steps, our parents clapped and made unapologetic fools of themselves - and we smiled. When we told the lady at the counter thank you for a piece of candy, our parents gave us a light but approving pat on the back - and we smiled. When we floundered about in the swimming pool like a rapidly deflating beach ball, yet somehow believing we were unveiling aquatic pageantry, our parents divorced all credibility and gave us a big thumbs up. And we smiled. (Read: More Than Love Our Children Want Noticed)
Not all children get noticed, though. Some of their first steps are to places of sadly familiar silence. Some of them wouldn't dream of looking up long enough to say thank you. And some are always the first in the pool of splashing children to realize no one is watching.
That no one is ever going to watch.
That's a sad reality to face - no one is ever going to watch. Few face it without a fight. If nobler behaviors and decisions won't find us recognition, some affirmation that our lives have value, we'll often pursue it through less respectable means. Doing drugs, joining a gang, promiscuous sex, constantly picking the next fight - I don't think any of us would suggest these things add value to a life. But for many, they provide an opportunity to get noticed. For those of us who've always had people notice what we contribute to their lives - and to the world in general - these seem like highly irrational steps to take. To those who've felt less visible than a ghost in their own homes, through the neglectful eyes of their own parents, these steps seem like a sensible path to becoming valued.
Dads, nothing will send a child searching for value in all the wrong places faster than the realization their own father is never going to notice them. From the moment a child is old enough to realize they should be worth something, which comes along about the same time they begin staring at you to see if you'll stare back, they begin looking to you for affirmation their life has meaning.
Here's the beautiful thing dads. Especially when our kids are young. They flood us with opportunities to notice them.
So please, notice them.
Notice their corny jokes with a laugh, even if it's a fake one.
Notice their messy hair as they head off to school; tell them you used to sport the same style way back when you had hair. You're surprised it's still in today.
Notice how they kiss their mom goodnight. Tell them there are some things in life you should do forever.
Notice when they win. A high five should work.
Notice when they lose. Tell them the life lessons in losing are far more valuable than the ones that come along with winning. Ignore the blank stare you get in return.
Notice the things they do better than you. Please - let them do things better than you.
Notice they are your children. Acknowledge it's true - there are a couple of billion other kids in the world, but God gave you just the right ones.
Remind them of that every day. And take time to notice all the reasons you're sure it's true.