I turned 40 earlier this year. To commemorate the occasion I’m doing a series of posts highlighting valuable lessons I’ve learned in my time on this planet.

There are about thirty seconds left in the game. It’s fourth and goal. The Falcons line up for one final attempt at pulling a victory out of the jaws of defeat. The crowd in the Superdome is electric. It’s the first game of the season, and I’ve been waiting for this moment for 8 months. I’m yelling at the TV.

This sounds like a normal Sunday afternoon, right? Yes, except for one thing. It’s Sunday evening. This game ended over 2 hours ago. I DVR’d the game, and was thus able to spend Sunday with my family. We went to church, ate lunch, and then cheered Mommy on at a tennis match. After all that I was still able to watch an amazing football game. And I didn’t have to sit through any commercials.

I know you’re reading this and thinking something like “Come on, man. DVR’s have been around over ten years. Maybe if I got in a time machine and went back to 2001 we could talk about how cool that is.”

Yes, we all know about technology. But how many of us actually use it to make our lives better?

When it comes to quantity time and quality time, I think we get things a little mixed up. So many leisure activities for grownups involve massive amounts of time. Golf supposedly takes four hours, but every time I go it seems to come closer to six. Any other activity, whether it be backpacking, fishing, or building model airplanes, assumes that we’re going to invest hours in its pursuit. As a sports fan, I am made to feel guilty if I don’t tune in for every second of action. Why does fun have to feel like work?

And meanwhile our kids are suffering.

It goes without saying that we don’t spend enough time with our kids. (There’s a mountain of statistics out there. Google it.) In my case, I have a job that requires all kinds of crazy hours and travel. I come home tired and cranky. I call it “zombie mode”. Zombie mode seems to perfectly line up with when my kids want to play pretend. I don’t know what it is about playing pretend, but I don’t get it, and I don’t like it. But I do it anyway.

Because kids don’t know the difference between quality and quantity time. Because Mike Brady was full of crap.

I watched the Brady Bunch growing up, and I saw the scenes where Mike would call one of the kids into his office and have a chat with them about what was going on in their lives. I guess I thought that was how it would be when I was a dad. I was dead wrong. I have had a few instances where I’ve had to talk with my kids formally like that. But in my experience, it never, ever works that way.

The teaching moments are almost always unscripted. They happen in the car on the way home from the movie or the frozen yogurt place. They happen after you’ve read that Boz book for the fortieth time and they still don’t want to go to bed. Special moments don’t happen in a rehearsed speech in an office with books and leather. They happen through whispered stories in a princess tent with flashlights and lightning bugs.

When it comes to kids, focus on the quantity of time and the quality will take care of itself.

Here are a couple of ways I’ve tried to live this one out:

  1. “Date” your daughters – I learned this one from Randy, who was my mentor when I lived in Tennessee. I try to make a point to take my girls on regular dates. I shoot for once a week, but it ends up being 2 or 3 times a month. I let them pick the activities, within reason of course. We’ve played putt putt, eaten pizza, and gone bowling. You name the little kid activity, and we’ve done it. I”m hoping that when they get older these will be special memories.
  2. Realize it’s OK to not be great at something if it’s supposed to be for fun – I have resolved that I will never be great at tennis or golf. I will catch up on fishing when I’m an old man. I used to get a little guilty when people would ask if I saw the Braves game last night. Now I’ve learned that it’s fun to answer that with a “no” and then let them tell me about it. It a great conversation starter.
  3. Recognize that quality time works in other areas – TV is great when you’re watching your favorite show or sporting event. It’s not so great when you’re just channel surfing. Tennis is still a lot of fun if you’re “just good enough to get by.” “Duffer golf” is awesome, so long as you don’t mind losing a bunch of golf balls. You don’t have to see every movie when it comes out. Watch it later on DVD. Or don’t watch it at all.
  4. Resolve that you don’t have to be totally up to date – I used to be one of those dads who always got interrupted while reading the paper. Now I don’t read the paper. I try to avoid the sports news shows. I’ve found that if the news is important enough, you hear about it anyway. (See Stephen B. Sample’s excellent book The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership for more info about avoiding news.)
  5. Use technology. Technology is your friend. – TiVo your favorite games (Just be sure to stay off the Twitter til you watch them!). Sign up for text updates from the game. Wait and watch a whole season of a TV show while traveling.

NOTE: If you’re interested in more great ideas about tuning into your kids’ lives, check out Ron Luce’s book ReCreate. Really great stuff!

What about you? Do you have any other thoughts or advice about spending time with kids? Anything that’s worked for you? Please share in the comments!