I awoke and lay still in the darkness. From my bed I could hear the tick tock of the living room clock. The enticing aroma of breakfast wound its way down the hall. It was early, but suddenly I was wide awake.
Morning was finally here — the morning of the hunt.
As we drove down the dusty gravel road that cold November day, I knew this would be no ordinary hunting trip. I had been hunting before, but today something was different. Today I was with Dad.
Behind us lay the 12-gauge shotgun, brought out on special occasions such as this. In front of us lay what would become one of the most vivid memories of
Being the youngest of five, it was a rare occasion when I could be alone with Dad. He worked hard six days a week and was gone many weekends. But today he was all mine. Today I was with the greatest hunter in the world. My real-life hero.
Riding along, I listened as he recounted in vivid detail previous hunting adventures. “There’s a pond on the other side. Ducks everywhere. Turn down that road and you’ll start tripping over rabbits.”
Outside, the cold prairie wind brought broad fluffy snowflakes to rest on the frozen ground, and the last few leaves struggled to release themselves from the grip of the tall poplar trees. But inside our car the sun was shining.
Getting out of the car, we entered the forest single file. I was careful not to step on any branches. He was careful not to get too far ahead. Adventure seemed to lurk behind every bush. “Sshhh,” he would say, lifting his finger to his lips. “You never know. …” And I was deathly quiet.
We ate our lunch of sandwiches standing in the cold. “Stomp your feet like this,” Dad would say.
“But won’t it scare the rabbits away?”
He smiled in response. “It will keep you warm. Besides, I haven’t seen a rabbit track all day.”
“I’m cold,” I said.
“Should we go home?”
Soon we were on our way. And although we didn’t have a trophy to show for our trip, I didn’t mind.
I had been with the hunter.
Years later, we were alone again as we drove down those same dusty roads. The shotgun was in the back seat, but this time it would serve a different purpose. For weeks we had been watching the paper for just the right vehicle. Something old. And something cheap. We had finally found it in the form of a 1970 Ford Maverick, and now we hoped to claim the prize.
Arriving at the farmhouse, we carefully examined what was to become my very first car. And when it came time to pay up, Dad took out his precious shotgun and traded it in.
A father’s love
As I sat up late watching these memories swirl through my mind, I wondered what it was that had made those times with Dad so special. Was it the thrill of the hunt? Or of buying my first car? No. The hunting trip wasn’t very successful, and believe me, the car didn’t last forever. But the memories did because someone who had a “to do” list as long as my arm had taken the time to be alone with me. The love of an imperfect dad had mirrored the perfect love of my heavenly Father.
I thought of my own children and of the times my son had tried to get my attention while I read the paper or watched a hockey game. I thought of evenings at work. I had deadlines to meet. I was busy with important things. Wasn’t I? I suppose I was. But that night, alone in the dark, I wondered just how important these things were. I wondered if anything in the world was more significant than the children God had given me.
Quietly I got out of bed and crept down the hallway to watch my 3-year-old. His face was tranquil, trusting, his arm clutched tightly around his brown-and-white teddy bear. What would he remember me for? My devotion to my job? My love of books? Would he have trouble believing that God had time for him because I seldom did? Tears came to my eyes.
“Lord, help me take the time. Time to hold his hand. Time to walk with him. Time to talk with him. Time to listen. Give me the presence of mind to put the newspaper down. To switch off the game. To leave my work at the office. To teach him about my loving heavenly Father. To somehow make it easier for him to know that You love him because of the way I do. To show him that the most important things in life cannot be purchased; they are gifts from You.”
And I hoped I wouldn’t have to learn how to do that the way Danny De Armas did.
On Monday, Oct. 25, 1999, Danny was in California when he learned that golfer Payne Stewart’s plane had gone down in South Dakota, killing all aboard.
It was a turning point in his life.
Four days earlier, at home in Florida, Danny had received a phone call from Van Arden, the father of his son’s best friend, Ivan. “Hey,” he said, “it’s my 45th birthday. Let’s take Ivan and your boy Seth out of school and go golfing.”
Unfortunately, Danny had to decline. He was traveling the next morning, and life had been a little hectic lately. So Van decided to take the boys himself. Danny hoped to take them golfing someday, too, but not today. And so the boys helped Van celebrate his birthday with a day of golf at the Grand Cypress Resort. It was Ivan’s favorite thing to do with his dad. “It was a blast,” Seth said later. He ended up spending Friday and Saturday night at the Ardens’ home. They rode mo-peds. And skateboards. They even built a three-hole golf course in the front yard.
The following Monday, golfer Payne Stewart, known for his signature knickers, climbed aboard a private jet headed for Dallas. That flight that would plunge into a field in South Dakota, claiming the life of Payne and five others, including his agent — Ivan’s dad, Van Arden.
On Tuesday morning, Danny De Armas arrived back in Orlando. His son Seth told him that Ivan wanted to get out of the house for a while. There were too many people around, and he needed some space. So that afternoon Danny took the boys golfing. “It was my first chance to see the two of them on the golf course together,” he says. “It was about time.” As they played they talked about Van’s slice and how he loved to let the boys drive the carts. They talked about life and death. And about friends.
On the way home Danny choked back the tears as the boys read aloud 30 cards that Ivan had received from friends at school. The car was filled with laughter as the boys admired the artwork of the friends. Each card tried in some way to ease the pain Ivan was feeling.
That night as Danny lay in bed, he contemplated his friend’s death and the startling reminder that we don’t really have much to offer others in this life. But we can give them our time.
Time will tell
Recently researchers devised a way of attaching little microphones to toddlers’ T-shirts and began listening in on the conversations that went on in homes. They were shocked to discover that fathers spent an average of 37 seconds per day playing and talking with their children. Their direct interaction was limited to 2.7 encounters daily, lasting 10 to 15 seconds each.
Most dads I know don’t need another guilt trip. But at times we need another wake-up call. I have yet to meet a father who came to the end of his life wishing he had spent more time with his computer. Or his newspaper. Or his television set. But I have met too many who seem to be spending the last half of their lives regretting the first half.
It’s not an easy balance, I know. We must make money to make a living. But remember that we must make memories to make a life. Will you start today? Tomorrow may be too late. Why not begin with a simple hug, a trip to the golf course or a day in the country? You may even want to throw in a shotgun.