I recently turned 44. Getting older makes me nostalgic. It gets me thinking about my younger days when I had less of need for ibuprofen just from sleeping in the wrong position. But this year, as wonderful as my birthday was, I found myself thinking about a dad other than myself.
A dad named James Lopez.
I did not know James very well before we roomed together at the October 2021 HomeDadCon conference for at-home fathers. I knew of him from other fatherhood conferences we both attended. He was the guy who always wore a “#FatherhoodisLit” T-shirt and hat (and I mean always). He was usually surrounded by people laughing and joking around with him. But just as often as I saw the smiles, those same people would be listening intently as he spoke. Most likely, he was dropping gems regarding fatherhood.
When I was asked to speak at HomeDadCon about book publishing, I was totally surprised that they wanted me to room with James, who is also a co-organizer for the NYC Dads Group. I assumed someone of his level had his own suite, to be honest. However, after spending just a few minutes with him, all the superstar status I had applied to him faded away. I immediately knew what he was all about: being a great dad.
As important as his brand is to him, he wasn’t about selling a million T-shirts or getting lucrative endorsement deals. A father of three boys, James, I learned, was about creating awareness of the greatness of being a dad. He liked to shine a light on other dads he thought were doing a great job showcasing the awesomeness of fatherhood. He didn’t care whether you had 2 million followers or just two. If he thought you were great dad, he wanted everyone he knows to know it, too. For example, he once appeared in PBS television spot. Without even asking me, he chose my book to be the one he was reading to his son on camera. That is the kind of guy he is.
One of the things James frequently talks about is “presence over presents.” We get too caught up in spending money for our kids to have the latest toy or video game, he believes. Instead, we should focus on spending time with them. I thought of this over Father’s Day weekend while attending my cousin’s wedding.
The best man’s speech quoted a rap lyric about how false the idea of “time is money” really is. You can make more money, yes, but you cannot make more time. The next morning, Father’s Day, about 10 of us went out for breakfast. We celebrated the wonderful wedding we had attended, the fathers in attendance at the meal, the amazing bacon we were eating; but most importantly, we celebrated being able to spend time with each other. The 8-hour roundtrip drive to North Carolina for me, with increasing gas prices added to everything else spent on the weekend, was worth the money because of the time I got to spend with relatives I don’t see as often as I should. I earn that money back, but I can’t get back time missed.
I say all this because James has had some setbacks recently. In April, he underwent successful brain surgery for a non-cancerous growth. He mostly kept it secret because he didn’t want sympathy. James was seemingly on the road to recovery, but then later that month he re-injured himself. He is back in the hospital, in a coma. His family set up GoFundMe to help with this new round of expenses.
As I I saw the update on his health, I started to think about the great time we had at HomeDadCon. We talked about everything from basketball to sneakers to fatherhood to Wu-Tang. That time with him was more valuable than the cost of the Uber to and from the airport. Or the plane ticket. Or all the other expenses that came with that conference.
We can’t make up for lost time. It won’t ever come back. But, but we can try to make sure the time we have is filled. We can fill it with memories and laughs and moments that make us forget about monetary cost. Even if the time we get to share is only a few minutes, it can help us understand the value family and friends truly bring to our lives. That is presence over presents.
Whether you are a dad who is doing great, doing poorly or just kind of going thru the motions, remember #FatherhoodisLit and “presence over presents.” There is no time better than right now to try to be the best dad you can be.