As a dad with an earnest desire to embed every nuance of my kids’ childhood into my memory, on April 17, 2016, my 3-year-old son, Charlie, offered me a chance to do just that. He innocently asked me, “Why do dads’ cars go so much faster?” The sheer simplicity of his question resonated with me, creating a moment I knew I wanted to remember, something I would later refer to as a dad’s tip for never forgetting their kids’ childhood. I shared this charming interaction with my wife, Elysha, regretfully realizing that these childhood inquiries are too precious to be taken lightly.
That same day, when we found out that our cat Owen was dying and would have to be put down to end his pain, Charlie saw tears in my eyes and said, “Daddy, don’t you know that grown-ups don’t cry?”
I remember both of those times and a lot of others as if they were yesterday. For example, my daughter Clara once told her friend that she can wake up before the sun rises because her dad is a writer and writers don’t sleep much. She didn’t sit on my lap the first time she came downstairs. When Charlie was four years old, he woke up on his birthday and said he was going to start going to the bathroom on his own.
I hear parents say all the time that they should write down all the funny, cute, and memorable things their kids say before it’s too late, but few actually do it. It’s a sad story. The most valuable things we have are the memories of our children. We wouldn’t let a dollar slip through our fingers without noticing, but we let these times pass us by as we go about our daily lives.
The Method for Homework for Life
As a speaker, I have to keep coming up with new things to say so I can stay onstage. And to keep the audience’s attention, I have to tell stories about my life. When I realized five years ago that I might run out of stories, I gave myself a simple task: at the end of every day, I would sit down and write down the most interesting thing that happened to me that day, even if it seemed dull, uninteresting, or not worth telling at all. I would ask myself, “If I had to tell a story about what I did today, what would it be?” I called it Life’s Homework.
I didn’t write down the whole story because I thought it would take too much time and work. I made an Excel list instead. I wrote the date in column A. Then I made column B go all the way to the end of the screen. I write down my story in that long section B. I chose only to have a few words to write, just a line or two to describe the moment.
I hoped that every month or two, I’d find a new story. Instead, a wonderful thing happened. By forcing myself to find a story daily, I got a very sharp eye for stories I didn’t expect. I saw them where I hadn’t seen them before. I understood that my day was full of big and small things that could be turned into a story and should be remembered:
When my daughter went to dance class for the first time, she told me to stay in the car.
My son told me it doesn’t help when a doctor says it will only pinch, but it really hurts.
When he found my wife’s heartbeat and started calling it “heart beeps.”
The one and only occasion I’ve ever been to a restaurant where my children did not argue over who got to sit next to me.
How the Method Works
Even though I now have a spreadsheet with 27 pages and more than 3,500 items, I remember so many of them just because I noticed them, acknowledged them, and wrote them down. But when I can’t remember one of these memories, I can look back at a post like this one from March 2016: “Charlie and I rake leaves in the backyard. It’s so nice to have this little boy who isn’t very helpful to help me.”
If I read that bit now, it takes me right back to that time and place. I can see my 3-year-old son trying to use three times his size rake. He thinks he’s helping, but all he’s doing is plowing through my leaf piles and giving me more work. I’m back in my backyard, surrounded by leaves, watching a little boy giggle, fight, and fall over. It would have been a moment that no one would remember.
If my house caught on fire and I could only save one thing, it wouldn’t be my signed copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s A Man Without a Country, my late mother’s recipe for meat pie (which is the only thing I have written in her handwriting), or even Puppy, the stuffed animal I’ve had since I was born. It would be my sheet for Homework for Life. Since it’s now saved to the cloud in various places, I’d probably just grab my mom’s recipe and say sorry to Puppy on the way out. But the list is, without a doubt, the most valuable thing I own.
Since I’ve also taught basic school for 20 years, I feel like I can give you homework, so I will. You don’t have to use a spreadsheet. You can use a note on your phone or a leather-bound notebook instead.
Sit down and write down one story-worthy moment from your day every single day, even if it doesn’t seem like much. Be patient as you find your own way to tell stories so you can slow down time and talk to your kids about these bright, hard, and wonderful times. You should give this to your future self and your kids.
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