Stolen moments

Jon Willing and his son, Miles. Photo Courtesy Jon Willing


One of the best bits of fatherhood advice I received was from a friend, a more experienced father, who applauded me for taking a couple of quiet minutes to run recycling to the garage. 

The praise wasn’t actually framed as advice, but I took it as an incredible bit of wisdom.

“You have to steal away those moments,” he told me.

The tip came early in my son’s life when my wife and I were adjusting to the new daily demands of parenthood. Exhaustedly fussing over every moment of the baby’s day — the eating, the crying, the napping, the pooping — was overwhelming and a minute alone could be soul replenishing.

Almost six years later, I have accepted that 1) the exhaustion never really goes away and 2) I need to steal longer moments.

On paper, it would seem easier to steal a couple of hours in a week for myself compared to those baby years. A five-year-old doesn’t require the same daily intensity commanded by an infant.

But once the lunch is packed or the last storybook is closed, I rarely have much interest in evening activities.

A new teaching career, which I’m loving, still has me adjusting to a reworked daily routine where many of my evenings during the academic year are spent assessing students’ work or preparing for morning classes. On weekend afternoons, we feel pressure to find family activities once the swimming lessons and gymnastics wrap up.

Planning personal activities is especially difficult, and sometimes I wonder if that’s a symptom of my previous career as a daily news reporter. I feel like I’m always up against a deadline, constantly calculating how much time I have until pick-up, drop-off, dinner, bedtime, whatever. The self-imposed stress doesn’t make much sense since I’m lucky to have an incredible wife who encourages me to pursue pastimes.

There is one two-hour stretch I steal for myself and it’s usually on a weekend morning when I go to the gym. It’s not just the exercise that’s nourishing; it’s a time to catch up on my favourite podcasts, and usually I’ll leave the car at home and take public transit to get a bit more listening time.

Curiously, I value solitary activities more than I did before fatherhood. When I find a couple of extra hours, I sometimes head to the National Gallery of Canada and slowly stroll through the exhibits, maybe listening to music or a podcast. I recently spent two hours at the fascinating Nick Sikkuark exhibition before getting ready for the after-school routine.

I write this as I slog through the opening months of 2024 with little enthusiasm for unnecessarily leaving the house. The recent slush-soaked winter could hardly keep outdoor skating rinks frozen for more than two straight days. The season was a bust for winter fun. 

I remind myself summer will soon arrive and that means a return of softball, evening bike rides and patio drinks, which offer plenty of fun moments. After I haul my golf clubs out of storage, I might even find out if it’s possible to occasionally get five straight hours to myself. I’ll let you know.