What Dads Really Want for Valentine’s Day

Unstructured time just can't be bought. Listen up, ladies.

Valentine’s Day is a holiday that nearly every male friend I know approaches with the same enthusiasm as, say, death or taxes. But like both examples, it is inevitable and it’s better to tackle it head on than avoid it in the hopes it might just go away.

It’s not the opportunity to express our love to our wives that we guys find so distasteful. It’s the idea of being forced onto the Love Boat. Even the most “toe the line” fellow can get his back up at what feels like a mandate to prove the depths of his love.

The whole holiday is the equivalent of that over-needy ex-girlfriend who used to say “love you” almost every hour and then look back at you expectantly, waiting … waiting … waiting for your holler back. (Note the “ex” in the previous sentence.)

And we do care, so we step up and do what’s called for — a card, flowers, a nice meal, dancing, a movie. The point is we know our wives well enough to make this one an easy win.

But we’re part of this team, too, and any good wife is also looking for something for you. So here’s a bit of advice on what dads really want for Valentine’s Day.

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Fathers and husbands who are raising children in this brave new world miss “time.” Just “time.”

A lack of time is a reaction to the reality of our lives. On any given weekday, we put in a full day at work, ferry the kids back and forth to practices, and bear some responsibility for dinner, whether it’s cooking or cleaning up. On weekends, we watch our kids’ games, work on the house, run errands, get to church — and basically share the responsibilities of raising a family with a wife who is as tired, overworked and stressed as we are.

We don’t expect gold stars for this work. This is what we signed up for, and we do it with authority and most of the time with a smile (enthusiasm often is impossible). From sowing these modern fields, we take pride in work well done, a real sense of partnership with our wife, and kids who might just one day say “Hi, Dad” as well as “Hi, Mom” when they get on the Jumbotron.

But here’s the truth: I’m not sure I’ve been alone, literally alone, for more than a few hours in over a decade, and that takes a toll. There is an extreme and sublime joy in having no schedule (which is why I don’t understand why the world is so fired up about making baseball games shorter) and most fathers I know miss unscheduled time.

It’s that simple. Maybe it’s time spent on the X-Box, maybe it’s watching an NFL game while prone, maybe it’s a day with no “out-time” at the golf course. It could also be a night howling at the moon and then a pass on the next day’s parenting duties (I believe the day after a night out with your buddies is the greatest test of sanity and dedication to family ever devised). Whatever “time” means to your husband, chances are you’ll have hit upon what he wants.

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We’re all strong enough to know this has nothing to do with the high esteem in which we hold our wives and families. Think of it as recognition of the “manifest destiny” inherent in all of us. It is a mature understanding of the genetic tic that makes us want to climb Mount Everest, jump out of a perfectly good plane, surf a giant wave, or try something that ends up on America’s Funniest Home Videos and requires stitches.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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