What I Realized When I Threw My To-Do List Aside To Take A Walk With My Dad

I spent two and a half hours with my Daddy yesterday and created a memory I’m confident I’ll cherish forever.

I had a lot of things on the to-do list, and the first was dropping off some shirts for my dad. He was headed into town to run some errands, but four-year-old Deacon was already buckled into the car seat, so I asked him to wait the ten minutes it would take for me to get there. When I made it (eleven minutes later), he was waiting for me outside.

We went inside my grandparents’ house that he and Mom are remodeling, and he showed me his progress and talked through his plans for the next few rooms. He wanted Deacon and me to come with him into the attic to do a little exploring.

My Grandma Eldeane’s attic was like a pirate’s treasure cove as a kid. My cousin, Thomas, and I would spend hours up there in the stifling heat and freezing cold pilfering through the trunks, boxes, baskets, bins, and cases of “stuff” my grandma had acquired through various means. I think things most often came from huge lots she’d buy at auctions just to irritate my Papaw.

My dad has been cleaning that attic, which is a really long process. And in the course of the remodel, he’s torn out the stairs. So, Deacon, Dad, and I climbed the ladder propped against the wall and crawled through the two-foot hole cut into the floor where the new spiral staircase will go. We pilfered and perused, just like when I was a kid. I only brought home a piece of white cotton fabric with a floral design (probably first cut and purchased in the 60’s, judging by the paper label on the outside), a pillow case made of ticking still in the package, and an anthology of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s writing. I left a pristine antique Polaroid camera, still in the case and with film inside, a flawless Moses basket that would have been perfect for pictures of someone’s baby, and a whole mess of other things my dad tried to send home with me.

Once we made it back down the ladder, Dad wanted to show Deacon and me the work he’s done on the pond on the property. So we walked through the sticky, red-clay mud to see the new shape and where he’s planning to put the zip-line he hopes the grandkids will use to drop into the pond for a swim. And then he asked if I had seen the property corners. Of course, I hadn’t, so he walks us through the woods to the first one. And then asks if I’ve seen the second. You can imagine how the rest goes.

Courtesy of Beverly A. Froud

For the next two hours, we crossed creek beds, navigated briar patches, climbed up steep hills and slid down some, too. We stopped to catch our breath more than once. We saw debris discarded by people we’ll never know and who have likely moved on from this life to the next. We sat on rocks, felt soft and squishy moss, saw ferns — and cacti, oddly enough — and we looked across the valley at the treetops miles away. We found survey pins and property lines and buck rubs and lots of fresh air. We slowed down often so Deacon’s little legs could catch up, and more than once my dad carried Deacon in his arms or on his shoulders because he was wearing out.

A couple times, all the things I was going to do that day crossed my mind. And then I thought, “I have nothing better to do.” And that was probably the truest thing I’ve thought in a while. I had important things to do; I had other things to do; I had many things to do. But there was absolutely nothing better I could have been doing in that moment.

For the first time in what was probably 25 years, I was walking through the woods with my Dad. He was leading, and I was following. I was walking down hills sideways so I wouldn’t slide so much, just like he taught me when I was five or six. I was trusting that he knew where he was going, and I was just following along, spending time with him. I hope Deacon stores forever the memory of that trek through the woods with his Papa. I hope he remembers it when he thinks of him, and when he’s older and has kids of his own I hope he realizes how much value that time held for all three of us.

I hope when my own girls are grown, that if their Daddy wants to walk through the woods with them, they will realize they have nothing better to do, no matter what else is on their to-do list. I hope I’m teaching them enough about what really matters in life that they will understand the difference between “urgent” and “important,” and that they will be present for the people in their lives. I hope they will realize that efficiency is not the God we serve, and that they will build memories that can never be checked off a productivity list.

Deacon had asked to spend some time with his Nana that day, too, so when we got to my mother-in-law’s house that afternoon I told her where we’d been. She immediately started to cry. Having lost her own dad over 24 years ago, she got it. She said, “What I wouldn’t give to have that opportunity just one more time.” She understood that I had nothing better to do than take that walk.

I’m so thankful for yesterday. I’m thankful for two and a half hours with my dad and my son that can never be taken away. I’m thankful for another walk through the woods and for a dad who wanted it. I’m thankful that the very best way I could have spent my day yesterday is how I actually spent it.

We all have a list of things that need to get done. That list is ever-changing and never-ending. But please, take the time to realize that sometimes — even though there are important things to do, other things to do, and many things to do — there is nothing better to do.

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