Push the Start Button

I don't remember exactly where I was, but I know I was on a lake.

And I cannot recall whose jet ski we were riding, but I do remember running out of gas. In the middle of the lake. With no one around. Add in a raging South Texas summer storm, and you have the recipe for the youngest heart attack on record.

My ten-year-old mind could not understand why the man behind me steering this thing didn't seem to get the picture. "Dad!" I cried, "Why does the jet ski keep stopping?" He just laughed.  He laughed! Unable to fathom his casual outlook on what would certainly be our demise, I focused my energy on my despair.

I was frightened. He was steadfast.

Peering over the edge of an obtrusive life jacket, he smiled at me and uttered a simple phrase: "push the start button." At that moment, something interesting happened. Even though our circumstances screamed at me that there was no way we were getting out of this mess, I listened to my dad's voice and listlessly engaged the ignition. Lo and behold, the sputtering starving engine that could fired up and off we went, jutting out of a hidden cove and into open, more populated waters.  It was short lived, however, as the jet ski quickly puttered out and slowed to a stop as indifferent as my father’s smile. 

"Push the start button!" He cried.

I was crying too, but not for the same reason. My fear drove me to despair, while his fear (I'm sure he was afraid, but did not reveal it) drove him to resolve. So I gathered all my remaining courage into my right pointer finger. Off we were once again, over wake and through wind, we flew on fumes until the jet ski yet again died in the water. Again my dad's voice rang through the air, "push the start button!" This time, I responded with a laugh. We were playing a game, I realized. There was really nothing to be afraid of. The lightning over our heads and the falling rain were all in on it! And my dad was winning! He was getting us home. 

I can't remember how many times the jet ski died before we reached the dock.

But each time, my dad would laughingly command, and I would respond. Push the start button. And I did. All the way home. 

Now with the blessing of understanding that comes with age, I realize that my dad may have been just as afraid as I was that day. I don't even know if he remembers the two us, braving the murky waters of a lake in South Texas on a dead jet ski under the canvas of a threatening summer storm. But he got us home like a champ, convincing me that we were playing a game in which even the winds and rains were players. He turned my fear to laughter with a phrase.

Dads, pay attention.

Do you doubt the power of your influence on your child's life? Here's a bit of insight for you. Every once in a while, my dad and I will meet someone new who will remark on our genetic compatibility.

They'll say something like, "Oh, he's definitely your son," or, "Yeah, I can see the family resemblance," which is funny since my dad and I do not share the tiniest bit of DNA. 

I met my dad when I was four years old.

I had a father, sure, but he was in and out of my life as many fathers are out of many of their children's lives. But this dad was different. He was dad from day one. Although I knew him as Keith then, it wasn't long before he was just dad. And now? I literally cannot remember what it felt like to not have dad around, and he came relatively late to the game. 

Imagine what you could do, dads who are or who are to be.

Imagine the opportunity you have to mold and shape your child's life into something great. Do not let that pass you by. I sometimes wonder why my biological dad never came around when he was alive. I ask myself the questions he might have asked himself when he was my age. Most of the time, I think it's about shameI think he convinced himself that I did not need him. 

I think many dads believe that their kids would be better off without them. Well, without knowing you, I cannot say whether that is true. But most of the time it is not. And if it is, then it is up to you to become the person you need to be so that your child thrives because of your presence in their lives. It is up to you to engage in the discipline of parenting. Don't believe you have what it takes? You do. You can become the parent you never had to your child who otherwise may never have. You can become a force of solidarity to your daughter who needs your high opinion of her to believe in her own self-worth. You can become a gentle reminder to your son who may turn to violence without you. You can be the person your children need. You can do it. Just push the start button.

Dr. Mathis Kennington