Downtime for Dad?

By Julia Cameron

Today, as a father with two sons ages six and eight, Todd laments no longer having time to read as he pleases. “I haven’t opened a classic since I had kids,” he says. “I’m ashamed to admit it, but I resent that. I’m careful not to take my feelings out on my kids, but every time I look at the untouched book on my bedside table, it’s another little reminder that there’s no time for my interests anymore.”

Deciding that there’s “no time” for something we love is a though that is well worth examining. If we decide that there is no time to read for pleasure—because it isn’t important, because it would “only” make us happy—we are deciding that there is no time for ourselves, for our own spiritual balance, and we are making a dangerous decision indeed. Not only are we putting ourselves at being at risk of becoming resentful, we are modeling this behavior for our children.

“I come home from work and want to spend time with my kids,” says Todd. Of course he does. But all kids take naps when they are young, take movie breaks when they are older, become consumed in a project they are focusing on. The trick is to conserve our energy, grab the moments we can, and allow ourselves to spend them as we please.

The act of spending time doing something we want to do as opposed to something we have to do takes courage. Baby steps may be necessary here. Be gentle with yourself, and be willing to try something small.

Giving ourselves fifteen minutes a day that is our own can turn anxiety into optimism. Our children lie down for a nap, and we rush toward the dirty dishes, the unopened mail, the business calls that we haven’t returned. We push our desires away as we push ourselves toward the imaginary finish line of being “done” with our ongoing list of “things to do.” It has been said that the average person has two to three hundred hours of “things to do” to be “caught up.” We will never be caught up. But we can adjust our course in small, daily ways to bring more balance into our lives. When we allow space for our own desires, we discover the unexpected paradox: by taking a selfish moment, we actually become more productive—and more available to our children.

“What book do you crave to read right now? For pleasure?” I ask Todd. He looks away, guilty that he craves this luxury, wishing he hadn’t admitted it to me in the first place.

Moby Dick,” he says quietly. “But I’ve read it before. I don’t really need to read it again. I’m so behind on everything else—it’s ridiculous for me to waste time re-reading a book for no reason. My kids need me to be available to them.”

“What do you love about Moby Dick?” I prod. I myself have many favorite books that I have read over and over.

“Each time I read it, I see something new. The larger themes inspire me with their constant relevance. I feel connected somehow.” Todd’s eyes light up as he speaks.

“Great,” I say. “You have to find fifteen minutes a day to read Moby Dick. Giving yourself that gift is as important as anything else on your list. Just try it for a week and see what happens.”

When Todd phones me a week later, his optimism is palpable… “My younger son, Sam, was fascinated,” Todd [says]. “He wanted to know what I was reading, what the story was about. I told him I had read the book many ties before, and that it gave me pleasure to read it again. I found myself being more patient and efficient at home and at work. I was excited to talk to Sam about the story, and it made me realize that when I was constantly running from one job to another, even when the job was something for my sons, I wasn’t really able to talk to them anyway. To my surprise, no one seemed to mind that I was taking a moment for myself every day. I almost thought no one even really noticed, until I discovered Sam last night, sitting in my leather chair, feet up on my ottoman, with a book in his lap. When I asked him what he was reading, he replied, ‘I’m reading a great book, Dad. It’s about a whale.’ He held up the book, showing me its cover: Pinocchio.”

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Excerpted from The Artist’s Way for Parents by Julia Cameron,  Tarcher/Penguin, Penguin Group USA, Penguin Random House. © 2014.

Photograph via Creative Commons.