As parents, we can never quite be sure what our kids will take with them and carry close to their hearts through the years. I know all parents think about curating abundant family memories for their children; it’s something I think about every week as I schedule out our evening and weekend time together.

I know that sounds intense – scheduling time, but I’ve found that planning at least one family activity per week in advance, even if it’s just a park date, actually makes it happen. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with scheduling in the fun times to make sure you’re not getting lost in the weekly grind.

Always in the back of my mind whenever we have these special family times are memories of my father, who passed away from cancer nine years ago this week, and never got a chance to meet his two grandsons and soon-to-be granddaughter.

Something I’m realizing as I reflect on those memories is that while the larger-than-life events like theme parks and birthday parties are fun, it’s often the undercurrents found in the ordinary experiences that leave a lasting impression.

Lessons from my father:

Get outside.

Some of his favorite things to do included taking us kids to the beach or the park. Maybe he was carrying on what he grew up with. Maybe he realized the value of fresh air and sunshine. Either way, I have an abundance of memories from hot Florida days spent lounging during a beach day, playing in a sprinkler while Dad did yard work, or running around the local park with my sister.

Sadly, Dad’s love of gardening didn’t rub off on me: I’ve killed just about every green thing I’ve tried to plant in the yard over the years.

Eat well.

Although my father worked full time, he valued making sure we had good, fresh food on the table. At least four nights a week, we would sit down to meat, starch/grains, and veggies as a family. Through this experience, I learned to be comfortable in the kitchen, and that good food didn’t need to be complicated or reserved only for fancy occasions.

While pregnancy and the newborn months test my resolve, I try to get a home-cooked meal on the table at least a few nights every week. And whenenver I fight through the busy or the tired to make it happen, I think of my father.

Always respect your teachers and value your education.

No matter how busy he got, and no matter what else life threw at him, my father attended just about every open house and school event my sister and I had. Looking back, and taking into account what I saw when I was a teacher, I respect that he made the time for those events, and the subtle message they sent to us about what school meant.

I still remember how he drove back home after my first high school open house, shuffled me into the car, and drove me back up to see the high school auditorium because he was so excited after seeing where I would be performing that fall. And of course, there were the times he drove 45 minutes each way to attend Friday night football games at the first school I taught at. I’ll never forget that pride and enthusiasm surrounding our school and career achievements.

Family is everything.

Whether it was the messages in his favorite country songs, or the actions he took to make sure his girls were taken care of, we grew to understand that no matter what else life throws your way, you always put family first. And as my father showed us each and every day, it doesn’t take a whole lot of time, money, or fancy experiences to let your loved ones know they’re your priority.

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