My girl had barely arrived on campus when she and her dad circled the days on the calendar: Dads Weekend, University of Illinois, Oct. 30-31.
Goal No. 1 was to finish harvest by then. Sure, it seems kind of precious now — but back in August when it wasn’t raining every other day, the possibilities were endless. And he might’ve made it except for 3-plus inches of rain the Sunday before, falling hard on the last 600 acres of beans.
It kept raining. By midweek, they decided he might as well come for the basketball game on Friday, too — in their matching old-school, Fighting Illini Crush T-shirts, because John was in Illini Pride and saved his shirts for 30 actual years. “Next level,” Jenna called their matching shirts.
All told, they cheered on the basketball, football and hockey teams, sang at church, and went ice skating, without a sliver of guilt. And as fellow dad farmer Dan Erickson told me on Twitter, rain or no, “I hope he never feels guilty for that.”
The whole thing took me back to a conversation with Jim Esworthy in 1997, standing in 4-H House, four months removed from an accident involving a drunk driver who killed his daughters. Jennifer had just graduated from U of I; Jackie had just graduated from high school. Jim hadn’t missed a Dads Weekend in all four of Jen’s years, and that fall would’ve been Jackie’s first.
As we talked, Jim realized some farmer dads weren’t coming; Dads Weekend fell in late September that year.
There was fire in his eyes and real tears over dads who could be there but chose not to be. He was aghast. Mouth open, hand on his forehead, aghast. He was ready to make phone calls and set them straight, because the only thing he wanted in the world was a Dads Weekend with his daughter. And he’d never have another.
Friends, I know these decisions are hard. But all these years later, I still think of Jim and the choice he wanted every parent to make.
Park the combine. Make the drive. Go to the game. Don’t miss the concert. Or the recital. Spend the time. Wear the matching shirts. Will it cost you more? Maybe. But don’t feel guilty. You’ll never regret it.
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