Once

Photo by Charlie Foster via Unsplash.com

Warm, buttery smells mix with the scent of new carpet. Salt never seems to have a smell at home, but in a few places — the beach and, apparently, here — it fills the air. Crowds sound different when invigorated with a sense of urgency — the film is soon to begin, and everyone wants their pick of seats. He buzzes inwardly with excitement and feelings he may not understand for years: pride, closeness, gratitude for his father who brought him here.

My father-in-law made a point to take his kids to the movies, just like his father had done for him. He was determined to give his children this same beloved experience of joy and carefree happiness. As a result, my wife and her siblings grew up going to the movies on many occasions with their dad. I knew his love for the movies well, but as I sat across from my mother-in-law late one evening, she told me of something she recently learned.

“How many times did your dad take you to the movies as a kid?,” she had asked him.

“One time.”

Once. My wife’s childhood was reshaped and many happy memories were made because her grandfather took her dad to the movies one time. Part of my father-in-law’s identity was formed in those few hours of that one day.

I have been a father for three years now, and as a father of two I’m starting to feel like a “real” dad, not just one of those I-just-had-a-baby, blow-up-your-facebook-timeline dads. My father-in-law’s story left a real impression on me and made me recall single occurrences in my life that stick with me today.

Around 6th grade, I took a state standardized test. My dad got the scores in the mail and said, “You should never get anything less than an A.” Up to that point, I had gotten A’s, B’s, and C’s without much concern, but from that day forward I was a straight-A student. I remember well the moment he spoke those words to me. There was no ceremony, he didn’t even sit me down and look me in the eye. I’m not even sure he was serious about it, but that one statement changed my trajectory.

When I was a child, an adult relative of mine called me fat. I’ve never had an eating disorder or anything serious, but I’ve had sincere body image issues as long as I can remember. I went on my first diet at the age of nine. At 31, I’m finally learning how to live a mentally and physically healthy lifestyle, and I’ve found fulfillment in learning how to dress better. In other words, it has taken decades of growth to look in the mirror and think happy thoughts, to not think of what someone said to me one time.

It’s difficult not to be frozen in fear by the understanding that one off-hand comment can transform my children’s psyche and impact future generations. But we base a majority of our lives around single events, achievements, and failures. I wonder how many people got their job because of one project they participated in which, however short or long, placed them head and shoulders above competitors. I wonder how many “how we first met” stories came down to one critical moment — a dance, a phone call. My own marriage traces its earliest inception to a single email.

Greater than fear, there is power in this reality. Write one book and you’re an author. Write one song and you’ve moved from the dreamers into the makers. Put $100 in the bank and be richer than most of the world. Tell your father you love him once while you can, and you’ll always know he knows.

Write one article on Father’s Day and maybe inspire someone.

There are likely whole “eras” of your life you remember with fondness which lasted only a few weeks. Those summers where you met your friends every evening and rode bikes until the sun set warm behind the trees. The era of exhaustion with your first newborn. The long nights when you got lost in books and learned a new skill. The great tragedy of your life may be the same. It could be that the only thing between you and the You which you may never achieve is only few hours, days, or weeks of focus and effort.

Go and do it. If only once.