From the balcony of our room at the beach last year, a little blond boy down below caught my attention. I watched as he followed every step a much larger man in front of him took. He was about 5 years old and appeared to be playing a game of follow the leader, which he desperately wanted to win.
I continued to watch as he tried, without success, to step exactly in the impressions the mans feet left in the sand. I smiled as I watched him try to stretch with all his might to fill the large footsteps in front of him. Somehow, I just knew he was the mans son.
It turned out that the man operated a place where you rent chairs and colorful umbrellas for use on the beach. As we rented ours, I couldnt help but ask if the cute little boy was his son.
Yes, he said, beaming with pride. Hes a pistol ball!
We watched as the little boy attempted to lift part of the umbrella.
His daddy took the entire weight of it, allowing the boy to think he was really helping. Following them toward the ocean, I thought how wonderful it was for the boy to spend the hot summer day at the beach right beside his dad.
I had a wonderful dad. There is no question. He was an honest, hardworking and responsible man who loved my sister and me with all his heart. He was our provider. His job consumed much of his time, but he was always there for us at night and most of the weekend. He usually opted to work instead of taking his vacations, so we didnt travel a lot.
As children, we didnt understand. But as we grew older, we realized he did that unselfishly to have more money for our family. Still, looking back, I wish we had traveled more places together because most of the memories I now have of my father dont involve fun trips and exciting events.
They are absolutely wonderful memories I treasure -- just of different things.
There is no doubt that being a father is a very difficult job -- one that doesnt come with a manual or a class you can study in school. You just have to jump in and do the best you can.
Being a father is definitely a process you have to actually experience in order to understand. Thats why Ive never taken any parenting advice from anyone who isnt a parent.
When we became parents, my wife was what most people would refer to the breadwinner. I was freshly out of art school and hadnt found my niche in life yet. It never crossed my mind that being a stay-at-home father was strange in any way.
Since the work I did could be done from anywhere, I naturally took on the role. Besides, as my mother always said, Being a parent is the most important job a person can have.
I once heard a friend say that he hated it when someone asked him what his son-in-law did for a living. I was shocked and asked him why. He said that he was embarrassed to say his son-in-law was a stay-at-home dad.
This statement offended me and I tried to explain why. I will never allow anyone to tell me that choosing to stay at home and raise children is something to be ashamed of no matter what gender you are.
The important thing to any child is that you are there for them.
For Debra and me, this situation was the best choice. For others, it may not be.
As you can probably imagine, I was the fun parent. I learned that role well from my mother. There was never a dull minute around the Ballard Stay and Play. I made sure we went on all kinds of adventures. We visited art museums, pretended to be explorers in faraway lands, cooked and created everything you could possibly imagine.
They were stuck to me like glue and went everywhere my work took me, even on occasion traveling to some of my clients homes via private jets.
Yes, what we created were memories and I was determined that our memories wouldnt be in black and white, but instead be 3-D and in brilliant Technicolor.
I made it my goal to expose my children to all kinds of things Id never seen or done and for them to have opportunities I never could have imagined at their age. But the most important thing I taught them was they could be and do anything they could dream.
On some of our summer vacations at the beach, I would lead them to the waters edge and say, As far as you can see, that is what you can be! There are no limits except the ones we place on ourselves!
All I wanted to do was pass on to them all the best of what had been given to me -- plus a little more. And it is my hope I was able to do that. I know I did the very best I could.
After all, being a father is teaching by example, isnt it? Wasnt that what the man on the beach was doing for his son? Wasnt that what my father did for me? They werent just telling us what to do; they were showing us how. Children learn so much from what they see and hear. They are like sponges absorbing everything around them.
It is my hope that one day, many years from now, when my children think of me, they remember me not as a great dad, but as a person who showed them how to look at life in a whole new, bright and colorful way, to accept no boundaries or limits, to reach for the stars and never let go, and to know how much I love them!
More with Mark
Annual New York City holiday trip with Mark and Debra Ballard from Dec. 5-9. Join the Ballards in the Big Apple at the most amazing time of year for Broadway shows, tours, shopping and more. For details, go to www.markballard.com or call 757-6877 and leave your mailing address to receive the information by postal service.
Check out Marks website, www.markballard.com, for current projects, recipes, Marks tees, prints, cards and his collectible porcelain plates.
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