A Father's Bucket List

Two-thousand, seven-hundred, and eleven days.

About a month ago, I downloaded an app for my iPhone that is counting down the number of days until my oldest son leaves for college, assuming he goes off to college and assuming he goes when most kids go. I put the app on the first screen of my phone, and I check it every morning.

I know this is a little maudlin.

But I’m really tired of arriving at monumental moments in my life, and in the lives of the people I love, looking backward, and asking, “How did we get here so quickly, and why wasn’t I more intentional about the journey?”

And, actually, I’m not sure I’m being maudlin enough. Because when I installed the app on my phone, 2,738 days seemed like an eternity. But I have a feeling, in twelve days, when it ticks down to 2,699, it’s going to feel like time has actually passed.

How quickly will the hundreds fly by?

How quickly will the thousands race by?

Quickly, I think, because life gets busy and priorities get out of whack and I end up tyrannized by the urgent while neglecting the important and I can spend years on autopilot if I’m not careful.

The app has made me realize: just being aware of time passing isn’t enough. I need to be doing it differently, not just thinking about it differently. Living it more, not dwelling on it more.

I’m a father who needs a bucket list.

By August 20, 2022, there are a few things I want to do with my son:

  1. I want to pull him out of bed early to watch the sunrise. Over the ocean. Tell him he is as beautiful and brilliant as it is. And then I want to remind him, at the same time, that the world revolves around it, not around him.
  2. I want to stay up late stargazing together. Feel small with him. Tell him being small isn’t the same as being unimportant. I want to assure him he doesn’t have to change the world to matter—he only has to be himself.
  3. I want to, just once, not roll my eyes at another one of his Minecraft monologues. I want to sit down and let him teach me every detail of the game. For a whole afternoon.
  4. I want to go for a hike in the woods, find a break in the underbrush that looks like it might be a path, and go down it with him. Tell him the most interesting things he’ll do in life won’t happen on the path everyone else is walking. I want to tell him you have to get nicked up and scratched to feel like you’re really alive.
  5. I want to pay attention to every moment in which he is better than me—at chess, at music, at forgiveness, at whatever. And instead of it stirring up competitiveness in me, I want it to stir up joy. Every time I admire him, I want to tell him about it.
  6. I want to celebrate one of his failures. A big failure. Like a public humiliation. Or a romantic rejection. I don’t want to tell him it will work out better next time—I want to tell him it might not, but he should try it again anyway. Throw a big party and let him know that having skin in the game means, sometimes, you get skinned up.
  7. I want to go out for dinner with him, not primarily to eat a meal, but to practice how to treat the waiter. We’ll look the waiter in the eye and we’ll call him by his name and we’ll tip him well, because I want my son to know everyone is worthy of the same attention I give him.
  8. I want him to hate me, at least once, because I cared about him enough to set a boundary he didn’t like.
  9. I want to send him to therapy. And when he comes home from an appointment and starts telling me what I’ve done wrong, I don’t want to be defensive; I want to be different.
  10. At least once, when he defies me because I was wrong and he was right, I want to grab his head in my hands, look him in the eye, and tell him to never lose his determination to start a ruckus if he believes the world needs the ruckus he wants to start.

And last but not least, on the night before he leaves home, while he is out saying goodbye to his friends, I want to wait up for him and, while I’m waiting, I want to remember:

the sunrise

and the stars

and the trail-that-wasn’t-a-trail,

and the waiter’s face,

and the moment I held my ground,

and the moment he held his,

and his wonderful successes,

and his equally wonderful failures,

and the long black arms of a Minecraft Enderman.

In 2,711 days, my son is probably going to be leaving home. I know I’m being a little bit maudlin. But that’s okay. I’m going to err in the direction of sappiness, because it’s also the direction of happiness.

Is there someone in your life you want to get a little maudlin about?

You don’t need to be a father or a mother. Perhaps you’re a grandparent, or a spouse or a friend or a lover or a sibling. Do you have a bucket list you’ve been waiting to make and to live?

Time is ticking.

Make it.

Live it.

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In his debut novel, Kelly weaves a page-turning, plot-twisting tale that explores the spiritual depths of identity and relationships, amidst themes of healing, grace, faith, forgiveness, and freedom.

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About Kelly

Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.