By Darin Berkley
“Sometimes you listen to that still small voice, and it changes your life forever.”
It’s not even the first of the year, and I’m already looking forward to February. It has nothing to do with the Super Bowl, Valentine’s Day or even the end of winter, but the celebration of my 50th “date” with my oldest son, Eli. We began having our monthly dates in January 2010, when he had just turned four, and we have had one each month since. We’ve been talking about our 50th date and looking forward to it since we celebrated our 40th in April of last year.
Sometimes you listen to that still small voice, and it changes your life forever. That happened to me a little over four years ago, and the relationship I have with my children has been different ever since.
In December of 2009, we found out we were going to have our second child. This brought out a lot of varied emotions and excitement. One of the things that ran through my mind during that period was the realization that my one-on-one time with Eli would soon be greatly impacted. I don’t know why God granted me the wisdom that cold December morning to understand the importance of alone time with my children, but He did, and that gave birth to the idea of having a monthly date with Eli. I knew we needed a concrete calendar date in place going into it, or the busyness of our lives would suffocate the idea in a matter of months. I felt like the most logical time to do it would be on Eli’s birth date, the 13th.
We started out very simply, in that once a month we had an evening or an afternoon where we spent some time; just the two of us. After a couple of months our excitement and anticipation grew, and by the third month we started taking pictures before and during our dates. I began to plan ahead and try to come up with the most creative activities I could imagine. Some months I would surprise him and not tell him where we were going. Some months it would simply be a rainy weeknight where we would go get something to eat and see a movie. After a while, traditions began to develop. Well into the second year, we would always recap every one of our dates in order from the first one and leading to what we did that month. It became a fun memory game that we enjoyed playing. Earlier this year we added a chalkboard that we hold for our predate picture that records the date number and where we are going. Helping others has also become a part of our time together. We love to think of different ways we can serve together, an area that I hope will grow. We both love music, so that’s always a part of our car ride, and I’ve even begun to take screen prints with my phone of the songs we listen to as a keepsake. When our youngest son, Truett, turned two in August 2012, I began the same tradition on the 9th of each month with him (his birth date). Some months it is difficult to plan two different excursions with them, but it is a priority in my schedule and I always find a way to work them in.
A lot has changed in our lives since Eli and I had our first date four years ago, but I think in retrospect the point was to spend time together no matter what was going on in our lives. When we first started out, I never thought about these times continuing throughout his childhood or hitting important landmarks. I just knew that God was asking me to make it a family priority to date my child, and I am so blessed to have listened. He will, in all likelihood, not remember each and every one of these special times, but he will always expect them on the 13th of each month, so a wonderful foundation is being laid. If I expect him to want to spend time with me later and to confide in me when he has real problems, that bond and relationship needs to be established now. The dates I’ll have with him when he’s an awkward teenager, the hug I will hopefully be there to receive when he has his first child and all the dates and life in between will be built on the things that happen on (and, of course) between the 13th of each and every month.