By Roni Wing Lambrecht, Special for TDB.
A little over five years ago, when our son, Dalton, was 15 years old, we lost him in a freak ATV vs. sandrail accident. He was our only child so we’ve had to begin living an entirely new life without him. Since then, I’ve spent a lot of time living with my regrets. Our family and friends think I’m crazy for having regrets, but I don’t think regrets are something we can stop, especially when losing a child. They just creep up on us and eat away at our souls. At least they do for me.
People will ask me, “Don’t you think you and Dalton had a great relationship?” I think we had a good relationship. I think he talked to me about things, but he talked to his mom much more than me. People say things like, “You guys did so much together. We’ve never known a family as close as yours.” And, they’re right. I still don’t know any families as close as ours was, or as close as my wife and I still are, but there’s always this nagging feeling of how I could have done things better, handled certain moments better. I think everyone will always have those kinds of regrets when they lose someone they love, but mine are more than that. As a dad, even though my wife worked tons of hours and brought in half our monthly income, I still thought it was more my job to work harder and bring in more money. I thought it was my job to always maintain the house and the vehicles and the yard while she did everything else, and that took a lot of time, especially after working 60+ hours a week.
My wife used to nag me all the time to get Dalton involved in those things, to teach him how to do all the “manly” stuff around the house, but I never thought I had time. I thought he would slow me down. I know better now. She wasn’t just trying to get me to teach Dalton. She was trying to get me to spend good, quality “dad-son” time with him. She would tell me that, but, for some reason, I didn’t hear her then. She would always say, “You’re going to regret this someday when he leaves home.” (She really regrets saying that now.)
It always made me mad back then that she was constantly harping me, “Can’t Dalton help you with that?” Or “Maybe you should get Dalton out there with you.” And, then, every time I would give in, he would be learning and asking questions and that would slow my progress down. It was really maddening when he was angry that he was giving up time with his friends and video games to help me. That would take even longer and I would get mad, instead of taking those moments and making great memories with them.
When Dalton was 12, my wife finally pushed hard enough that I had to take the time, no matter how long it took, to teach him to mow the lawn safely and to use the weed-whacker. It took what seemed like forever the first couple times and he had lots of questions, even after doing it several times. She reminded me constantly that it takes kids a lot longer to retain step-by-step chores and to be patient. It irritated me then, and it kills me now. I should have cherished those moments while they were happening. I should have been happy that he wanted to spend time with me, but it seemed like time was always so short back then and there was never enough of it. Now there’s far too much of it without him. People always say, “Life is too short.” My wife and I will tell you, “Life is far too long without our son.”
After teaching Dalton to mow the lawn, he started helping me a lot. We changed oil and spark plugs and he learned all about maintaining his 4-wheeler and we built other things together. Two weekends before he died, we spent the entire weekend rebuilding his 4-wheeler for the trip. We both learned a lot that weekend, less about the work we were doing, more about his friends and school. It was really cool to have that time together. We laughed and poked fun and argued a little and made up, and then laughed some more.
At his life celebration, kids got up and spoke for over four hours about how much Dalton meant to them; how he ALWAYS took the time to stop and listen, how he had welcomed them into his group of friends, how he had talked them off the ledge from committing suicide, how he always had patience with them. I often tell people that he learned all those traits from his mom, but she reminds me quite often that he learned some of them from me too. I hope so. I just wish I’d been more patient and taken more time.
So, from a dad who lost his only child, if I could give four tips to dad’s everywhere to live their lives with their kids without regrets, they would be…
1. Start teaching your kids at a young age to help you with whatever you’re doing. Teach them that it’s fun to learn and to help. Let them see that you’re having fun teaching them (even when you’re not). Remember that it’s always going to take a LOT of extra time. I promise you – it’s worth it.
2. I beat myself up a lot that I never threw a baseball with Dalton like most dads do (it’s the all- American thing, right?), but my wife reminds me that we did other things together; things that were what baseball is to other dads and sons. Our favorites were hunting, fishing, riding 4-wheelers, camping, and playing airsoft. So, don’t kick yourself for what you don’t do with your kids. Remember the things you like to do with your kids and do more of them.
- Teach your kids to do nice things for other people without expecting anything in return. We did this a lot with Dalton when he was alive and we do it even more now with our Pay It Forward campaign that we started in his memory. (www.DoItForDalton.com)
- Most importantly, show them how to properly treat people with dignity and respect, especially their mom and people they know you’re not fond of (I did do that right.)
Last, but not least, we’ve really tried to take the loss of Dalton and use it to make the world a better place by teaching people what we’ve learned on our journey. Our first attempt at this was our Pay It Forward campaign (mentioned above) and our second big thing has been to share with other parents what we think we did right and what we have regrets about, so they can have better lives with their kids. My wife has taken all of these things and several others and put them into two books… Parenting at Your Best; Powerful Reflections and Straightforward Tips for Becoming a Mindful Parent, and A Parent’s Guide for Journaling to Their Child; Simple Strategies for Writing Heartfelt Love Letters to Your Child. Her website is: www.ParentingAtYourBestWithoutRegrets.com.
I hope these tips help you and your family live a long, happy life together. Sincerely, John Lambrecht, Dalton’s Dad.
Bio for Roni Wing Lambrecht:
Life teaches us all many lessons, some more than others. Since losing their only child, Roni & her husband have learned what it takes to forge ahead and find new purpose in life; helping others to improve their lives by enhancing their focus on what is actually important; their children and other loved ones.
Roni’s books, Parenting At Your Best and A Parent’s Guide for Journaling to Their Child are a tribute to their son, Dalton, with anticipation that the stories and advice they offer will inspire others to excellence in their parenting.
Books available on Amazon or at www.ParentingAtYourBestWithoutRegrets.com.