This is my column in today’s Greenville News.  Happy Father’s Day to all!

Don’t waste precious times by saying ‘not now.’

If you were watching me, secretly, you would see that I sometimes do things that are decidedly non-adult. I can be seen dancing across the hardwood floor with my daughter, with no music audible (except inside her lovely head). She apparently aspires to be a choreographer, and though I am no dancer, I am the only male in the house who will dance with her. When she asks, what can I say?

I know many levels of the assorted video games my sons play, where they have ‘killed’ me too many times to count. When I am old, I am confident that in my senility, I will talk with them of places we went together which will turn out to be scenic, snow-covered levels from the game Halo.

Sometimes I play with dolls, and other times I engage in combat with wooden swords (which is getting remarkably more hazardous as my sons become men). I am fairly good at throwing a knife into a stump from ten feet, but my oldest is far better.

I love going on impromtu dates with my darling wife; dates even more precious to me as she recovers from her recent illnesses. If she asks me, out of the blue, ‘do you want to go out tonight,’ my instant response is ‘yes.’ And when she holds my hand, I grip it for all I’m worth.

All of this brings me to a particular point. That is, as I have grown up and grown old, seen suffering and endured it, watched time pass and watched opportunity slip away, I have come to realize that possibly the worst, most regretted words in all of my beloved English language are these: Not now.

‘Not now, I have things to do. Not now, the phone is ringing. Not now, there are e-mails to check. Not now, I’m trying to advance my career. Not now, I’m tired. Not now, I’m not a kid, you know? Not now, I don’t want to do that. Not now, can’t you entertain yourself? Not now, there are articles to read on the Internet. Not now, what about what I want? Not now, the game is on. Not now, that’s childish. Not now, grow up! Not now!’

Not now, you see, frequently translates into ‘not at all.’ In the same way as discerning children realize that ‘maybe’ is the shining doorway to ‘yes’ if played well, they understand with bitter clarity that ‘not now’ typically morphs into ‘never.’

The problem is, dear fathers and husbands, there are last times. Do you realize it? Just as there is ‘a first time for everything,’ there is also a ‘last time for everything.’ A last request to play dolls, before dolls are tucked away in attics and teen romance replaces playtime. A last time to play ‘hide and seek’ in the warm, summer night before the game is lost to the oblivion of emerging adulthood. A last time to jump on the trampoline in the winter night, with static sparks lighting the air and everyone’s hair standing on end. A last time to cuddle, a last time to haul out the GI Joes, a last time to hold hands with a dear one, a last time to explore the woods with passionate curiosity, a last time lie together in the night and whisper words of love. A last bed-time story, prayer and song.

When we become accustomed to ‘not now’ we do it because we falsely believe there are really no ‘last times.’ We say ‘not now’ while genuinely believing that we can somehow bank all of our opportunities, store them a way in filing cabinets marked ‘wife,’ ‘son’ and ‘daughter.’ And when time allows, we can simply pull out the file and time will start up where we want. As if we could live forever, pulling out opportunity whenever we desired.

But we have a fixed span on the earth. While I believe in eternity, I don’t want to stand before God and ask for Him to return all of my ‘not now’ moments; at least not unless I made a valient attempt to use my opportunities well before my passage.

The ones we love are so much more important than the things we want, more precious by far than our own inflated self-importance. .And if we would be wise fathers, wise husbands, wise men, we would limit our use of the poison words ‘not now,’ and replace our excuses with the word our darlings all desire to hear: ‘yes!’