The best date I ever had was in the third grade.
It wasn’t all that romantic. It took place at Q-Zar Laser Tag Center.
And I didn’t go on the date with my grade school crush. I went with my dad.
Part of what made this date so special is that my dad didn’t ask me out in advance. He surprised me.
One day, during school, I got called up to the office. “Alex, your dad is here to pick you up,” the voice beckoned over the intercom.
I was confused. I did not remember having a dentist appointment, family vacation, or any other reason to be called out of school. Besides, it was typically my mom who would take me out to do those things.
But there was my father, standing in the office, signing me out for the afternoon. I think I waited until we were buckled up in the car, out of the parking lot and in the clear, to ask my dad where we were going.
That’s when he told me that we were going to play laser tag. In the middle of a school day. Just the two of us. Not for my birthday. Not for good grades. Just for fun.
Our date only lasted for a couple of hours, but the joy I experienced made the clock stand still. We played video games. We ran around in a black-lit room shooting laser beams at each other. I traded in the tickets we won from the arcade for a yo-yo that lit up every time it bounced.
The real reason our date was so special, though, is because my father taught me something that day that I have held near to my heart ever since: Life is short.
My dad didn’t pull me aside and lecture me on the meaning of life that afternoon, but by pulling me away from school and into the arcade, he showed me that life is not all about grades. He taught me that while school and work are important, they are not the most important things in life.
Paul writes in the book of Ephesians that we must “make the most of every opportunity because the days are evil.” The monotony of daily existence can suck away our will to live. The responsibilities we undertake each day can overwhelm us.
That’s unfortunate. Life should never be a burden. God has placed too many joys and treasures in life for us to merely tread through it with our heads hung low.
Of course, we cannot skip out on our responsibilities every day. We must work. We must study. We must go to school.
There are days, however, that our responsibility is simply to surprise others.
A real man works hard for his family, but he works hard at the right things. He provides for his family, but he doesn’t just provide food on the table. He provides those moments and memories which remind us life is something special.
There are days we need to remind the people around us that life life should be full of joy. There are days we need to be surprised and be reminded of this ourselves.
I probably shouldn’t encourage you to call in sick tomorrow and take your child on a date to play laser tag. But I will always be thankful for the day my father did.
(A version of this post originally appeared as a guest column for the Augusta Chronicle)