Don't Let It Slip Away

What I Wish I Captured More When My Kids Were Little, According to 12 Dads

It’s hard to know what you’ll miss when your kids are older. Here’s what a dozen dads wish they documented a bit better.

Making and capturing memories is one of the unspoken duties of a parent. We promise to take videos and photos of the important moments — the first words, the first steps, the first bike rides — and the everyday ones, too: the messy face at dinner, the bedtime cuddle, the sweet moment between siblings. We remember the old saying, the days are long but the years are short, and vow to enshrine as many moments as possible before they’re gone.

But, whether crunched for time, spread so thin we just don’t think to do so, or so in the moment we don’t want to skitter off to grab our phone, capturing memories can be a challenge. The notion of being present and in the moment of our kids’ lives is a noble one. But it can often prove difficult. It’s also hard to be in the moment and capture a memory (after all, an engaged playmate doesn’t make the best photographer). Inevitably, there will be moments lost to time. Parenting while glued to a phone or camera isn’t the answer. But capturing your kids’ milestones, successes, and even failures can make the vivid, visceral memories of those experiences more accessible and easier to relive in the future.

So what moments should you try your best to capture? What will you most want to remember? We asked a dozen dads that question, and each of them expressed a tinge for regret for not capturing everything from songs and silly mispronunciations to snuggles with the dog. The memories are with them, but they wish they’d had the wherewithal to document or catalog them outside of their mind’s eye. Consider this your motivation to not let these moments slip away.

1. ​​Singing

“I really wish I had more footage of our son singing with me. Just belting out his favorite tunes. It was usually in public, but wherever we were, just him smiling from ear to ear, with his tiny toddler fists pumping in the air. There’s something magical about watching him sing at the top of his lungs without any inhibitions. Off key. Wrong words. To a kid, it doesn’t matter. I know, like most of us, he will likely enter a stage where he’ll be self-conscious and worried about what other people think. Sure, he’ll still sing whenever he’s in his comfort zone, whether that’s just in the shower or at a concert with his friends. But with his dad? I might not see that until his wedding day. Until then I’ll savor every singalong he’ll give me, even if he’s yelling at me for getting the lyrics wrong.” - Daniel, 35, Vancouver, Canada

2. Being Bench-Pressed

“I used to work out with my kids as weight implements when they were kids. I wish I would have captured some footage and thought more about the significance of doing those types of things with them. I would use them on my shoulders for bodyweight squats. I would place them on a blanket on my tile and pull it under me while doing planks, I would do situps with them on my shoulders, and I would tell them I was a ‘crazy horse’ while they held onto my back while I did bear crawls and pushups. I hope to have instilled in them the values of hard work and taking care of your body by modeling these behaviors to them at a young age, and would love to revisit some of those memories.” - Coop, 31, New Jersey

3. Saying, “I Love You”

“Childhood is the time when your kids are just pure and innocent. I cherished it. But I wish I would have captured my kid’s voices when they said, ‘I love you, Dad.’ As they started growing, they began to experience social pressure and competition. They got busier in their lives. Their priorities changed. And that’s all fine. That’s normal. But, when that happens, expressing love through words becomes very rare. It didn’t mean that they loved me any less, it just meant that they began to express it differently. I might feel the affection more, but I hear the words less, which is why I wish I would’ve captured them when I had the chance.” - Steve, 37, Netherlands

4. Helping Me Cook

“If I could have a redo at being a father, I would have tried harder to capture my sons helping me in the kitchen. I did much of the cooking at home, and family dinners were most nights of the week. So I feel like I got that part right. My older son, now 32, has developed an interest and some skill at cooking. Fortunately he lives close enough that we can share that. My younger son, too, who is high-functioning autistic, is also coming around to being in the kitchen. Both of them make me think back to when my mother and I watched Julia Child and tried her recipes together. Sharing and documenting experiences like that would have been a wonderful experience for us all.” - Allen, 65, Oregon

5. Enjoying Quiet Times

“Parenting is loud. There’s really no way around the fact that crying, yelling, and screaming are almost daily occurrences. And that’s just the parents! I can remember some really special times when my daughters were young, and we would all just be sitting or snuggling together in complete peace and quiet. No TV. No video games. Times when we all just sort of ended up in the same spot — the couch, the floor, our bed — and just existed together. I try to remind myself of those times when I’m feeling stressed. Like, even in all the craziness, there was still an opportunity to relax, take a breath, and just be. I wish I’d taken time to document exactly how we were all feeling during some of those moments. They don’t seem like they’d be anything remarkable, and yet here I am talking about them almost 10 years later.” — Noah, 47, North Carolina

6. Vacationing Together

“When my kids were little, I wished I had captured more of their happy moments during the holiday vacation. We used to go on vacations to different places, but I’d get caught up with work and have to leave. So I would miss out on fun memories. I wish I was able to capture more things, too, like their first bike rides, or times they missed the bus. Simple things. But vacationing could have been really special. In short, I guess I wish I was more involved in their lives as much as I was in their education and future.” — Joseph, 60, Nevada

7. Performing In “Plays”

“When my kids were between 3 and 6 years old, they loved to gather the adults into the living room to put on a play. They would pretend to be characters they loved, and they did it all the time. Whether it was Batman and Robin, or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, these shows were usually the same type of deal. They made perfect sense to my kids, but no sense to the adults. I never thought to videotape these plays, thinking them to be just silly. Now that my kids have grown, there’s no way I can possibly describe these performances in words. The enjoyment of these memories is one-sided. They were ‘had to be there’ moments that I wish I caught on video, so my kids could experience the silliness that gave me so much joy.” - Monte, 55, Virginia

8. Mispronouncing Words

“This is a common thing with most kids, and it pains me that I didn’t do a better job documenting it. For a while, when he was little, my oldest son couldn’t — or wouldn’t — say the letter V. Instead, he would try, and then turn it into a B sound. So, when we tried to get him to say ‘vanilla’, for example, he would say, ‘banilla.’ ‘Very’ was ‘berry.’ ‘Vacuum’ was ‘bacuum.’ And so on. Our daughter used to emphasize the wrong parts of words when she spoke. So instead of saying, ‘chicken,’ she would say, ‘chicken!’ Like, super aggressive. You just don’t think to record stuff like that. Thinking about it makes me laugh, and I would love to be able to actually show those memories to my kids.” - Damon, 58, California

9. Playing Sports

“This is kind of a double-edged sword. My sons played just about every sport when they were little, and I didn’t want to be one of those fathers who was looking through a camera or a phone recording them, instead of watching them and being present in the moment. There were so many great ones. One of my sons hit a buzzer beater that won the big game, which I remember vividly. My other son broke a school record for touchdowns in a single game, which I also remember. But to have those moments readily accessible, and being able to show them to other people in addition to telling the stories would be incredible. Like, ‘Don’t believe me? Watch this!’ I certainly don’t regret being fully present during those moments, but I regret not setting and forgetting a video camera somewhere so they could live on.” - Lamar, 52, Michigan

10. Snuggling With Our Dog

“When our son was born, our dog, Lady, instantly adopted him. Lady was a beautiful lab mix, and I think she was about 10 or 11 when she first met him. We were nervous, even though Lady was the sweetest dog in the whole world. But she was nothing but sweet to our son. She would sleep near him. She watched while he grew up and played. She let him pull her tail, and climb all over her. She was just the perfect dog to help raise a kid. She passed away when our son was 3, and I realized then that I didn’t have a lot of pictures or videos of them together. We have some, but they’re all posed or taken professionally. I would love some of those candid moments, when it was just the two of them loving each other and being precious.” - Aaron, 42, Illinois

11. Eating

“Our daughter was a very hard sell when she started eating solid foods. She didn’t want to try anything. She would refuse it, or spit it out, or slap it away. It was actually a very trying, frustrating time for my wife and I. We talked to friends and doctors, and became so wrapped up in thinking we were doing something wrong that we didn’t realize she was just being picky. (She still is, by the way.) Finally, one day, she ate a piece of banana and loved it. That was one of our biggest parental victories, I think. Especially early on. Looking back, though, I regret not documenting that whole, exhausting journey. I think of all the faces she made, and how messy everything was. At the time, we were so focused on the goal of getting her to eat that we didn’t realize we were creating some pretty silly memories to cherish later.” - Daniel, 45, Michigan

12. Making Mistakes

“I really wish I would’ve documented all of my kids’ failures. I know that sounds weird — maybe even a little sadistic — but they’re both parents now, and they put so much pressure on themselves. They get really upset when they think they’ve failed at something, whether it’s at work, at home, with the kids, or whatever. I try to remind them of all that they’ve overcome in their lives. I watched them try and fail so many times, at so many different things. But then, they would succeed. And that’s when we took the pictures and videos. It probably would’ve been traumatizing to shove a camera in their faces after something didn’t work out, but I think being able to see themselves at their lowest and then being reminded that they eventually persevered would help their confidence. They’d see the mistakes they made, with their own eyes, and how it wasn’t the end of the world. I dunno, is that mean? Or crazy?” - Gary, 65, Ohio