Looking Back

What I’m Glad I Did With My Parents Before It Was Too Late, According To 12 Dads

You can’t stop time. But you can make it last.

Originally Published: 

The Canadian writer O.A. Batista once mused that the best inheritance a parent can give their child is a few minutes of their time each day. Regardless of the wording — we hope he meant more than a few minutes, but he was from a very different period — there’s something memorable in the sentiment, especially in the use of the word “inheritance.” We inherit much from our parents — tastes, tendencies, memories, unspoken burdens — and if we are lucky enough to still have them with us, then it is upon us to, as we get older, to spend time with them in the same way before it is no longer available. We recently asked a dozen men what they’re glad they did with their parents before it was too late, and the answers — which ranged from stories of unexpected zip-lining adventures and joining in on later-in-life hobbies to remembrances of fun childhood times and the completion of wills — speak to the unique relationships parents and children have and how much richer they can become. They all illustrate that, if you have the opportunity to spend quality time with your parents, it’s best not to squander it.

1. We Got Our Black Belts

“My parents and I began martial arts training after I graduated college. I think they were around 50 then. It was something that we all had wanted to do, and I was shocked — and excited — when my dad suggested signing up for classes together. We decided on Taekwondo, found a studio, and attended our first class. After about three years, we all tested for our black belts at the same time. We were all so proud of each other, and the entire class was there to support us. I’ll never forget hugging my parents after our instructor finally tied our belts. It was like we’d just won the Super Bowl. We did stop training not long after that. I got a job out of state, and my parents had moved on to other interests. But that moment — and, moreso, that journey — will live in my heart forever.” - Chris, 50, California

2. We Built Model Planes And Made Costumes

“My dad was a big model builder. Mostly fighter planes, but he did some cars and ships every now and then. And my mom loved to sew. Everything from Halloween costumes to everyday clothes. When I was young, I used to just sit in the basement and watch my dad. He would use tweezers, a magnifying glass, a headband with a flashlight on it - just all of the things. I was fascinated, and so impressed. When he finished, he’d always give me the models to keep in my room. When my mom was sewing something, I always tried to observe without getting in the way. And I’d listen to her commentate what she was doing.

As I grew, I was able to start participating in my parents’ hobbies with them. When I turned 10, for my birthday, my dad gave me a model F-14 Tomcat. Like the plane from Top Gun, which was one of our favorite movies. It was almost like an initiation. We worked on it together, and even though it didn’t come out as perfectly as his, it started the era of us sharing what was formerly his hobby. Now it was ours. And today, it’s still mine. My mom and I worked on a Halloween costume one year, when I was in my 20s. It was a huge project, but I was able to help. And I ended up winning a costume contest. I don’t know if I’ll ever love model building and sewing as much as my dad and mom, but I loved learning and spending time with them and their passions.” - Matt, 46, North Carolina

3. We Celebrated Their 40th Wedding Anniversary

“I threw a surprise 40th wedding anniversary party for my parents at our childhood home. What made it so special was that my two sisters and I invited all the people that were a significant part of their lives. We spent months tracking everyone down. Days and days of calling this person who led me to that person. This relative who knew where that relative was living and so on.

All told, we found 30 people that had been a part of my parents’ life since they were kids growing up in the Bronx. And we invited them all and they all showed up. I hired a string quartet and set them up on the driveway of our home. My sisters were able to get my parents out of the house so we could set up. A local friend had a catering company and provided all the food.

What made it so special for me personally was witnessing my parents' reaction. When they walked in the house, they were stunned to see some friends and relatives they hadn’t seen in decades. I remember walking downstairs and just stopping for a moment to listen to my parents and their friends laughing, talking. The joy I could hear in their voices. It was a true ‘joie de vivre’ moment I will never forget. To be honest, when I think of that day 30 years ago, I get misty-eyed.” — Jesse, 65, New York

4. We Traveled The PCH In An RV

“One unforgettable experience with my parents was a road trip we all took together. I used to be a teacher, so we took about six weeks over the summer one year and we drove up and down the west coast, all along the PCH and up into the northwest. This was before I met my wife and had kids and stuff. I come from a family of nature lovers, so that was the big goal for the trip — to see as much nature as possible. Animals. Trees. Rivers. All of it. My parents have this big RV, so we were able to just take our time, and really enjoy being with each other. I have so many pictures, and small souvenirs from the trip, and they really are among my most treasured possessions. But, even more so, I treasure the memories and the emotions of those six weeks with my mom and dad. It really was one of the best times of my life.” — Conor, 39,

5. We Played Music Together.

“I got into music at a young age because my parents were both musicians. My dad played guitar, and my mom sang and played piano. So I dabbled in a little bit of everything until I finally landed on the drums as my instrument of choice. One year at Thanksgiving, when the whole family was over, my dad brought out his guitar. I think he was just messing around, but he suggested I start playing as well. Fast-forward to several minutes later, and our whole family was singing Christmas carols, with me, Mom and Dad leading the group. It sounds corny, but it was so, so fun. It was the first time we actually played ‘together’ in front of people. Like, formally. And it ended up not being the last. I’m so glad my parents and I have been able to share our love of music between us.” — Rick, 48, Georgia

6. We Traveled Across The Country

“My parents and I went on a cross-country trip together several years ago. We saw everything. Diverse landscapes, iconic landmarks, and charming towns — all part of a journey designed to give us some real quality time. During the trip, we encountered unexpected joys and challenges, from witnessing breathtaking sunsets over the Grand Canyon to navigating quirky roadside attractions. Each day brought new experiences, fostering a sense of shared adventure and camaraderie. What made this road trip particularly special was the opportunity it provided for open and heartfelt conversations. The long hours on the road allowed us to delve into personal stories, share dreams, and discuss the values that shaped our lives. The car became a space for laughter, reflection, and the kind of meaningful conversations that are often elusive in the hustle of everyday life. The memories we created together during those days on the road are cherished treasures, and the lessons learned continue to influence our relationships.” - Max, 42, Ontario, Canada

7. We Cook Together

My mother and father love to cook. Their kitchen is a busy, lived-in place filled with hundreds of recipe books and a big gas range and all the tools they’ve invested in over the years. As a kid, I enjoyed eating what they made but never got into cooking with them. It never really slotted in with my interests. But as I got older, I realized not only the importance of the skill but also the meditation of it. My parents were thrilled to invite me into the kitchen and teach me what they knew and I’ve learned not only so much about cooking but their relationship: how they move together in the kitchen, how they work together, how they laugh, how they sometimes frustrate each other. It’s a joy to be a part of. — Anthony, 43, Philadelphia

8. We Built A Treehouse

“Reflecting on cherished moments with my parents, one experience that stands out is our family project of building a treehouse. It wasn't just any treehouse; it was a well-planned, elaborate construction we designed and built together in our backyard. This project was special because it combined my dad's carpentry skills, my mom's creative design ideas, and my youthful enthusiasm. Over several weekends, we worked together, measuring, sawing, hammering, sometimes making mistakes, and starting over.

The process was filled with laughter, teamwork, and invaluable lessons in patience and perseverance. What made this experience so memorable was not just the physical treehouse we built, but the bond it strengthened among us. It became a symbol of our family's love and collaboration. Every time I see that treehouse, even now, it reminds me of the joy and connection we shared during its creation. It was an experience of working together towards a common goal, cherishing each other's company, and creating something that lasted, much like the memories we built.” - Garrett, 40s, California

9. We Explored The World

“I've explored Asia with mom and dad in their 60s, they came down to our wedding in Argentina/Chile in their 70s. And we spent a fantastic 10 days in Barcelona in their early 80s. But the best thing we did before it was too late was a cruise. At 85 and 86, they boarded a Caribbean cruise with me. The ports of call were not that exciting but the time on the ship with them, sharing meals, listening to music, and enjoying the entertainment was priceless. Numerous people approached me, having seen me escorting Mom through the hallways, some of whom were close to tears. People from different walks of life would approach us and share the same sentiment: ‘I wish I had done this before it was too late.’ — Stewart, 53, California

10. We Finalized Their Wills

“I know that sounds horrible. Or, at least, odd. But it was one of the most relieving and emotional experiences I’ve shared with my parents. For years — decades, probably -— I was obsessed with how broken I knew I would be when my parents eventually passed away. There were times when I was inconsolable. So when they asked me to come talk about their will, I was terrified. I’m not sure I can explain it, but the whole process turned out to be incredibly therapeutic. It was a way to confront this inevitability together, with a sense of acceptance and comfort. We weren’t laughing and smiling the whole time, though we did crack a few jokes. But I remember hugging them as I was leaving and feeling different than I had before, with regard to their death. Sharing that experience with them, while strange, was a very good thing for me.” - Mike, 50, Pennsylvania

11. We Went Zip-Lining

“Never in a million years would I have ever bet on my mom and dad saying, ‘Sure!’ when I invited them to go zip-lining. But that’s exactly what happened. It was about 10 years ago, and my wife, kids, and I decided we wanted to try it. At the last minute, we invited my parents. Almost as a formality, to be polite. When they agreed to go, it was a total record scratch moment. No one could believe it. But we rolled with it, went, and had one of the best times of our lives. The zip-lining was definitely a blast, but I think the spontaneity and randomness was a big part of why that’s such a fond memory for me. It showed that parents can always surprise you, even if you’re sure you’ve got them figured out.” - Kurt, 42, Oregon

12. We Beat Super Mario World

“I’ll never forget the journey my parents and I took to beat Super Mario World back in the 90s. It started when I got a Super Nintendo for Christmas. I played that game all day long. And every now and then I would get to a level, or a boss, or a jump that I couldn’t beat. My mom wasn’t a gamer, but she wanted to help. So she would come and give it a try. Then my dad would take a turn. And eventually it became this whole family affair. I remember, when we finally beat the game as a family we took a picture and sent it to the Nintendo magazine. I’m not sure if it ever got published, but it’s one of my favorite memories from my childhood. I don’t know a ton of dads who can say their parents helped them beat a video game. I think that’s pretty cool.” - Adam, 44, Pennsylvania

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