Our family fire pit has just rusted out, so I thought I would share my story of feeling and procrastination, first published in my fatherhood column for Maritime Family Magazine.
The device itself isn’t imaginary, of course. I purchased it at Canadian Tire in an end-of-season clearance sale the year before last. It made its way to the place where all well-intentioned purchases go: the loft of our garage, wedged between the broken croquet set and the patio furniture I had meant to set up but never found the time.
Despite the repeated suggestions of my son, I never set up the fire pit that first year. It was late in the season, I reasoned. The evenings were too cool for an open fire. So our beloved fire pit disappeared beneath a pile of tomato pots and camping gear. It fell from memory into the drifts of a PEI winter where the barn at the edge of our downtown property seemed mountains and valleys away.
The fire pit did not disappear from my son’s memory, of course. As any keen seven year old should, he reminded me that there was a fire pit waiting to use. And, in case I didn’t know, my wife reminded me I had promised to set it up.
This was last summer, and I absolutely intended to set it up. I really did.
There are plenty of reasons I never pulled it from its box: It was rainy all spring, wet until the middle of July really. We spent a lot of time camping on weekends, so we had our fill of campfires. We were painting our house, and had to take advantage of the nice evenings. Plus, there was school, camp, soccer, sleepovers and dips in the local pool to cool off. The excuses are endless; but of course, they are hollow. The fact was that I had a perfectly good fire pit sitting inside a box in my garage buried beneath broken lawn chairs and electronics boxes.
Any reasonable parent can see why I went the whole season without setting up this increasingly dreaded fire pit. Canadian parents are a busy breed in summer, by definition, as we chase those few precious days of sun and sand that are given to us. By the time it came to the front of my to-do list, it was fall again, and far too cool to have fires in the evening. The clearance bin fire pit endured a second Maritime winter entirely safe from the elements, next to unsorted pop cans and the patio furniture I once again forgot to bring to the patio.
As the new outdoor season came upon us, I was determined to begin the year in earnest by setting up this elusive fire pit. I had good intentions, but it really was a busy spring, what with a work trip and school closing and endless papers to mark. Then there was summer camp, and a weekend tenting, and soccer. But I pressed on. I fought the good fight. And nearly 21 months after I purchased it I pulled the fire pit from the box.
And, of course, it was missing pieces. Well, sort of. The support rings were made wrong, and I either had to drill through steel or set it up without the proper supports. Deciding that another delay wouldn’t be welcome, and unwilling to call the customer assistance number in North Korea, I forged ahead, thumb-tightening bolts where I could place them.
Finally, I emerged from the garage with my masterpiece: a flat black, slightly crooked, totally unsupported, Allen-wrench assembled steel bowl. Frankly, it was a little unimpressive. I placed it in the middle of the yard, surrounding it with dusty patio furniture. Tonight was the night, I decided. It was time to take this fire pit for a spin.
When I announced the evening’s activity to my family, I received a mix-reaction. My son, now seven, gave me a “Sure Dad” look. When I assured him that I truly had a functioning fire pit in the backyard, he started to let himself hope that this would be the magical night that we would have a Dickieson family campfire. As our collective excitement was building, my wife announced that it was too dry. There was a fire ban.
And so here I stand, next to my well-aged but practically imaginary fire pit.
Am I alone on this? Am I the only parent who procrastinates, who leaves projects—even good projects that we want to do—completely undone? Whether I am standing alone or part of a silent army of well-intentioned but inept parents, I cannot understand why this happens. Why do I put off doing things for my family I know we will all love?
This kind of procrastination isn’t, for me, like my typical procrastination. There is that unending list of household chores, or the ever-demanding email inbox, or the tiresome pace of minute tasks that make up part of the whole that is my chosen profession—I will get to these things eventually. But if it means signing my son up for soccer or booking that campground spot or getting out on a family walk, I am defeated. I know if I pull out that board game from the attic, we’ll have a great night. I know if I oil the ball glove, Nicolas may one day learn to catch a ball without wincing. I know these things, and yet I procrastinate.
There is nothing in the world I like least than the sight of my boy’s disappointed face. He’s a trooper, but I can’t help but feeling every “maybe tomorrow” is a broken promise, a frayed cord, a knot undone.
I do think as parents we really are too busy. We commit to too many things, we work too hard, we plan too much, and we get over our heads in our white picket fence dreams and vocational aspirations. I am certain that much of our procrastination comes from the unbending routines of modern family life. I truly am too busy.
But as I stare at this unused fire pit, that answer isn’t good enough for me. “I’m too busy to go for a bike ride” sounds hollow to me. It sounds like the folk songs of my parent’s generation. It sounds like an excuse.
So looking down at the flimsy black bowl, I make a decision. I gather my kindling and a bit of my fallen cherry tree, and I light a fire. I’m not breaking the fire ban, really. I keep the screen on the pit, so it doesn’t fall under the “open fire” category. But I know I am relying on a temporary bout of off-the-cuff legalism.
It can’t be helped, I’m afraid. My son has waited seven seasons for a backyard campfire, and I don’t intend to make him wait any more. It is a beautiful July evening—not too cool for a fire, and all the excuses have worn out. More than that: the email can wait, the piles of papers can be tomorrow’s chore. Looking back on a parental career I am certain we will all feel a child’s tomorrows are very few, so I don’t want to keep gambling my child’s tomorrows on half-hearted promises.
So here we are tonight, with sticky marshmallows, over-cooked hotdogs and multiple mosquito bites next to a discount bin fire pit: this is my today.