By Rachel macy stafford

“A truly rich man is one whose children run into his arms when his hands are empty.” ~author unknown

I recently took a weeklong trip in celebration of my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary.  The excursion was perfect except for the fact that work commitments prevented my husband from joining us. Perhaps it was because my daughters mentioned daily how much they missed their daddy that I began noticing many attentive fathers along our travels.

One particular night, we found ourselves on the outskirts of a dance floor. As the talented musicians played the first notes to “Cupid Shuffle,” children flocked to the center and began moving excitedly to the beat.

I marveled at the one lone father who scooped up his youngest daughter, held the hand of his other child, and summoned his lovely wife out to the dance floor. Praying I did not look like a stalker, I stole glances at this loving father who so clearly was a constant source of laughter, fun, and spontaneity in his family.

I had to smile to myself as I watched the children delight in their dad’s silly antics because I knew if my husband were with us he would be engaging our family the same way.

And while experiencing this tangible longing for presence of my own lively husband, I came to a conclusion.

There’s something special about the way dads live life.

And this space (which happens to be called “Hands Free Mama”) seems like the perfect place to explain what that something special is.

Most dads are instinctively “Hands Free” parents—meaning that “grasping the moments that matter” comes naturally to them.

Let me explain.

Speaking from experience here, “letting go to grasp what really matters” is something I have to work at, to strive for—whether it is letting go of distraction, perfection, or unnecessary pressure on myself, I have to make a conscious choice to do so. And I’ll admit, some days I struggle to let go.

Where I have the tendency to overthink things, the man in my life shrugs and says, “We’ll work out the details later.”

Where I have the tendency to make a 25-step plan, my husband says, “Let’s just wing it.”

Where I have the tendency to sweat about the small stuff, my spouse reminds me, “It’s really not a big deal in the grand scheme of life.”

A few weeks ago, our children asked, “Can we have a lemonade stand?”

While my overactive mind was considering sticky kitchen counters, pop-up thunderstorms, and a severe shortage of customers, my husband piped up, “Sure. Let me help you set up.”

I’ve noticed that my daughter, who recently learned to skate, asks her dad (rather than me) if he wants to join her for a glide around the block after dinner.

Maybe it’s because she knows that while I am thinking about her getting sweaty, overly excited, or injured right before bedtime, her dad quickly replies with, “Sure. Let’s do a lap.”

So it made perfect sense that one day, out the blue, my older daughter said, “You know what I love about Daddy? I love that when I ask him to do something with me, he always says YES.”


Yes to reading a few more pages before lights out.

Yes to making homemade ice cream and getting adventurous with the flavoring.

Yes to hitting golf balls into the ravine behind our house.

Yes to grabbing some crickets and a fishing pole and heading down to the lake.

And as I reflect on my childhood, I think about my dad saying YES an awful lot.

And when I think about my own wonderful uncles and the uncles of my children, I think of the many, many times they have said, “Sure. Why not?”

A reader of my blog recently paid me the ultimate compliment. She said I have given a name to the best kind of parenting: “Hands Free.” Although I would love nothing more than to take the credit, I simply can’t. If I am being honest, I must give credit to the source of much of my “Hands Free” inspiration.

My dad

My husband

And the many remarkable guys I have been blessed to meet in my life.

And chances are, whether you realized it or not, there is probably a “Hands Free” guy in your life.

Perhaps today is the day you give him a name for the kind of parenting he does. Perhaps today is the day he becomes aware that someone has noticed all the times he opened his hands and said YES to what really matters.

A “Hands Free” Dad …

-makes pancakes on Saturday morning and allows his miniature baking assistants to stir and flip despite the mess and giggly mayhem that erupts.

-has laugh lines around his eyes from manual labor under the hot sun, memorable days spent on the beach, and the ability to laugh at himself.

-doesn’t expect perfection from his kids—in fact, he understands better than anyone that mistakes don’t define you; they are just part of growing up.

A “Hands Free” Dad …

-builds self-confidence as he patiently teaches his brand new driver how to check the oil, change a tire, and make cautious left turns.

-openly shows affection for the mother of his children—delighting in the way her eyes twinkle when he unexpectedly kisses her in front of the kids.

-sits on uncomfortable small chairs, hard bleachers in the pouring rain, and at the homework table for countless hours so he can be a part of his child’s world and memory bank.


A “Hands Free” Dad …

-demonstrates kindness through action, rather than words—mowing his elderly neighbor’s yard, spending his weekend building someone else a home, and buying a hot meal for a man whose hope is as thin as his threadbare pants.

-quietly creeps in to watch the angelic faces of his children as they sleep, feeling overwhelming gratitude that they are his to love.

-defines a perfect day as one with a blue sky, cold beverages, and the love of his family by his side.

A “Hands Free” Dad …

-feels an emotional rush when he sees that little face light up simply because he walked in the door.

-tells his love she is more beautiful than she was on their wedding day at precisely the moment she needs to hear it.

-endures piercing screams as he steadies the back of a wobbly bike until terror turns to triumph, and he hears a jubilant voice exclaim, “Look Daddy! I’m pedaling! I’m pedaling!”

A “Hands Free” Dad …

-scoops up the early morning visitor who arrives at his bedside in pajamas-clad feet even though he knows this cuddling session will be the end of his peaceful slumber.

-gets choked up simply by hearing the words, “I love you, Daddy.”

-prays every single night that they will never be too big for him to hold.

See, there’s this thing about dads and the way they live life. Granted, it’s not perfect, and it may be messy at times; it may not be the way I do it, and perhaps it’s not the way you do it, but there is value in it; I am talking about life-changing, soul-touching value. And if you look closely you can see it.

It’s in the piggy back ride.

It’s in the hammering project the two of them have in the garage.

It’s in the whiskers that gently rub against her face and the “Daddy smell” she breaths in as she smiles.

It’s in the arm around the shoulder after a tough game.

It’s in their noisy jam session.

It’s in that jubilant sound of joyous laughter that only their daddy can produce.

It’s in their faces … oh yes, the way their daddy makes life worth living radiates in their precious faces.

If the man in your life knows how to “let go to grasp what really matters,” step back, admire him, celebrate him, learn from him, and be sure to say “Thank you.”

Recognize him for the way he lives his life: with open hands—which just happens to be the most nurturing and wonderful place for a child to grow.


Rachel Macy Stafford is a certified special education teacher with a Master’s Degree in education and ten years of experience working with parents and children. In December 2010, this life-long writer felt compelled to share her journey to let go of distraction and grasp what really matters by creating the blog “Hands Free Mama.” Using her skills as a writer, teacher, and encourager, Rachel provides readers with simple, non-intimidating, and motivating methods to let go of distraction and connect with their loved ones. Rachel’s work has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Global News, USA Today,,, The Huffington Post, and Reader’s Digest. Her blog currently averages one million visitors a month. Rachel’s new book, HANDS FREE MAMA, is