My father was not a wealthy man. Not even close. But he now has something in common with Donald Bren, the billionaire chairman of the Irvine Co.

A few days before my father passed away 10 years ago, he told me he wished he'd spent more time with his four boys.

During Bren's testimony in the trial to determine whether he owed more money to two children born out of wedlock 18 and 22 years ago, Bren was asked by one of his lawyers whether he regretted not having spent more time with them.

"I do," he replied.

My wife and I will never have that regret. In fact, our kids may be the first to tell you that they wish we'd spent more time at the office.

Tuesday is the first day of school for most of the kids in Newport-Mesa. Despite what they may say, most kids really like the first few days of school. Many of them have new clothes to show off and the return to school gives them a chance to reconnect with friends they missed over the summer.

Then, of course, homework and tests set in and it becomes the usual drag. And that's OK. School is not meant to be a nightclub or theme park. Preparing our children for adulthood and the development of their careers is a heavy responsibility. This is serious business.

That's not to say that school cannot or should not be fun. There is evidence that when kids are taught in a fun environment, they retain more. There is also evidence — recent evidence — that shows that teens who start their school day later retain more.

A recent study conducted at St. George's School in Middletown, R.I., shows that starting the teen school day just 30 minutes later significantly improves moods and alertness and reduces tardiness.

Unfortunately, in most school districts, moving the start of the day 30 minutes later would be easier than adding Calvin Coolidge to Mt. Rushmore. Besides the usual howling from the teachers unions, many parents would have to scramble to find alternative ways to get their kids to school so they can get to work on time.

Most parents are happy to drop their kids off at school each day, not only because they expect them to get a good education, but also because, for those few hours, the kids become someone else's responsibility, leaving them free to earn a living or do whatever it is they have to do that day. And that's a shame.

Cay and I both worked full-time all of the years our kids were in school. But between the two of us, we managed to attend almost all their activities and be a presence in their lives by prioritizing everything. The kids came first and that often meant that our careers did not advance as quickly.

This is a long-winded way of offering some unsolicited advice to parents today on the first day of school: Much of what you believe is important is not. What you will appreciate most in 20 or 30 years or more will not be the cars you drove, the clothes you wore or the money you've made. When your life is winding down, you will appreciate the people — the lasting relationships you have developed with friends and family and which have given you more joy than any bank balance. Chief among those will be your relationships with your children.

What my penniless father and wealthy Donald Bren really have in common is that no one can buy back the time they did not spend with their children as they were growing up.

This is not just a new beginning for kids. It's also an opportunity for parents to think about why they had kids in the first place.

As I wrote 13 years ago, "If you can't make time, don't make children."

STEVE SMITH is a Costa Mesa resident and a freelance writer. Send story ideas to smi161@aol.com.