Being a father to a child can mean so many things to different people. As Father’s Day approaches, MenLiving wanted to highlight what fatherhood means to some of the dads in our community. Get ready to smile, feel inspired or maybe even shed a few tears as you read the words of some of MenLiving’s finest men.
To me, fatherhood means both the greatest privilege and the most profound responsibility I could ever have imagined. Never off duty in the 22 years and counting since stepping into this role, it is often more work – emotionally, spiritually, and physically – than I could have imagined myself capable in specific moments and in the long view. It is an opportunity to love, nurture, support and guide a young life to become the greatest version of herself and most importantly to allow her life to be what she is supposed to be, what she wants, rather than any expectation I might have about her. In so many ways, fatherhood has been the greatest source of my own growth and maturity as a man, especially as the father to three daughters, for whom I am eternally grateful.
Three words… Modeling, modeling, modeling. Whatever traits I want to see in my children, I must model it. If I want them to learn an instrument, be forgiving to their friends, or fully express their feelings, I need to be doing the same. If I want them to be a loving husband or wife someday, I need to be modeling that on a daily basis. Too often parents ask, “How do I teach my kids patience, forgiveness, self-awareness, etc.?” My response, “You already are. You either modeling how to cultivate these virtues, or you’re teaching them how not to, but you are teaching them one way or another.”
Firstly, it’s quite a bit different than I’d ever imagined! I remember when we had our first…our daughter Eliza. I remember thinking somehow, she would be sort of an extension of who I am or who my wife is. Almost like an appendage! A little “mini-me” so to speak. It sounds foolish but it wasn’t until we had her that it became crystal clear that she was truly her own person. And our son, his own person. We were simply the vehicle (my wife, really) to usher them forth into this world we call home. They just bless us with their presence on a daily basis. Oh, and try our patience nearly as much!
I’ll be honest, fatherhood is way harder than I imagined it to be. It asks and requires a lot from me on a daily basis. However, when I’m able to get present and pay attention, the little treasures abound! I sometimes get too caught up in wanting to impart some wisdom “onto” them. Provide some life lesson that they can take with them and use. But really, the amount they already, intuitively know astounds me. So, fatherhood is about being there when they need me, being truly present to experience the gift that fatherhood is, and otherwise, trying to get out of the way so that I can allow them to become who they were meant to be and not screw that process up too much!
For me, at the very beginning of my journey into fatherhood, this new role has taught me the true meaning of leadership, support, and courage.
In the past the role of a leader simply meant bossing people around and making people do what I wanted them to do. I have adjusted that mindset by allowing my wife and my son to have the freedom to do whatever makes them happy, yet at the same time, allowing my family to follow my example by their choice, not by my mandate. My focus has been shifted from trying to control other people to trying to control and lead myself. If what I am doing is in the best interest of them, my hope is that they will feel that, and follow that lead.
When my baby boy came, I immediately wanted to be involved with what he was into. Feeding him, putting him to sleep, waking up to feed him. Not knowing how to really do that, I followed my wife’s lead, trying to give her a break. What I quickly learned was that I am not my wife, and because of who my wife is and who I am not, my son naturally gravitated towards my wife for his needs. This made me frustrated. Then I learned that supporting my son at this crucial time in his development could also mean providing indirect support to him by directly supporting my wife. This meant taking over kid duties when I come home from work. Doing extra tasks around the house. Finding ways to give my wife time to hang out with her friends or do yoga. This has allowed me to get to know my son more one on one. As he matures and grows, I imagine that there will be times that I will be needed to provide more direct support to my children and my wife will need to step back and allow this to happen.
Right now I am at a point that I am learning hard things about myself. I have had to address some long-term self-defeating behaviors like trying to fit in and being liked, having the confidence to stand up when nobody else wants to, fighting through and learning from failure, and negative self-talk. As I reflect on how I would like to raise my children, I have urge to want to teach them how to overcome these things, yet as an educator I know that I can’t teach anything that I don’t know myself. Time to actively build my character. So, I have voluntarily put myself in the dark room, and locked the door with these demons for a fight. I assume I wouldn’t have had the motivation to do this if I wasn’t responsible with raising human beings. But I take my job as a parent seriously, so I am up for the fight!
Fatherhood means providing my kids with the resources to be happy and successful. It also means for me to create space for my kids to find themselves and do what feels right. That requires me to find balance through work, time for others, and time for myself. It’s especially important for me to lead by example because it is much easier for my kids to absorb lessons through my actions versus what I say to them.
Fatherhood to me means:
- Always being present and available for my kids.
- Being a positive role model in my relationship with my spouse. (Doesn’t mean agreeing on everything but always being respectful)
- Being a positive role model in my relationship with others (demonstrate kindness, compassion, curiosity)
- Instilling the importance of gratitude in their daily lives.
- Being a safe place for them to share their life’s experiences, both good and challenging.
- Being open to participating (when asked) in adventures/activities that bring my kid’s joy.
- Allowing myself to be a student and learn from my kids and letting them know this. They have incredible wisdom.
- Being a good/responsible steward of our planet.
Fatherhood is keeping my child safe.
Safe in body and mind, today and tomorrow.
Today is about food on the table, helmet on the bike. For tomorrow, it means, not always putting the food out or strapping on the helmet. Giving them the challenges today so they know how to put their own food on the table and know to wear a helmet on the bike.
The hardest part is the fact that to become a whole person, they need to be put in positions to get hurt. They likely won’t let themselves go hungry or leave their seat belt unfastened later. But do they know how to ask for help? Do they know how to cry? Do they know how to treat someone they love? Do they know how to stay away from addictions? Do they know how to be happy? Do they know how to work hard?
I don’t want my children to fall so I catch them. I want my children to know how to get up so I need to let them fall.
For me, Fatherhood is about doing what I can to make my kids no longer need me.