I never thought I’d find myself in the role of “Dad.” It always seemed like it was something that was for somebody else, not for me. When I found myself facing the inevitability of becoming a parent, I knew I had an opportunity to design this role from scratch, in a way that worked for me – a way that would complement my identity and individuality (if possible), but still allow me to be proud of my job as a parent. I didn’t have a lot of traditional models of what this was supposed to look like, so I looked inward.
So, what does that look like? Spreadsheets…just kidding. I saved the spreadsheets for tackling the nursery projects, but for something like this I needed to sit with my thoughts and self-reflections. For me, this was visualizing my kid 40 years in the future, and listening to her talk about what her dad was like. How did I want her to remember me? What did I want her to say?
Thinking of these future words that would not be mine to speak, but would be mine to influence through action, made it clear that I had to actively choose how I wanted to show up as a dad. Did I want to be like my dad? Did I want to be like Don Draper? What kind of dad did I want to be? What does the narrative look like, and what did I need to do to bring that narrative to life?
To answer those questions, I had to think about my own values. Not only what my values were, but also the values that I wanted to outlive me. Life hack: discuss these values with your partner, and ask them to share theirs, so you can get in agreement and operate from a unified front. Parenting is a full contact, strategy-based team sport.
Talking about my values with my wife, listening to hers, and making some new ones together was the hard work (big surprise, we share a lot of the same values. Some that brought us together in the first place, and others we adopted along the way). The values that came out of those conversations have informed the big and small decisions we’ve made, and will continue to inform the ones coming down the pike that we don’t even know about yet. There’s no time to figure this shit out in the middle of your first, “does this qualify for the emergency room?” moment.
Things change and parents constantly have to adapt, but starting with a plan that’s based on your values lets you respond on the fly from a strong base. It sets you up for success. You’re not always going to be right, but at least you’ve made thoughtful decisions instead of just letting things happen unintentionally.
So, we know the pre-work is important, now it’s time to think about how the rubber hits the road…as in, how do you deploy this information? To me, it’s kind of like doing a group project – you have to put together a plan, work together, and tackle it. From my perspective, it’s hard. It’s boring at times. But, boy do I get a kick out of it.
We can all agree that communication is a crucial skill in a group project. I’m not really sure if the impetus for my improved communication was a result of becoming a parent or what my wife does for a living, but I’ve learned that there’s no such thing as over-communicating and explaining my intentions and thought processes. My natural inclination is to share as little as possible about what I’m thinking, and I am certainly not one to jump at the opportunity to explain “why” I’m doing something. The 15 year-old-boy in me still thinks sharing is stupid, but I realize that it’s a necessity. Parenting involves a lot of multitasking, and with at least one eye and one ear on the kids at all times, it’s no surprise that intentions and motivations can easily get lost. When you communicate your motivations, you can understand where your partner is coming from, leaving a lot less room for (mis)interpretation, and a lot more room for appreciation.
Dads are important. I’m half of the equation shaping my kids’ future. I’m half of the puzzle, so I’m equally as important and accountable to being a role model for our kids. The first time I heard the f-bomb come out of my two-year old daughter’s tiny, high-pitched voice, it became clear that she is watching and listening at all times, and is emulating me (and my colorful language), whether I like it or not.
I’m not going to lie, all of this can be exhausting. I’ve had to be really thoughtful about what I put my energy into. I realized quickly that there’s a lot of distracting shit out there, and how important it is to prioritize. You’ve got to work on your day job, keep up your relationships, and make sure your kid doesn’t turn into Darth Vader. Sometimes you’re just trying to survive, and that’s ok. Role modeling grace will go a long way for your kiddo. So, crack yourself a Natty, you’ve earned it dad.