My son, Nathaniel, and I have collaborated on this post. The columns below are our observations on what we’ve learned as fathers. We’d like to hear from you too. Please leave a comment and tell us what fatherhood has taught you.
- That normal is what you make it. I subjected my kids to a grueling schedule, almost incessant travel, and a parade of what can only be termed as strange even wacky people. Ours was not a 9-5 Monday to Friday world, but it seemed normal to us. Even now, we aren’t always quick to grasp other’s routine, not because we are weird or they are weird but because everyone makes their own normal.
- That different is just different, not better or worse. Every child is unique, a remarkable product of genetic engineering. Amazing isn’t it how so many variations there are? And, while we as individuals may have likes, dislikes, and preferences, a grading system of this is better than that is most often unnecessary. Each child has their own strengths, weaknesses, and methods of traversing the paths of life.
- That we grow as much as our kids do. We embark on the career of fatherhood completely unprepared (no matter how many books we’ve read or seminars we’ve attended) but somehow figure it out. We do what seems right and good at the time, hoping that the errors will not be too grievous and the damage mendable in time.
- That our kids show us what we look like and how we act to them (and probably what it looks like to everyone else, too). You will discover that your expressions, idioms, and mannerisms magnify and multiply through them.
- That the life of a single man was fun, that the life of a father is fantastic. Nothing, I mean nothing is better than being called Dad or Daddy!
- The difference one-vowel-and-a-consonant make. The words “nature” and “nurture” closely resemble each other. We tend to place so much emphasis on the natural reproduction piece of fatherhood when it’s the nurturing opportunities and capacities that really matter. The beauty of multiplying is not to be minimized, but the wonders of empowerment and rearing—in my book—supersede even the great miracle of birth.
- That sorrow may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning. I have spent so many nights worrying, grieving, stressing, obsessing and festering about issues related to my kids. But that always passes—with time—as I am able to embrace the notion that they, like me, are spirits having a human experience. In the night, I tend to focus on the dark pain that often emerges from our humanity, but the light of day always raises my countenance to the bright glory of the heavens.
- That it’s okay for me to be wrong—as long as I learn from it. Growing up, my parents always told me they wanted me to be better than them. I never understood that as a child, but as a father, I fully understand it. I find myself saying the same thing to my kids. I lead by example—but sometimes as a bad example. I try to see those moments and then have conversations that begin with, “Well, I screwed up on that. And I’m sorry. I know you can do better.”
- That I matter. My words, my embrace, my presence, my compliments, my reprimands, my attention—they all have an impact. I want to be clear that while fatherhood has taught me this, I don’t mean that only fathers matter. I mean that I have learned what a tremendous impact we all have upon each other as we engage in this human experience. We all matter. Being aware of the power of my presence informs an authenticity and strength that I was missing prior to my emergence as a dad.
- But that I am a pushover, too. When one of my little girls looks at me and says, “Daddy, can I please have this?” she usually gets it. And when one my oldest kids calls me or emails and says, “Dad, I was thinking…” Well, I listen, and I do all that I can to help them get there, go there, or be there.