40 Months of Fatherhood

On EnduranceCorner.Com, I’ve written about Fit Pregnancy. The linked article ends with tips that the athletic parent-to-be can apply to the first year of their parenting experience. This series will touch on what happens after that first year.

I have two book recommendations that helped me pull my thoughts together on parenting: How to Love by Livingston; and Beyond Religion by the Dalai Lama. Neither of these books is a how-to-manual for parenting.

The books are useful to help me figure out the sort of father/husband I wanted to be. My longest term friend told me that I’d make a good dad because it will be OK when my kids find out who I really am. I enjoyed the statement but didn’t understand it until six years later.

As a baby, my daughter didn’t challenge my identity. With my wife, a part-time nanny and family available – our first child represented a scheduling challenge (for Dad). Create space, ensure you get enough sleep and life can roll along, pretty much, as before.

In many dual-career households, you could structure parenting as a scheduling challenge. Daycare across the week, creche at the gym for workouts, babysitting coverage across the weekend – all designed to create space for mom/dad to live their pre-kid lives. Now that I’m on the inside, I understand why many parents go down that route.

Here are some principles that have been guiding me:

Like your marriage, your parenting style only needs to work for you. Over the last year, I considered, “Who is Dad?” I’m fortunate to have shifted away from an identity as an elite athlete before my daughter arrived. For me, the constrained years of early fatherhood are incompatible with elite performance.

TIP: If your spouse tends towards anger (or any anti-social behaviors) then the constraints of parenthood will enhance this aspect of their personality.

The media, and our in-built sentimentality, are poor roadmaps for parenting decisions. The books I recommend are about healthy love and secular ethics. Livingston also discusses people we don’t want in our lives. Love and ethics are rarely discussed in Western education, but essential for young people to navigate their lives.

TIP: I have a recurring sentimentality that the family should sit around in a loving circle and sing Kumbaya. The media-driven ideal of a perfect family distracts me from being an effective parent inside a functional family.

You can’t do it all. In my coaching business, I’m constantly reminding athletes about choices and tradeoffs. From the time your first-born turns two until your final child enters first grade, dad is going to be constrained. That’s 2010-2018 for me (42 to 50 years old) and over a decade for my wife (mom’s life changes from conception).

The young family “constraint” will be determined by the role that you choose to have in your kids’ lives, as well as your choice in spouse.

I’d been on the planet for 40 years when my daughter was born and had failed to come across clear writing on this constraint! My wife and I are glad we waited but I was an accident, rather than foresight.

I’m changing my life to embrace the realities of fatherhood.

#1 – Am I going to have a role? While I was figuring out the sort of parent I wanted to be, there were days where I considered (briefly, very briefly) checking out. I certainly understand why many parents find themselves overwhelmed, or uninterested, in the job.

#2 – If I am going to have a role then how to build trust? Just like all areas of my life: clarity, reliability and love – built by shared experiences over time.

#3 – Why am I doing this? When I gave myself freedom of occupation in my 30s, I didn’t choose to open a preschool. For personal sanity, my role is going to be limited but consistent and material.

#4 – What am I good at? In Hawaii, once a week, I spent the day with my daughter. For my daughter, Daddy Day was about getting ice cream after nap (that’s how she describes it). For me, it was a chance for conversations about the world with a three-year old. I’ve found one thing where I can be exceptional – I’m looking for others.

TIP: I suspect that the greatest value to me, as a parent, may be minimizing regret – our ability to impact situations is consistently overstated. Regret often stands out when my friends talk about their parenting experiences.

A great quote from a parent in her 60s, “my relationship with my kids is mixed but I know, in my heart, that I did my best.”

As a parent, I’m getting better each year. I can see improvement and that’s motivating. By the time my kids are teenagers, I should have it all figured out – just in time to be clueless again!