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Month: August 2016

How to Avoid a Midlife Crisis During Fatherhood

How to Avoid a Midlife Crisis During Fatherhood

The previous 5 years in my life have been focused on reproduction and in all honesty survival. Pregnancy, baby, toddler. Repeat. Throw in a few job changes, buying and selling a house, a torn pectoral tendon, and I now can come up for air.   

Do note that this breath of fresh air does get sandwiched between temper tantrums, business trips, and ear infections, but it’s there nonetheless. Undoubtedly it is welcomed, but the taste of the air has changed.  It now has a bit of crispness and weight unlike before. It is quiet, noticeable, and definitely a little chilling. During these moments of respite, I felt the need to reflect.

This period of life was hard. You don’t get to ease into parenting, one day you don’t have a child, the next day you do. And most of the time it seems that while you’re still in the sleep deprived slumber of having a baby or toddler, you do it again.

Then after a while, you get a moment to reflect like I did and you realize, what have I done? I’ve got 20 more years of this?  But what about me and my dreams, hobbies, etc.? How am I going to achieve all the other things I had planned in life when all I want is a nap?

These questions surfaced like a philosophical face-slap.  Was this my version of a mid-life crisis?  I was determined to find out and avoid the feeling of crisis at all costs.

These moments, when I first got some fresh air, were pivotal. Here was a fork in the road. On one path is a trip down real fatherhood, which includes some honest self evaluation and incredible opportunities. This path looked daunting but it also gave a glimmer of hope for something rich and wonderful.

The other path I could have chosen was to put the pause button on what I considered my life and focus only on raising children over the next 20 years. Here I could allow myself to let the responsibilities of fatherhood turn into a burden without the opportunity. I could start saying to myself and others, “I just don’t have any time for myself anymore” while I let some dreams slide.  Or worse, not allow myself to dream because I don’t think I have the time.  At first this path appeared to be easier, but in the distance it did not appear as fulfilling.

The good news is that this split in the path to fatherhood is not a one time choice.  Everyday we get the opportunity to choose which way we want to go.

Being a father feels both straightforward and infinitely complex.  The responsibility and commitment can be daunting.  The self evaluation it demands is challenging.  Not be willing to do an honest self evaluation and lead by example can possibly lead to a midlife crisis.

Choosing the right path by being honest with oneself and trying to lead by example is a one way to get started.

Fatherhood Requires an Honest Self-Evaluation

Fatherhood Requires an Honest Self-Evaluation

How do you know you’re leading by example if you can’t first see yourself accurately?  

After realizing that to be an excellent father I needed to lead by example, I then realized I needed to critically look at the example I was actually setting and be honest about what I saw. In order to make progress, we have to accept where we are now.  Or as Ryan Holiday writes in The Ego Is The Enemy, “We must begin by seeing ourselves and the world in a new way for the first time.”

I’d like to think that I’ve been doing this all along in my life, but in all fairness, I haven’t. I asked questions that I wanted the answers to, while avoiding the questions I didn’t want to answer.

Judging ourselves is hard. We’re tainted with emotional scars and cognitive biases. As Daniel Kahneman writes in Thinking, Fast and Slow, “it is much easier, as well as far more enjoyable, to identify and label the mistakes of others than to recognize our own.”

One thing I know is that I’m not perfect, and that’s OK.  I know that when I honestly evaluate myself I’m going to see all kinds of things that I don’t want to.  This is often the hardest part of doing a self-evaluation, but it’s critical.  I’m overweight. I procrastinate.  I over analyze options before I act.  I could go on and on.

But knowing our imperfections has value.  Not trying to hide in fear of sharing our imperfections with others takes courage. That’s manly.

Sharing and discussing our imperfections with others allows us to identify opportunities for growth and improvement.  We all have a deep desire to grow.

A self-evaluation starts by asking the right questions.  Some of these questions are new to me and some I’ve just never been willing to answer honestly.

Here are some questions I’m currently working through:

  • What achievements do I aspire towards?
  • What truly fulfills me?
  • Am I spending the little free time that I do have in the ways that truly make me happy in the long run?
  • Am I doing things in the short term to make me feel temporarily happy that undermine my long term happiness?  
  • Am I effective with my decision making and how I spend my time?
  • How powerful is this short little word, no?

Many of these questions I could not stomach answering honestly the first time I asked them.  I knew that avoiding them indefinitely was not an option, I just had to make sure I was prepared with enough time, energy, and emotional capacity to dig in.

And listen.  Listening is a lost art in the modern distracted age that we live in.  But you have to be willing to listen to yourself. Learn to listen to your heart and your gut.  This requires taking time to reflect on these questions but also patiently and honestly listening to the answers.

Am I fulfilled?  Am I on track to achieve what I want?  Do I feel loved and am I loving? The answers to these questions may be painful.  They can open deep wounds that have been festering for an entire life.  Shame, guilt, abuse can rise to the surface.  

This exercise is not for the faint of heart.  But, it is a critical one in order to have heart.  If you don’t have the ability to be honest with yourself, you’ll never have the ability to have depth with others.  

Fatherhood requires you to deeply get to know your children, but it starts with deeply getting to know yourself.

Fatherhood is Built on Leading by Example

Fatherhood is Built on Leading by Example

Fatherhood is built on leading by example. Only then can words and advice successfully resonate.

I’m fortunate to have been raised by a strong, smart, independent man who taught me immensely about life.  I’ve learned through things he has told me, but mostly I learned through his example.

An example of this is how father deeply cherishes my mother.  His actions towards my mother taught me the foundation of how to be a husband.  I don’t recall the wisdom he shared with me on marriage, because he didn’t have to.  I had a front row seat on how to love your wife.  Every birthday and anniversary was celebrated with bouquets of flowers.  A phone call every evening before leaving the office to check in and communicate his departure.    Next year they will celebrate 50 years of marriage.  I long to celebrate that milestone with my wife.

In addition to fatherhood and marriage, I’ve learned a lot from watching my father’s example.  Negotiating, patience, unconditional love.  Writing, independence, and justice.  Work, play, and the need for both.  

Love is action.  Words can only supplement action.  You cannot have love with only words and no action.  I deeply love my children.  I tell them so all the time.  I never want them to question that.  But the rub is that it really doesn’t matter too much what I say. I need to act.

I’ve always envisioned conversations with my sons about important subjects such as sex, love, commitment, discipline, mortality, and generosity.  What has changed in my understanding is that I now know that these conversations need to be built on years of leading by example or I risk these conversations having no effect.  

For an example, I need to use my manners.  The other night at dinner after working with my oldest son for over 2 years on getting him to use his manners, he just blurted out, “KETCHUP!”  I looked over at him with some disgust in my tone and said, “Use your manners, young man.”  After he complied and joyfully dipped his chicken into the delightful condiment, I turned to my wife and said, “Pass the salt.”  

So I need to show them. I need to pick up after myself everyday.  I need to read.  I need to brush and floss my teeth.  I need to explore and try new things.  I need to try and fail and try again.  I need to admit when I was wrong.  I need to apologize.  I need to show patience and understanding.  I need to be generous and caring.  

I need to love their mom, wholly and exhaustively.  

I need to try to contribute to this world in a positive manner while being happy, healthy, and having some excitement.

Leading my children means embodying what i think they should they should aspire towards.  I need to lead by example, then and only then can I really give them advice.