A few days ago my family returned from a vacation to California. Our boys are old enough now that they’re out of diapers, don’t need us to plan our schedules around nap-time, and only fight with each other, run into the street, or climb on things they’re not supposed to 47% of the time. I’ve actually felt like a real person again for several years now! Those early years were pretty rough.
For most of our vacation, we had a great time, our schedule filled by swimming in the pool, playing at the beach, eating great food, and fulfilling every young boy’s dream: going to Legoland!
But several days into our trip, the better part of one one afternoon involved me being in a pretty sour funk. Here I was with my beautiful family, but I just couldn’t handle one more hour at the zoo.
Here’s how my grouchy-dad inner dialogue sounded:
“We’ve already been here for hours and our kids haven’t had any major eruptions yet; let’s not push our luck. My back is tired. I’m hungry. I don’t want to see the stupid snake exhibit — I hate snakes. And if we wait another hour, we’re going to hit rush hour traffic — and I know at least one of our kids is going to have a meltdown.”
Once the initial fog of my grumpiness lifted (it took longer than I want to admit), the problem became more clear to me: I was a fraud as a father. Why couldn’t I pull it together? I like my kids. I’d been looking forward to this time with my family. So, where was my sense of joy? For heaven’s sake, I’d written a master’s thesis on fatherhood. I hold two degrees with the word “family” in the title. I’ve been practicing as a Marriage & Family Therapist for nearly 15 years. Where did all the supposed wisdom from those years go?
I confided in my wife about my feelings of shame, and my suspicion that I was a fraud as a father. I shared with her my sense of being pulled in two directions: the better part of me thrilled to spend time with my kids — but the lesser part of me resented it. I’d unrealistically thought that our vacation would afford me an hour or so of quiet time each day to work on my writing.
Ironically, and increasing my sense of shame, I was planning on using my writing time to draft a blog post—catch this—on fatherhood. Good grief. As a friend of mine observed, the thing that got in the way of me writing a blog post on fatherhood was actual fatherhood.
Figuring Out Fatherhood
Thank God for my wife, who invited me back into a sense of perspective and a sense of humor. As I confided in her my sense of being a fraud as a father, she reminded me that all of us have more than one passion, and that probably all parents struggle with the tension between loving their kids and needing some time for their own personhood. She said that, when I found time to write, maybe this very experience was exactly what some dads out there need to hear.
She said that the truth wasn’t that I’m a fraud as a father. The truth is I just had a bad end of the afternoon at the zoo. I guess even Marriage & Family Therapists are just human too :)
A Shout-Out to Good, Imperfect Dads
I honor you. I honor you for the burdens you carry and the efforts you make. I honor you for cherishing your children, and loving their mother. I honor you for how you try to impart joy, wisdom, love, and courage to your kids. I honor you for your desires to get it right with the people who matter most.
Yet, you’re just human after all — you may struggle at times with the sense that you’re somehow falling short as a dad. It’s a terrible feeling, isn’t it? My greatest source of shame comes when I feel like I’m letting my family down. Maybe you feel crunched for time, low on energy, or thin on patience. Maybe you really have let your kids down in some way. However large or small your failings, they probably hurt precisely because being a good father means so much to you.
You are not alone.
There are lots of us out there, just like you. You’re part of a great, worldwide brotherhood of men, who, like you, are imperfect but striving to bring up our children in a good way.
Like you, we’re working on improving. We’re getting up in the middle of the night with our sick kids. We’re trying to shoulder our many responsibilities with as much grace and energy as we can. We’re teaching our children what we’re coming to understand about life and love. We’re failing at times — and we’re learning how to laugh at our mistakes, and how to reconcile and reconnect in a meaningful way with those we’ve let down. We’re also becoming the very best kind of teachers, using our own human struggles to teach our children about resilience, courage, compassion, and forgiveness.
Keep the faith, fathers. You are deeply needed, and very much appreciated.
What have you learned about fatherhood? What do you appreciate about your dad? Feel free to leave a comment below!