On Being Dad

Being a father in 2017 is as joyous as it is tough. Being Dad has always been a big job,  but the rate at which the world is changing presents unique challenges and opportunities for our children.

We are witnessing the most rapid global social change in modern history, with social norms and structures being reinvented before our eyes.  Most Dads we know are struggling to keep up as men, let alone work out how to be a father.

So perhaps it is time for a more honest account of fatherhood. A time for Dad’s to drop the mask and tell it like it is. With three daughters in tow, below is what I have learnt about being Dad. So far.

10 things I have learnt about fatherhood

#1 You will never truly know what you are doing. And as soon as you realise this is ok everything changes. Perhaps you always thought your folks had it under control. They didn’t. We are all making it up as we go along. And that’s ok.

#2 As your child grows, so do you. If the above is true, you have to have a growth mindset. Be open to changing, adapting, learning, adjusting, re-thinking, being wrong. Fatherhood is a glorious experimental journey. Not a destination.

#3 Children operate from a place of feeling, adults tend to operate from a place of thinking. Too often I intellectualise my kids behaviour. ‘There is no reason for you to be crying’. There is. She feels sad. Kids can’t think their way out of emotions. Just let them be in their emotions. It’s only by doing this that they can come out the other side.

#4 You don’t own them and they are not you. You are their guardians in this world, ushering them through life.  You are their advocates, their backers, their champions. But they are not your property and they are not one of your limbs. If they get something wrong, that doesn’t reflect on you. If they don’t want to audition for the lead part in Annie, it’s not for you to decide that they should.  You create the container for them to grow. You don’t direct the growth.

#5 Everything is a stage. Possibly one of the best bits of advice I got. Screaming through the night is a stage. Sulking is a stage. Answering back is a stage. The awful boyfriend is a stage. It will pass. Just make the most of the moment and take comfort that it won’t always be like this.

#6 Girls don’t need to be pretty. Boys don’t need to be strong. But they both need to be pretty strongly loved.

#7 Live your own version. This is my experience. My brother’s is different. So was my Dad’s. So was his. If you spend your time looking at what other Dads are doing and holding yourself to another’s standards you are not serving anyone.  Find your version of fatherhood. Be authentic. It will work.

#8 Listen, listen, listen. If in doubt, listen to them. Listen to them with all your being. They are small and they are learning how to find their voice and are desperate to be heard. The more you listen to them the more you will hear what they truly need and be able to meet it.

#9 Be present when you’re physically present. Work commitments, social life, elderly relatives, the third trip to Ikea this weekend. All these things are unavoidable and will take you away from your kids. But when you’re with them, be with them. Put the devices away. Turn off the TV. Just be present. That’s all they want from you.

#10 You are enough. The minute you give service to the voice that says you could do better you are not helping your child. Know that you are enough, just as you are, right now. That’s all they need.

Matt Hall