05 Apr Become the Dad Your Kids Need You To Be
13 miles left… I can do this. I had to psych myself up for the last push of a very long IronMan Triathlon race. About 1 mile in, my left knee goes out on me. “Dang… Ok, I can do this, just limp the uphills and run the down hills.” 2 more miles, the other knee goes out. In a crumpled heap on the ground, completely exhausted and out of willpower I was contemplating quitting.
My brother had talked me into doing an IronMan triathlon at Lake Tahoe. Just 120 days prior I had never swam face down, ridden a road bike, or ran more than 2 miles. Here I was 132 miles completed and 10 miles left, spirit broken, knees in pain, and my strength had faded. Then one thought rolled through my mind.
“Ezekiel wouldn’t quit.”
My oldest son is very thin, but when he was 7 he wanted to play tackle football. He never quit, and fought on every play in every practice and game. He was generally outweighed by 50 lbs or more and yet he was being played as defensive tackle. He just wouldn’t quit. That year he won the Rudy award for the kid with the most heart.
This story came flooding back to me as I lay in the dirt, exhausted. “Ezekiel wouldn’t quit.”
Then I pictured my family waiting for me at the finish line, waiting for a Dad and husband that might never show up. I thought about what I would teach my kids by giving up now. I couldn’t do it. I had to show them that just because it’s hard or you feel beaten you can keep going and finish.
I pulled myself to my feet and began to chant. “Ezekiel wouldn’t quit.” Over and over for the next few miles I limped the uphills and ran the down hills in complete pain with every step.
Being a Dad is no easy task. You don’t get to throw in the towel. You don’t get to quit. You can’t give up. You just simply can’t show them that it’s ok to give up when things are hard. They are looking to their mom and dad for strength, courage, approval, value, identity and may other things. It’s not fair, It really isn’t but that’s how things work.
I finished that race to the cheers of my family. As the announcer called my name over the speakers my family shouted, cheered, and chased me to the finish line. I had done it, the hardest thing I’ve ever attempted. And yet, it doesn’t hold a candle to showing up day in and day out for my kids.
I’ve always been a good dad, or at least I wanted to be. My kids always loved me and wanted to be around, but I don’t like that version of me very much. I yelled all the time and disciplined them over the slightest infraction. All in the name of raising kids who were “respectful.” It worked, they were great when around other people. We received lots of accolades for our kids behavior. However, I knew that I was breaking their spirits daily.
Kids are so full of life, and joy and excitement. You can beat them down emotionally, physically, and mentally and they still can’t wait to be with you. It used to be something that I didn’t look forward to. I knew the minute I walked in the door the kids would be all over me, and want me to look at their drawing, or play legos, or whatever. They “NEEDED” me 24/7 and it was exhausting.
I loved them, but I was just in constant need of a break. What a lie that is…. I believed that I needed time to myself to recharge and then I could pour back out. It’s just not true.
One day I was driving home from work and I started thinking about my wife. I realized that I no longer treated her as though we were newly married. When you’re first married you can’t wait to be together, and you’re willing to do anything. I got married because I couldn’t imagine a world where she wasn’t in it and I wanted her to be with me forever.
Yet here we are 8 years married and I’m looking forward to having her take the kids somewhere so I can “decompress” and be alone for a bit. It was that exact moment on the H1 freeway in Honolulu that everything changed.
I realized that she was probably exhausted too, and she probably had things that she wants to do but didn’t have time to get done. I called her immediately and asked if I could do something for her, anything! She said no because she’s like that.
When I got home I saw a pile of dishes and thought, I don’t want to do the dishes. Then I thought, she probably doesn’t want to do them either. So I cleaned the kitchen up.
Next my youngest son at the time Luke wanted me to sit and tear apart the lego guys with him. So I did. We played legos for about 10 min then he jumped up and ran outside. My daughter who was used to me needing space when I came home saw me playing with Luke and wanted to show me her drawing. I spent 5 min with her while she talked about her crafts then she was off to play with the neighbor girls.
It hit me all at once…. I’ve been doing it all wrong my whole life!
CONNECTION vs DISCONNECTION
I was trained that disconnection is how we refocus, and center ourselves. I believed that taking time to myself was what I needed to show up well for my family. I would say, just leave me alone for 20 min so I can think.
In that moment though, I realized that it’s connection that is what I really NEEDED.
If I just took a moment to connect with those who love me the most and believe in me; then I’ll have all the life I need to keep going.
When I wanted to disconnect and be alone, I forced myself to connect. I would go find my wife cleaning up the kids room or laundry and would help her.
BONUS TIP: If you want to have more sex with your wife, help her clean. You’re welcome.
I had taught my family to leave me alone. I trained them that it was loving to ignore me and leave me be. Why then should I be surprised if one day my kids don’t want to be around me and my wife doesn’t want anything to do with me.
You see we train people how to behave around us. Most people are happy to acquiesce, so if you’re not seeing the proper behaviors around you then it’s your job to figure out how your training people to act around you.
So basically I started behaving the way you would if you love your wife and kids.
If we go back to the opening story, in my darkest, most vulnerable, weakest point only my family got me through it.
When you’re all alone and standing there naked and ashamed will you have what it takes to keep going? The answer is no, you won’t have what it takes, unless there is a reason bigger than yourself.
That’s what it means to be a dad. You are literally fathering people into their greatness. You’re teaching them how to exist in this world. It’s not your words of wisdom, but your behaviors that teach.
Kids mimic everything about us. The language we use, how we “react” in certain situations, good or bad. I won’t have the authority to share my wisdom with the kids if I don’t do it right when it’s me who’s on the line. How can I tell my son to get up and keep going if I’m still laying in a heap on the mountain having quit when things felt impossible.
The good news is that there is hope. Kids are ALWAYS ready for us to get it right. Oh, we’ll get plenty of opportunities to screw up. Even those moments are teaching opportunities.
Also, there is no perfect.
Have you ever met someone who talks about their parents like they’re saints. They tell you that they were awesome and did everything right. I never believe them. I mean, I am a parent and a I can tell you that I mess up all the time. When people ask my kids about me as a dad I want them to feel so blessed and also realize that I blew it often.
When I lose it and start yelling because I feel like the kids just aren’t listening to me I’m quick to clean up that mess. If I need to say sorry, I do. I’m quick to share my feelings or the reason I behaved that way. If I felt like they weren’t listening, I’ll take a moment and explain it.
The role of a GOOD FATHER is to prove that life is worth being excited about.
I’ve seen the joy fade from my kids eyes too many times. Sometimes it’s my fault, other times it’s junk from school. The more times it happens the less likely they are to recover from it.
I mean, we’re knights, captains, and explorers. We are the HERO to our kids. We’re dad, and to our kids we’re better than everyone else’s dad.
The problem I had was that I had lost my lust for life.
I had been beat down by the bills, stress, crippling back pain, and whatever else was going to go wrong that day. I loved body surfing but going meant the chore of making sure the kids were ready, and we weren’t going to get to go the beach I wanted to because the waves were too big for everyone else.
Deep down, I blamed my kids for ruining everything fun in my life.
Once that awakening happened, I started to pursue fun in everything I did. If I needed to make cold calls to fill my sales pipeline it was a game to see how many no’s I could get in an hour. Or if we went to the kiddy beach I would splash in the shore slop and be a big kid. I made everything I did part of enjoying life instead of taking away from life.
The result is that I have 4 amazing kids that love being around me. I have a wife who can’t keep her hands off me, and I live beach front in Newport Beach. I write books and coach people into their own greatness. My life has literally gone from being a constant struggle in every area to a joy in every area. It’s not that there’s no struggle or challenge, but I’ve learned how to see it differently. I’ve learned how to become the dad my kids need me to be.
I get to show them how to be successful in life. I get to be the dad that they are proud to have around their friends.
Even when I’m giving the ref crap for missing the call they can laugh and know that it’s just me having fun.
We take life so serious sometimes, relax. You’re awesome and the difference between where you are now and where you want to go is really just attitude.
Now it’s your turn to be the dad that your kids need you to be.
If you’re struggling and feel like you don’t know how to get there, reach out to me. I would love to give you a free session.