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Being a Father is Transformational

As a Dad, I’ve learned the greatest thing you can do for yourself is to admit that you don’t have every answer in the book. In other words, to admit you are stupid about some things some of the time.

Admitting it to yourself is a good start, but showing it and communicating it to others is a bigger step and a crucial one. I’m not saying you have to jump into all your social media accounts and go crazy announcing it everywhere. I am saying you need to admit it to your trusted circle, because chances are they already know it… and your kids definitely do.

This isn’t easy to admit to yourself. So much of our culture points to the need for perfection. Instagram filters, plastic surgery, comments made, eyes rolled, and diet programs pushed are all examples of how we second guess ourselves and hide the imperfections and only work on them in private. Young children aren’t aware of these influences though. They just see a parent who is there to help them get dressed, read a book, or help them with math.

This past week, my daughter came home talking about math and doing 10 frames. I glanced to my wife, and she gave a brief shrug. I looked back to my daughter and asked a common question in our household, “Can you say more about it, please?”

This question works wonders with our three year old, who has a slight speech impediment and often by getting her to speak more, we can discern her meaning by context. With my six year old, more explaining just led me to asking her to bring out her homework. She gave me a sly look, and said, “You don’t know what 10 frames are, do you, Dad?”

In the end, we worked it out, and I learned the 10 frames is a WAY easier approach to addition than I remembered learning. But the fact was, I was trying to hide my lack of understanding, and my eldest figured it out pretty quickly.

While this was an easy lesson to learn, others have been harder to swallow. Pride and self-image have impeded my ability to be a good husband and father, especially in the early days when most of my friends were not dads yet.

So a few years ago, my friend and I began a Facebook group called Dads with Daughters to share experiences and help dads become better dads. Today, we have over 110,000 global members. We’ve got brand-new dads, grand-dads, and a bunch of us in between figuring it all out. We’ve set strict rules to hold the trolls at bay so that the space is civil and dialogue is more common than debate, at least most of the time.

The same day I began writing this reflection, a young dad submitted a post that the moderators, and we hesitated to approve it. Then we realized he needed to be taught a lesson about learning the expectations of fatherhood.

His post started with, “My women” and continued with an excerpt from a text from her that demanded he be more participatory and attentive at home. We braced ourselves for the comments and prepared ourselves to remove quite a few and potentially remove the post if it got too many toxic responses.

Within sixty minutes, the post received over two hundred comments. Several days later, there are close to four hundred, and we only had to remove a handful for inappropriate language. To our surprise, most of our members reminded the young dad to “be more attentive” and to “step it up” because “this is what fatherhood is.” Our collective favorite came from an older gentleman, who simply stated, “You can begin by stop calling her “‘my women.’”

As we discussed the post as a moderator team, it became clear for many of us, and I imagine for many of our members, we provided the tough love and personal stories for this young dad because we have all been there ourselves. We all made mistakes early into our fatherhood journey and failed to realize how transformational fatherhood is.

Thankfully, the young man has remained in the group. I was concerned he might leave given how many members responded with tough love alongside the clarifying questions to show support for his journey. By his remaining, I hope it is a sign that he gets the message from all of us. I hope he remains open to learning from other dads who have tread the difficult journey before him. But, I hope he realizes the reason we’ve come down hard on him is because he has been given an amazing gift in the form of his daughter and by stepping up, he’ll realize just how transformational her presence in his life will be.

This tiny little human will teach him the meaning of patience, love, and time management. She will demand of him everything he has and then some. He will understand that maintaining a circadian rhythm is second to their diaper changes and third to their empty stomachs. He will understand the pain he feels stepping on a sharp toy is nothing to the pain of seeing his daughter cry because she stepped on the same one. And, by staying in our group, he will learn of the secret society, hidden in plain sight, that is fatherhood and that despite the various forms of fatherhood from tough biker to corporate exec to stay at home dads, all of us are journeying with him.

The journey is filled with lots of pride swallowing and ego shrinking and admitting our lack of brilliance time and time again. The journey is one of personal transformation and the longest marathon you’ll ever endure because you’re training and racing for the race at the same time. And when you put in the extra effort instead of staring at a smartphone, shirking the diaper duty or folding laundry on a daily basis, you’ll find that your children don’t mind if you are stupid. In fact, they quite relish it and hold it over you much like mine did when she realized she was re-teaching me how to do basic math.

This is okay, and in fact, it is great because it teaches them that their dads are human. We’re regular people that make mistakes, that struggle, but when we have to, we rip off our normal clothes and become superheroes when they need us most. And for this young man, he has a huge global community to remind him and hopefully in a few years, he’ll join us in reminding the next young dad who makes the mistake of admitting his stupidity in social media.

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Brian Anderson

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