The reward for conformity is that everyone likes you but yourself. – Rita Mae Brown.
The greatest gift we can give our children is to choose to be more vulnerable. To be vulnerable is to find the courage to look yourself in the mirror and to be honest, and without judgment, about who you see staring back at you. I will show you strategies you can incorporate in your lives which will create a bias towards authenticity. Challenges which would have driven a wedge between you and your kids will become opportunities to learn and grow together. Fatherhood is at a crossroads and we get to choose where we go from here. Let’s work together to redefine what it means to be a man and father.
Every father has chosen to shoulder an awesome responsibility. It’s our job to find a way to teach our kids everything we have learned while encouraging them to have enough independence to ignore us and make their own mistakes and create their own lives. How do we help them build and embrace a rock-solid and timeless foundation of shared values? How do we accept that they might use the foundation we’ve helped them create to build a life that looks nothing like the one we’ve secretly, or not-so-secretly, imagined for them? We want the best for them and dammit, our version of the best is the best. Why don’t they get that? Maybe we just haven’t explained it properly yet. Can you believe we actually signed up for this?
I spent forty-one years of my life trying to conform to the caricature of the strong, emotionless alpha male. Why? Because I never understood there was an alternative. I wanted to be accepted into this club so badly that I was afraid to be myself. I ended up an insecure bully who confused dominance with leadership and misinterpreted fear as respect. My life was unfolding just as I thought it was supposed to so there was no reason to question anything. Then tragedy derailed everything. When faced with my wife’s illness and suicide, I reacted the only way I knew how. I doubled down on the characteristics I thought made me strong. I ran from the pain and grief by drinking it away while telling myself, and everyone else, I had faced it down and come out on top. I ran for a long time, but no one can run forever.
Who remained when I finally stopped lying and started telling the truth? I discovered a man who had been mindlessly living a life he thought he was supposed to live. That man was me and he was dying. It was killing me. Literally. Drinking your pain away will do that. I have finally found the courage to search for my “why” and pursue it with all the vigor I can summon. I am unchaining myself and in doing so, I am freeing my children.
Vulnerability exposes what society and tradition try desperately to keep hidden. You have the power to replace the life you are told to live with the life you were born to live. Can you think of anything more important to model for your children? Just as you are unique, so are your children. Your job is not to create a smaller version of yourself. It’s to help them develop into the ultimate expression of themselves. You have a responsibility to teach your kids to demand the right to create their own best lives. You can only do that when they see you building your own.
Work together with your kids to construct an unshakable and timeless foundation of shared values. A life focused around service, kindness, compassion, vulnerability, humility, skepticism, pragmatism and conscious choice will protect your kids from many of the hazards that life throws at them. Sharing more of yourself with your kids makes it safe for them to share themselves with you. When they know you feel the same emotions they have they will come to you when times get tough. They’ll know you’ve been there and can relate without judgment. Your authenticity will become the basis for their trust.
Make it safe for your kids to challenge you. When they can call you out for not walking the talk you’ll be able to do the same with them. Those moments are when real and relevant conversations will happen. Your kids will become aware of what it feels like to live their values and what it feels like not to. This awareness will result in their making far more conscious choices. Accountability means more than developing a framework of rules and consequences. It means living responsibly to elevate each other as human beings. You are accountable to your kids and they are accountable to you.
Fight the urge to tell your kids what to do and not to do. Focus instead on teaching the incredible power they have with their choices and how this will shape their lives. Talk openly about choices you’ve made and what those choices created in your life. Offer them the wisdom that comes from your experiences. Convince them not to judge themselves if a choice doesn’t work out. They can make another one. This is how you can teach them to take ownership over their future.
Deviating from tradition can be even more frightening for adults than kids. We’re burdened by a lifetime of expectations and the inertia they create. Our fears only have the power we give them. Take it back. Vulnerability is actionable which means we foster it by the choices we make. Freeing yourself from judgment gives you the courage to try, the strength to pick yourself up when you fall and the wisdom learn from your experiences. The best way to help your kids build their best life is to let them see you building yours. Let’s do this.
When you lay down your shield you will become invincible.