You never ever hear a person say, “Yeah, my parents focused too much on my childhood and not enough on my future”.
The magnificent opportunity as a father is to onboard your child into the world in whatever way you want. Something we ought to revere with the ultimate intention.
The childhood memories we gift our children with - the good, the bad, the ugly - is something that will not only shape their lives, but stick with them forever.
The culture we find ourselves in is setup in such a way that if you’re not actively paying attention to this, the window of opportunity will pass by too quick to act on and their childhood will be complete.
All the way back when we found out our first child was on the way, I remember some dormant DNA being flipped on.
My motivation went up 1000x and my vision became tunnel-like.
I intuitively knew this was the natural fatherly instincts kicking in. I loved it then and still love the feeling now.
But I catch myself getting wrapped up in the drive to provide for my family.
As great and noble as it feels most of the time, there’s also some shadow sides - mainly because it can be taken too far and become more of an excuse to bypass other responsibilities.
There’s more to being a father than just providing.
You have to do more than just work on the family’s behalf.
That’s the stripped down version of fatherhood we’re taught, but there’s so much sacredness to the role often overlooked.
Just like the drive to provide, the incentive to protect is important and necessary, but it too doesn’t have an upper limit.
Meaning, you could theoretically go way too far with it.
Think bunkers, zero interaction with the public, no TV, no friends, no influence….scary shit all in the name of protection.
But of course, it’s a spectrum and that’s just one end of it.
The other end is where there is zero protection and anything goes.
“Where’s our kid?” “I don’t know, somewhere”
Thankfully, most parents operate somewhere in the middle here, but it’s worth considering if you need to tone it down or step it up.
The main thing to keep in mind is the effect it is (and will have) on your children.
We all know peers who were sheltered growing up and also those who could have certainly used more parental oversight.
My absolute favorite responsibility - that of play.
Many adults like to toss the importance of play off to the side, not seeing its value as they’ve become dead inside over the years.
No way, not me in a million years.
Play is how we learn how to behave within a simple set of rules if it’s a game or learn how to apply our imagination if it’s something more open-ended.
When my kids and I rough house & wrestle, they are learning where certain boundaries are, what fairness means, and how to be a good sport - without even thinking about it.
Fathers get it wrong when they bypass the day-to-day moments of their children's lives in exchange for the readiness of an eventual phase transition into adulthood.
Preparing your child for the world is massively important. It's a required part of raising kids, but if it's at the expense of the childhood then subpar emotional availability will counteract the responsibleness you tried to instill.
Which is why it's the hardest and most noble job we have as dads.
It's the greatest gift you can give your kids.
To really hear them when they tell you about something they're excited about.
To really see them when they are having big feelings or in a flow.
To really be with them on their level every chance you get.
So often we want them to tag along with us in the adult world and at the adult level and completely forget about the imaginative, creative space they naturally inhabit.
It behooves you to drop into their world too.
Childhood is finite.
It will end at some point and all the memories, lessons, and experiences of your kids' childhood will be bookended, sealed forever.
Childhood is the time you're most involved in your child's life. You're the closest you'll ever be.
As time goes on, with the natural progression to peer influence, they will become a person of the world.
Life is also finite - no one makes it out alive. Time ticks relentlessly.
And out of that timeline we do have, we have to do our best not to get lost along the way and lose sight of what's important.
Every single time I stare into the eyes of one of my kids, I feel it.
The letting go of worry.
The letting go of stress, anxiety, hustle, & the blues.
There's no need for all that when you have the most fascinating creature in the world right in front of you.
The weight of the world feels way less daunting when you remember who it's for.
Their eyes recalibrate the Why we tenaciously ask ourselves.
Their eyes see us and just want to be seen back.
Give that to them.
When I'm calibrated properly on the value of raising kids, I laugh to myself at the seriousness I took anything else. All other pursuits pale in comparison.
Nothing comes close to the meaning I get from their existence.
As adults, we are forced to interact with the world, make sense of it, and get what we need out of it.
Kids are thankfully distant from most of this.
Whereas I may have my attention caught up in the Provide & Protect lens, my daughter is creating art for everyone she knows.
Making homes for ants, racing the wind, or talking with her toys.
I need to be there too.
Or my son, tickled to death just to see the cats run by.
Ecstatic about every meal, curious about light switches, and obsessed with the phrase 'ready, set, go'.
I need to be there too.
I want to leave my children with something no one could ever take away, something money can't buy, and something they can cherish forever - their childhood memories.
Top of mind for me is how my children will speak of me and think of me when they are about my age.
Will they think highly of me?
Will they wish it never ended?
Will they thank me?
This questions keep me up at night.
I want the answers to be an overwhelming yes.
It's up to me to remove the distractions. To keep focused on what's most important. To let go of everything that takes away from that.
An open heart helps.
Writing about it helps.
But nothing helps more than staring into their eyes.
Every day you can be learning a lesson or gaining insight. If you're like me, you'll be religious about getting these consistently. That's because I aim for a deep life full of treasures found.
Potential should never be traded for obedience. A dog's life looks very different than a wolf's, but as humans, we can get our lives mixed up. If we're lucky, with enough time and attention we can get it all straightened out.