On being an “ok” dad (and being ok with it)
I am an ok dad. Not amazing. Not terrible. And I am (learning to be) ok with it.
Before I go any further, let me note that I didn’t write this so that I could get a bunch of people telling me things like “You’re a great Dad!” or “Don’t be so hard on yourself.” I have fished for compliments many times in my life. This is not that.
Instead, it’s my honest assessment — on the occasion of Father’s Day — of how I am doing being a dad to my two boys. And it’s in response to the flood of Instagram posts I spent my morning scrolling through — proclaiming this dad or that dad to be the “BEST DAD EVER.” (I don’t know most of these dads all that well; maybe they really are best-in-show types.)
Let’s start with a brief look at my dad-ness.
On the one hand, I am a regularly presence at my kids’ baseball, soccer and basketball practices and games.
On the other, I sometimes get pissed off at how they’re doing — and let that frustration show to them.
On the one hand, I pick the boys up most days from the bus after school.
On the other, I’m often on my phone/computer throughout the night.
On the one hand, I am very aware of their ups and downs — and even slight mood changes.
On the other, I badger them with questions about how they’re doing — constantly worried that they are or are getting sick.
You get the idea. For every “good dad” thing I do, there’s generally an offsetting “bad dad” thing in there too.
The thing I’ve learned about being a dad is that just because you are one doesn’t mean you stop being a human being.
As in: Being a dad doesn’t just fix the problem and challenges you have in your life. (Man, it would be amazing if it did!)
So, my issues with anxiety and OCD? They didn’t disappear when I became a dad. In some cases — worrying about whether my kids are sick and what it will mean if they are — it’s worsened. In other ways — am I successful enough in my career? — they’ve abated.
What that realization — you are still the same person, fundamentally, whether you are a dad or not — has done for me, weirdly, is give me more compassion.
More compassion for my own dad, with whom I struggled right up to his sudden death in 2020.
My dad was a person — in addition to being a dad. He was burdened with a family history of depression. He lost a brother to drunk driving when he was a teenager. He had been forced to sort through my grandparents’ finances when they passed within a year of each other.
He didn’t have an easy road. (To be clear: Many people have FAR harder roads. But he was my dad and that was his road.)
And he was very much struggling with his own challenges even as he was trying to be a dad to me (and a husband to my mom). He’s gone now but I truly believe that if I could ask him, he would tell me that he was doing his best to be the sort of dad he wanted to be — but that, at least at times, he got in his own way.
I’ve also gained some level of self-compassion too. I am not perfect. I am not close to perfect. There will be times, lots of times, when I fall short of acting the way I want to for my kids (and my wife).
Which isn’t ideal! But, it is ok.
In the introduction to “Dadly Virtues: Adventures from the Worst Job You’ll Ever Love,” (a book I HIGHLY recommend), Jonathan V. Last wrote something that has stuck with me through the ups and downs of dad-dom.
I’m paraphrasing here (the essay isn’t available online somehow) but it goes like this: All your kids really want from you is that you be present. That’s the best gift you can give them — be there for them and let them know that a) you love them b) you will always love them no matter what.
I can do that. Maybe not always as well as I want but as best as I can in that moment.
In other words: Doing ok is ok.