Happy Father’s Day. Sending love to you and yours as I’m surrounded by an abundance of it in real time.
For the first ever, I got to wake up on a Father’s Day to coffee with my dad and sons. A trip to the timeshare that he and my mom have with my sibs comes around every other year, and this time our Texas crew got to crash the festivities. The trip came right on time for so many reasons, outside of it clashing with a baseball tourney for my dude Sawyer who misses the early part of our summer of adventure.
This guy in the white shirt is one of the greats. The man who gave me his name (I’m Dave Jr), also gave me so much of who I am because of the way he so consistently modeled it. His faith, hard work, kindness, compassion, loyalty and so much more was on display daily and I feel so fortunate for the way so much of the good imprinted in who I am and continue to become.
If only watching him golf could have made me play better today.
As my parents inch closer and closer to their 50th anniversary this year, a day like today is a rad chance to appreciate the consistency of my dad in my life, in their marriage and the way his model has had such an incredible impact on the kids and grandkids assembled here in Cabo.
What’s interesting in reflecting on my dad and this idea of “consistency” is how much my own journey with fatherhood has changed over time. I mean, being a dad is one of the most important parts of who I am… and it’s ALWAYS changing… which is part of why I think it’s always hard. Always an area that I’m still working on. Always a part of my life that has me wondering if I’m actually doing it right on the regular. As much as it feels like it’s just part of what comes with being a dad, or a mom for that matter, it’s still part of why the job of showing up well comes as much with moments of celebration as pulling out your freaking hair.
I’m sure you can relate. You finally figure out how to get them to sleep in a crib, drink a bottle, change a diaper… and then they grow out of each two days after mastery. You’re urging them to take that first step then struggling to keep them from running off in the mall. They nap, then don’t. Need you to walk them in at drop off… then they would never. It’s packed lunches with notes until the caf food is cool. Boys/girls have cooties… and then in a flash, phone numbers for texting someone they think is cute. They can’t get enough cuddling and then one day they come home and close their bedroom door and don’t come out… again. It never ends.
It’s this humbling reminder that I’ll never be an expert dad, because I’m always learning some new part of what it means to be a dad to kids that are always something new. I mean, I’ll never be an expert dad because I don’t even think that’s a real thing… since my idea of what it means to be a good dad continues to change day-to-day… and am sure that what I think my kids need is different than what you think your kids need (or what you, or my mom, or any outside source thinks my kids need for that matter). It’s part of what makes it fun… and maddening at times.
Of the mistakes I made coming into fatherhood, I assumed there was a one-size-for-all approach to being a dad. Utilitarian. I’ll just be this one kind of dad for each of these kids and that one way will work well for each. And then you have kids who — of course — are all completely different and unique and in that, need some individual catering to their specific needs, wiring and ways of receiving love. It’s not to say the fundamentals change kid to kid, because there are clearly values that act as a foundation across the board. But when you have an intellectual vs empath, an introvert vs extravert, a kid with a wry sense of humor vs one who’s particularly sensitive, one size definitely doesn’t fit all.
This summer sees my time with the kids as a window we’re looking to make memories with experiences. Yes, we are so fortunate in real time to be on a holiday with my parents, but an experiential summer is as much a thing we’re looking to manufacture at home on a random Tuesday.
Heading into summer I asked each of my kids to pick things during our time that they really wanted to do to make a memory. Some of the list of things included Jackson wanting to find a way to float on a boat on a lake, Sawyer wanting to take in a live baseball game, Ford wanting to go on a “thrift store bonanza” and Noah wanting to go to a park. Bless — may she never grow up. The bottom line, each are lit up by totally different things, things that keep changing over time as they do, and so the means to making a memory takes a little customization and keeping a finger on the pulse for it to hit the way I’d hope.
Alas, it’s also why this adventure of parenting is hard — because there are plenty of days when they’re all going to Noah’s park when it isn’t their choice, or cheering in a seat in Arlington even if they don’t like baseball. Sometimes the memories we’re making are the ones where they’re being dragged along by a parent doing their best to keep a smile on their face while kids are frustrated by your attempts to serve them well. And gasp, the horror of being alerted to how that thing that was on the top of their list from last summer is now no longer cool as a reminder of how far from cool any of us have ever been in keeping up with the latest trends.
In getting my kids to this family gathering, it required a flight in the middle of the night and what ended up being a 15-hour travel day as my kids intermittently went from laughing and goofing to arguing and bored. A long flight is when it feels like I have 1,000 kids — when it feels like someone is always hungry and no one ever needs to go to the bathroom until there’s a line in front of the door. Those moments when you question if the effort for the memory is actually going to create a memory of the good you set out for or the frustrating moments it took to get there.
This trip is also part of the adventure of navigating the logistics of our new normal. Divorce introduced another chapter in the fatherhood saga where single parenting is the latest curve ball in this world where the only constant appears to be change. Our flight out saw me reunited with my crew after they spent a couple of great weeks away with their mama. For us, summers are split in a different kind of way from the school year — three weeks on, three weeks off for each — and finds me starting my summer run with with kiddos. Three weeks before summer camp kicks in that we’ll fill with with what we hope are lasting memories both at home and away.
This new season raising kids with a partner who’s no longer doing it with me under a single roof is one that’s taken time to acclimate to. As much as I know how fortunate this crew is to be loved well by their mama, and while I give every benefit of the doubt that the way they’re being raised when they’re not in my house is with love and respect and boundaries and accountability, I’ve also long had to make peace with not having a say, and even at times visibility, to all of how that unfolds… since that’s no longer part of the deal. Yes, we do what we can to create alignment on the things that matter most, create consistency as much as possible to afford these kids the best chance at being well-adjusted, but it still doesn’t mean that either of us gets a vetoing vote if we decide to pursue something in our individual homes that the other might not fully endorse.
It’s on a day like Father’s Day that I’m asking how I can be a better dad when the conditions associated with it seem to continue stacking new levels of change that invariably up the degree of difficulty… or at a minimum seem to affect the surface area that I have direct influence on.
Take it step further and introduce new humans in the world of dating after divorce — and the hope that the influence of someone else spending time with your kids is a positive one is thrown into the mix. As much as I’d like to be with my kids every day, my new reality is that half the time they’re not only not with me, but also potentially with their mom’s partner as well. I count myself fortunate to have had so many positive stories come from the way they’ve connected with her boyfriend and beyond infiltrating their young minds with his love of Harry Potter (I know I’m weird for not liking HP, let’s move on), he seems like such a cool addition to their life. Something that I couldn’t have expected to see when this chapter began as wholly additive, not competitive. Getting a chance to offer my appreciation for the positive influence he plays in their life on a weekend like this isn’t something I could have anticipated, but something I find myself grateful for in real time.
In the same way, I hope to afford Heidi and her kids (who I’ve come to absolutely love) the same. The relationships that I have with her exes Derek and Chris are unexpected and unconventional and unbelievably amazing. I thought it would be weird (and it was) and wouldn’t ever feel normal (like it does) and find so much love and beauty in the entire (at times hilariously chaotic) mess. The notes we all exchange on a day like yesterday is something that fills my heart as much as almost anything else.
But I bring all this up because no matter what your family unit looks like, no matter how many kids you have, no matter what, I’ve come to appreciate that the reason why we have a day like today to celebrate fathers (and why we do the same for Mother’s Day), is because with as much change, individual needs, circumstances that fall wildly beyond our control and everything in between… this is hard work.
Don’t get me wrong… I absolutely love being a dad, but I’d be lying if I didn’t also admit that I’m routinely frustrated, super hard on myself and questioning everything because of how difficult it is to do this job well. It seems obvious that of course it’s in part because of how hard it is that you get to have the deep feelings of satisfaction when things do feel like they’re working. When you see your kid open a door for someone, actually say “thank you” without prompting, cooperate with their sibling rather than poke fun.
But I think it’s okay today to acknowledge that being a dad, being a parent, is both amazing and wonderful and beautiful… and hard. It’s why we celebrate those who rise to the challenge on a day like this.
In the long run, the good days wildly outweigh the hard. The laughter and love overwhelmingly wins the day over the frustrating and infuriating. As much as I’m really proud of how I show up for my kids… I can also hold space for regularly questioning if I’m actually doing ANYTHING right, because I’m pretty sure it comes with the territory. The price of entry if you will.
A lot has happened in my life since last Father’s Day. Heck, a lot has happened in my life since the last few Father’s Days. When I look back and think about all of the change I’ve experienced and layer on the ever-evolving intricacies of these kids continuing to grow into new phases of life, then add in the bonus levels (of what at times feels like living in a Matrix-like simulation) of being a single dad, or the influence I or others have on the kids in my life, what I realize is this:
Change isn’t the only constant.
It’s change. And it’s me.
I’m the one thing on my side of the ledger that’s been here for my kids every single day through all the change… good and bad, strong and humbled, proud and still learning me. Thankfully I continue to grow and evolve through every season into what I hope is a better version of who they need to be from all the learning that’s come in processing all the change in my own life.
The long and the short of it ends up coming back to this: in a world where I can’t control so many outside forces, can’t keep them from growing up (though I try) and can’t even anticipate what comes next in adolescence, dating, social pressures and the way the world tries to influence how they think and feel about themselves, I can really only control how well I show up for myself as a means to show up well for them.
It’s been a journey. As much as I have so much pride in what feels like me as the best version of a dad in real time, I’ve also had plenty of seasons where I wasn’t the best model. Times when I let my own encounters with grief and negative coping mechanisms and self doubt (and a list of 1,000 other things) keep me from being the ideal version of who they deserve. Heck, I still have those days in real time. But “ideal” isn’t real. It’s aspirational at best and a never-ending odyssey to just being a little bit better tomorrow every single day. No matter the non-linear nature of being a human, in those ebbs and flows I hope I’ve normalized what it means for them to also process hardship. Given permission for them to talk openly and honestly about their feelings. Showed them the power in owning the shit they might carry shame for and the way that asking for help might be among the strongest things they can ever do.
As I think about how to show up best for my kids, how to approach being the best dad for them so that they might one day grow up to be great dads (and moms) to their kids, it starts with showing up as best I can for myself. Doing what I can to stay focused on the things I can control (focusing on my spiritual, physical, mental and emotional health), and the hope that the way I’ll model those values while celebrating my wins and learning from my failures gives them a path forward to do the same.
Just like my dad did with me.
I hope yesterday was a day full of celebrating. I hope you were one of the lucky ones that had this date circled on the calendar and bought all the “World’s Greatest Dad” mugs for all the amazing dads in your life — be it your own, the son who’s raising your grandchildren, the uncle who stepped in and showed up, that best friend’s dad who was always there, or anything in between. I hope there’s plenty of celebrating on a day like yesterday… but I also appreciate that this holiday can be complicated if you didn’t have a Hallmark version of a fatherhood when you were growing up.
I count myself lucky. Especially as I’m sitting next to Dave Sr in real time. I was raised by a great dad. I’m sure I’ve taken for granted at times that I had a dad that was so good. So kind. So loyal and supportive to my mom. So consistent in the way he provided for our family. For my entire life he was hard working contractor, the kind that at the first sound of rain would find him up on a roof hammering a nail into a tarp long after his hands were tired and clothes were soaked. He worked hard for his family, but not at the expense of spending time with them.
When I rummage through my old memories boxes, I’m hard pressed to find a team photo where he wasn’t the coach growing up. He’s a model of his faith — both in how he lives his life, but also in how he calls each of his four kids on their crap when we color a little too far outside the lines. He’s a deeply feeling 6’4” giant of a man, filled with emotion like his oldest son, just a lot less talkative. He taught me poker (which I clean up in) and golf (which I still can’t figure out). He’s Pop to my kids, and a good one at that.
I’ve never wondered if he loves me. I’ve never questioned if he’d get my back. I’ve cried big tears when I’ve let him down and worked hard to make him proud, but if there’s a thing in this world I can count on, it’s my dad.
I’m sure this day means a lot of things to a lot of people. Part of celebrating dads on a day like today starts with the reminder that if you had a good one, you were fortunate. But beyond that, celebrating dads on a weekend like this is also an acknowledgment to the fact that it’s hard work being good at something that’s ALWAYS changing. There’s something to be said for every dad (and mom) out there who continue to fight to be great at something where every time it feels like you get a win, the people, personalities, emotions and even things that are ‘cool’ change… and you’re having to learn how to be great all over again. And again. And again.
So… Happy Father’s Day. Here’s to all the dads out there, and those who play the role of dad. Change is a guarantee, but it isn’t the only constant. You’re a constant too. Here’s to continuing to reach every day for those small wins in your never-ending journey of growth, for giving yourself the kind of grace that’s required in this work of always growing, and the hope that you’ve been celebrated for the hard work that comes in being a good dad.
In real time, my kids are are playing a card game and haven’t argued in 4 minutes. So, I’m basically crushing the dad game. Also, if history is any indicator, we have about 3 minutes of this peace left, at which point I’ll question everything. Such is the life of a parent. Let’s go.