The Best Stage of Fatherhood?

And How To Crush Your Day Job

A few moments ago I was outside in a snowstorm. The wind was driving heavy, wet snowflakes against my clearance rack coat from Kohl’s. A ski pass from a weekend trip with the kids Up North was flailing from a broken pocket zipper. On my return trip I was passing my own fading footprints from only a few moments earlier. There’s something special about a stormy winter night. The soft, warm light of a lamp glows through the window. I wonder in amazement at the contrast only a few centimeters can make. Inside it’s warm and cozy, outside it’s cold and unforgiving, and the difference is a single pane of glass.

These last few months, as we inch our way out of this pandemic, has felt like being on the wrong side of that window. It’s cold and unforgiving, and oh so close to the familiar warmth of our routines, our families, and our friends. But we can’t reach that warmth without breaking the glass and letting the outside in. So we stay outside a bit longer, waiting for the storm to pass and the snow to melt. Warmer days are ahead, we mustn’t lose sight of that light. Spring will be here soon!

Earlier this week I shared this image on twitter:

It hit a lot of people in the feels, myself included. I had started to write this post about the stages of parenting. How the ages of 5-12 were the best (they are), and to cherish them. But I changed my mind after seeing this. I realized there is no “stage” to parenting. It’s all one big journey. Sure there are big moments, like your kid moving off to college, that clearly delineate that start of a new phase, but even then it comes down to the passage of time and how we react to it.

Time is a funny thing in that it’s truly finite, but you can’t grasp it. Trying to hold on to it forces us to miss it. Squeeze tighter and it slips more quickly through our fingers.

This weekend, on the ski trip where I acquired the pass on my zipper, the kids and I stopped into a Family Video. For those not familiar, it’s a video rental chain that officially went out of business on February 1. It might be the last of its kind. As we perused the nearly empty shelves it felt like we were in some type of time warp. I imagined excited families over the years choosing the perfect movie for “family movie night” or teens in love looking for the perfect make out movie.

It also took me back to the years the kids and I would visit a Family Video in rural Kalkaska, Michigan every summer on vacation. Our little cabin rental was on a lake about a mile from the town. The first night we’d arrive, jump in the lake for a few minutes, then head into town. The routine was always the same. Go to the grocery store, then Family Video to pick out some movies for the week. Four movies. Each of us would pick one, no questions asked.

I can’t remember most of them, though a few stand out. The Greatest Showman was the biggest hit, and it’s quaint to think of the years the kids loved Power Rangers and Wimpy Kid. We now call those trips the “Swim Raft Summers” because we would spend the entire week jumping from a swim raft floating about 50 feet out in the lake. I’d always dread when the kids wanted to head out there, but none of us wanted to come back in. I still remember the last jump from July of this last year.

Little did I know it would be our last one. We got word a few months later that the cabin was no longer for rent. The owner was renovating and moving in full-time. Our summer tradition was over. It stung a little at first, but we soon realized the time was right. The kids are teens now and they were largely jumping off the raft out of tradition rather than pure joy. Another year and the memories might get clouded with obligation.

It’s fitting that we were Up North in that Family Video as it took its last breath. So long to an era. It was a fun ride. But as the cliché goes, all good things come to an end. They wouldn’t be special if they lasted forever.

No matter how you look at it, it’s a reminder that time is relentless. It does not slow or stop for anyone. The phases of fatherhood will sometimes feel like an eternity (I do not miss changing diapers), while other times it goes by in an instant (feels like yesterday my 15 year-old was turning 10).

The important thing to remember, as the image above reminds us, is to embrace whatever moment you find yourself in on that journey. Don’t wish it was somehow different, or spend a second worrying about what comes next. There is nothing but the here and now.

Anyway, what is the “best stage” of fatherhood? The one you’re in right now. Maybe you’re not a father, but you have a father, and you’re part of his journey. Or you’re simply not a father yet and you have this entire journey in front of you. I want to envy you, but I wouldn’t trade where I am for anything in the world. Not one thing, and that’s the greatest gift of all.

Earlier today I was reading an article about Jon Rahm, one the best professional golfers in the world. His wife is pregnant and he was quoted as saying he would miss or leave any tournament, including The Masters, to be there for the birth of his child. This got me thinking, would you miss ANYTHING for the birth of your kid? What if it was something you had worked your whole life for and you had one opportunity to achieve it? Would you give it up to be there? Please comment with your thoughts below.

My friend’s dad used to talk about how he was at the bar when each of his kids was born. While that seems a bit extreme, it’s a fairly recent custom that men are expected to be in the delivery room at all. As you know, I am a huge fan of involved fathers, from beginning to end, but if a man decided to miss the birth of his kid for a once in a lifetime opportunity or achievement, I wouldn’t judge him. It’s hard to tell your son to chase his dreams then expect him to give them up for the birth of a child (where he has no bearing on the outcome). Frame the newspaper and tell the story often of how winning The Masters was the second best thing to happen to him that day.

About two weeks ago I lost a good friend and mentor. George was a like a second father to me. He took me on trips, we played golf together, and he was always the first one there when I needed something. George never had any kids of his own, so I was like a son to him. After I posted about this death on FB, dozens of people starting commenting about the impact George had on their lives. It shows you don’t have to be a father to make a difference in kids’ lives. George had been retired from teaching for over 25 years and kids still remembered stories about his kindness. RIP George.

“How you do one thing is how you do all things.”

I’m not sure if that’s the exact quote or where it came from, but it holds true. Many people who follow me are looking to start or improve side hustles so they can make extra money, maybe even quit their day jobs someday. What many neglect, however, is their actual day jobs.

There’s a certain momentum to getting work done. I think someone said “the more you do, the more you do” or some less butchered version of the quote. The point is, I’ve learned that energy is not finite. It’s actually contagious and compounding. When you crush your day job you leave with confidence and clean consciences that you’ve done honest work and fulfilled your duties. This frees your mind to focus fully on the evening, whatever that may be.

Mailing it in at your day will do the opposite. It creates a mental debt that weighs you down, preventing you from giving your full attention to your family or other evening endeavor.

Not sure how to “crush” your day job? There are a few key things that get me into that zone (almost) every day.

  • Start immediately - Don’t check email, don’t scroll on your phone, don’t “settle in”, etc. Sit down and IMMEDIATELY start on a task. Start your day with WORK. Doesn’t matter what it is. Some people say start with the most important task of the day, but sometimes I prefer to start with a mindless administrative task to get things moving. Either way, you want to set the tone that you are there to WORK. Once you get moving you can go grab a coffee or whatever, but I often get so busy I forget for quite awhile.

  • Communicate often - I find that frequent communication with my superiors and coworkers, even if it’s not required, keeps me accountable. If I can give an honest update on a project without feeling anxious or nervous, then I am doing ok. If I feel any apprehension then I am probably not where I need to be and it’s time to refocus.

  • Let it go - If I do have a bad day, it’s best to let it go and move on. It’ll still linger a bit in the evening, but forgiving myself and moving on helps me get a good rest and get back at it the next day.

  • Build the side hustle - The less you “need” your day job income, the more you can relax, take risks, and fully realize your potential. Often, when we rely solely on that income, we play things conservatively. We might keep quiet when have an idea for fear of repercussions. We might not stick our neck out and take on a big project for fear of failure. We tend to get a little stuck trying to cling to safety. This wears us down. If we know we have options we can loosen our grip and work more freely, which often leads to promotions and more options, ironically.

Thanks for reading this far, I truly appreciate you. Please comment and share if you enjoyed what you read here today. Thank you for pushing me over the 2,500 subscriber mark!