Almost nothing changes a man’s life like becoming a father. Not marriage. Not a new job. Not individual achievements and accomplishments. All of those things impact us and change our lives, but they don’t compare to becoming a father. Until that moment, our lives are centered on pursuing our own interests. But then we meet that little one: that little boy that we’d always dreamed of having or that little girl that instantly melts our heart. In that moment, men walk through a door from which we can never return. Our hearts have been captured, never to be the same again.
As a result, our focus in life changes. Our previous goals and interests suddenly become smaller, less important. Life now becomes about caring for and supporting that child that owns our heart. It’s both beautiful and dangerous.
It’s beautiful in that it brings out the protector in us. It’s beautiful because it causes us to live for something larger than ourselves. It’s beautiful because it causes us to work harder and embrace discomfort. It’s beautiful because it helps us to forget about trivial matters and instead realize what’s important in life.
However, it can also be dangerous. It can cause men to center their lives on their children. Yeah, that’s dangerous. Men who center their lives on their children become unhappy men raising spoiled and discontent children.
Men are leaders. We are trailblazers, explorers, and warriors. We are not made to be full-time chauffeurs for our children, transporting them from event to event day after day. We are not made to be our children’s playmates, constantly entertaining our them so that boredom never rears its head. We are not made to be our children’s career managers, focusing all our time and efforts into developing the perfect athlete who gets the best coaching, the most repetitions, plays for the best teams, has the best hydration, the best equipment, and the best opportunity for success that could conceivably be had. In short, men are not made to give up their lives to support their children and walk them down the path to happiness.
That will sound blasphemous to some. To some, that’s the very definition of the role of a father, to give up his pursuits to promote the success of his children. And there’s a sense in which that’s true, as a man’s priorities and commitments change when he becomes a father. However, a man’s goals should not change entirely. Every man should be in pursuit of goals, and becoming a father will add “raising successful children” to the goals that he is pursuing. However, too many men make “raising successful children” the only goal in their life once they become fathers. This is a mistake.
It’s a mistake because it will not produce successful children. Children who grow up being the center of their family’s universe generally become selfish adults who have an inflated sense of their own value. The idea that life revolves around them becomes so ingrained that the real world smacks them in the face when they enter it. What’s more, they will have real trouble in relationships, both romantic and otherwise. It’s hard to have a healthy relationship when your primary relationships during your developmental years were all about you. Alan Keyes nailed it when he noted that
“[f]amily life is the normal context in which we can learn that a life filled with thinking about others instead of ourselves is the sure road to the most fulfilling joys and satisfactions.”
The role of the father is not make his children happy, it’s to lead them in such a way that helps them to find it. This means helping them to understand at an early age that, while they are loved deeply and valued immensely, their role in the family is one of a minor member. Their place is to learn and be trained. They are not the star. The family does not exist to support them. They are a part of the support staff. They are not mere servants, but are members of a group that serves a purpose larger than themselves. If they don’t learn those lessons from us as fathers, they will enter adulthood unprepared and at a disadvantage. So, if our goal is to produce happy and successful children, we best not make them the center of our family’s life.
But that’s not the only reason it’s a mistake for men to make their children the sole focus of their lives. Men need a mission, and families need to be led on a mission. As I noted above, that mission cannot be promoting the children’s success. Instead, it needs to be a mission that is larger than any one member. It needs to be a mission that stokes our masculinity and allows our wives to express their femininity. It should require us to be strong, courageous, tough, resilient, and skillful. It should require similar traits from our children, albeit to a lesser extent. Men need this. If we’re going to be content in life, we need an adventure. We need to our heart to pound. That’s not going to happen living vicariously through our children. We need something that we are pursuing, something that stretches and challenges us. Otherwise, we just become safe, sterile little fellas that really don’t have much to offer the world outside of shuffling papers, giving rides, and watching ballgames.
The great news is that when fathers lead their family on such missions, it produces happy, successful kids. Our kids need to see us pursuing greatness. They need our example. They need us to inspire them and to model the life that they need to live. That doesn’t mean that they will pursue the same path that we have; far from it. Instead, we provide the example of setting goals and pursuing those goals with discipline despite adversity, struggle, and setbacks. Our children are then inspired to set their own goals and use their creativity and talent to accomplish their own goals through the same discipline, strength, courage, and resilience that they have seen in our lives.
Our boys will grow up knowing what it looks like to be a man, and our daughters will know what to look for in a husband. The best fathers are those who embrace their manhood and lead with strength. They don’t protect their children from the storm, they teach them to overcome it. Of course there’s another side. Compassion, patience, and understanding are needed. Our children must know that we have their back and that we do support them. But they aren’t the center. We are. Not in a domineering way, but with high strength and high love. Both are crucial.
Our action point: take an honest look at whether we’ve put our children at the center of our lives, our marriages, and our family life. If so, it’s time to pull them out. We must take the lead. We must outline the mission. And we then must pull everyone into that mission and hold them accountable for learning and fulfilling their role on the team. That is the man’s life.
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