Iterating Your Way To Being A Great Dad

Was talking with a buddy recently about some of the struggles they are facing as a dad. Trying to make time for family. Trying to really be present. Struggling to put the phone down.

They were asking me how I did things, and I thought it was worth writing some thoughts down in this department. Don’t get me wrong — I don’t feel like a great dad most of the time, but I have made a bit of progress that I’m happy about in recent months/years.

One of the recent paradigm shifts that I have is in thinking of improving my dad game iteratively. Prior to this, I’ve seen it as kind of an all-or-nothing thing, in a sense.

For example, I’d want to execute the weekend flawlessly — doing something fun and interesting, being fully present with my kids 16 hours a day for Saturday and Sunday, ending the weekend on a great note where everyone is happy and had a blast.

Inevitably something would go wrong during that weekend — I’d get impatient, be distracted, get upset, etc. And then I’d feel like the weekend was a failure as a whole.

At this point, I’ve pretty much accepted that I just can’t be fully present 16 hours a day and I’ve adjusted my goals a bit.

Whether it’s a given day, a given weekend or vacation trip — whatever the span of time is, my goal is to focus on being present and enjoying smaller chunks of time — more like an hour at a time.

We used to rush through our dinners — maybe spending 20 minutes together quickly, and then moving onto watching TV, being on phones, veg’ing out. But we’ve started to build more of a solid hour or hour and a half into our dinner routine, no phones at the table, and to take more time for conversation.

It doesn’t sound like much, an extra half hour at the dinner table. But it’s been great. And many times it’s hard. You’re at the end of a long day, the kids are cranky, maybe you’re missing something you need to make dinner — there seem to always be reasons to tune out or get into an argument.

It’s been a discipline to try to make the most of that time. And as we’ve done it more consistently, it’s gotten more enjoyable. Then, as you start to get little wins, you start to build on them.

Although I’ve had a flexible schedule working from home for years, I’ve never had breakfast with my family. I’ve always felt the need to get going on work and just haven’t been in a state of mind to really be present in the mornings.

But for the first time in years, after building on that little win of having dinners together, I’ve started to also have breakfast with the family for a solid 45 minutes or hour. It’s a great way to start the day and gives us a great rhythm of really connecting as a family for 2 solid times during the day.

And then I’ve continued to build with little chunks of time here and there. It doesn’t add up to a massive amount of time overall, but the quality is there.

And a big part of it is also giving myself the time that I need on my own to recharge. I’ve started to really enjoy getting up and walking the dog before having breakfast in the morning. It wakes me up, gets my blood flowing, my brain firing, and kicks me out of my grogginess.

So if the girls are really energetic and wanting to play with me before I’ve walked the dog, I just let them know I’m not awake yet. I need that time to myself to recharge and be fully present with them during the times that I’m with them.

I’m excited to continue iterating on my dad game — I know it’s far from perfect now and I have a long way to go, but I have confidence that I can continue to build incrementally on the progress I’ve made thus far, without being too hard on myself when I screw up.