Anyone who knows me well knows that my most cherished identity is being a Dad. In fact, my #1 value in life is literally "Being a Great Dad". It is the filter through which I pass so many important decisions in life. I knew from the minute my first child was born that I was going to love being a Dad, and that's only become more true over the years.
It took on new meaning when my marriage ended - being a Divorced Dad was a brand new reality, one with all sorts of challenges I couldn't foresee. Could I make my new home feel comfortable for my kids? Simple things like colorful/fun bedspreads were not in my awareness before. How could I keep them entertained, when historically my wife had set the social calendar? Finding new strategies for keeping them engaged socially was also strange territory. So many other things needed more of my attention ... school clothes shopping, signing up for summer camps & after-school activities, paying attention to which snacks they wanted in the house, and on and on and on... It was a lot to figure out!
Throughout that time I managed well, albeit with lots of stress. As part of my unofficial "Man Training" I had learned to go it alone. I am smart and strong and all sorts of independent, so asking for help with these things was rarely a consideration. While I know I did a good job navigating all of these changes and decisions and developments with my kids, I also endured a lot of unnecessary stress along the way.
Eventually I realized that I had to let go of my "toughing it out" approach. I could see the eventual outcome of that - the mounting stress that had already led to burnout once, the isolation that was starting to set in, the looming specter of depression.
So even before I had gotten clear that "Being a Great Dad" was my #1 value - the one that drives my biggest decisions in life - I made a huge change based on it. Last year I left my "comfy" corporate job to pursue work that allowed me to be more available to my kids AND to model a life lived authentically - across all areas of my life. It wasn't an easy decision, nor has it been an easy transition. What's kept me going on many days is the knowledge that I made a choice from my heart, one that honors my values and my spirit. I fully trust that is the right foundation to build my life upon.
Of course, being a single Dad brings certain challenges, just as being a married Dad does. I've been both and I appreciate the joys & challenges of each. In my present situation I co-parent my kids. Said differently, I solo parent half the time and have more time to grow myself in the other half of the week.
These days I also parent teens, which is a challenge of its own special variety, as those of you who've done that can appreciate. The push and pull of the teen mindset - alternately craving independence and the protective comfort of a parent - can be jarring, confusing, and at times downright maddening.
And so it is that I had a shining moment this weekend. A couple of years after my marriage ended I decided to pursue a passion "just for me" in the time I was away from my kids. That passion, of course, is improv comedy. If you know me really well, you also know that I got into improv because my kids were doing it first. But I digress...
On a recent Saturday night I had a show with my improv comedy troupe, Not In Charge. I also had my kids on that weekend. So they came to the show, as they have a few other times. I never know how it's going to go - me up on stage in public, making up a show on the fly with my kids sitting right there in the front row. Well, this one was magical. The show was such fun (my teammates are AWESOME!!!). And best yet, my kids had a blast! They spent much of the next day recalling funny moments from the show and laughing about it with me.
As a Dad I was excited to share something with my kids that we could all enjoy. That thing I invested in for me - my improv hobby?
So here's something really cool ... it turns out that following my passion created a magical connection for me and my kids, even at a time of life when those moments can feel harder to come by.
It may not come around as often as I would like, especially with my teens. But boy does it validate my decision to model joy and harmony, two things improv is brilliant at elevating in our lives.
In the big picture of my life there are still plenty of unresolved questions. I am running my own business, which provides endless opportunities to question what I'm doing! Remember that "parenting teens" thing? Yeah, it's not always as easy as this story makes it sound. Dating in your middle years, when you have kids and a business and a bunch of other plates spinning? Yeah, questions to handle there, too.
But I am centered these days. I am happier than I've been in decades. And it all starts with my values, especially Being a Great Dad, which has created so many positive ripple effects for my life. I have chosen to live my life in joy and harmony these days, and that is something I value tremendously.
What brings you joy and harmony, both for yourself and with those you love? Let me know with a note in the comments below. I bet I'll learn something!
If you're a divorced dad who is ready for some help instead of trying to figure things out on your own, give me a shout. I'd love to talk about what you have going on and see if I can help you get to your own version of "joy and harmony". Just plunk an email in my inbox at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll get right back to you.