Abundant Dad: How To Rock Fatherhood And Still Have Time For Yourself
The words ‘abundant dad’ wandered into my mind this morning and I knew that by this afternoon it would be a blog post. The term seemed to capture what it is I try to be and I needed to write it down, explore it and share it because it could be important.
If I wasn’t an abundant dad, I wouldn’t have the time, the mental space or the vulnerability to try to define it, write it down and figure out a way to become one if you aren’t already.
Caveat: I tend to write for an audience of one; me. A lot of my thoughts end up in a journal (just to get them out of my head so there’s more space for tranquility) but when I feel like it might be useful to someone else, ie: someone else might be facing the same thoughts as me, then it becomes worth sharing. This isn’t advice, I’m no expert. But this works for me.
So what is an abundant dad and why is it important?
Let’s look at ‘abundant’ first (because you know what a dad is):
present in great quantity; more than adequate; over-sufficient:
an abundant supply of water.
- well supplied with something; abounding :
a river abundant in salmon.
- richly supplied, as with resources:
an abundant land.
Basically you have a lot of something, generally something desireable. In this case I’m thinking about an abundance of things that make me happy. Time with my children, time to take care of my mental and physical health, time with my friends and family and a source of income that provides me with all that time (not a gratuitous amount of time, but enough).
So I’m not talking about an abundance of monetary wealth or possessions but an abundance of the things that are highly correlated with me secreting serotonin. And amazingly, the more time you make for yourself, the more you take care of yourself and the more you focus on being happy yourself, the more happy, meaningful time you’ll have with your kids and the more powerful the example you’re setting for them.
Who is this for? Dads. And mums. Parents and carers of any type really! I’m a single dad who shares time with my boys with their mum. We make it work for the most part (and it isn’t always easy, it can be downright hard at times) but I think these principles are important whether you’re married, separated, divorced or widowed. Dad is dad and our job is the same, regardless of whatever adult situation we’ve found ourselves in.
This may or may not be the way forward for you but somewhere in this brain spill you might find some nuggets or seeds of inspiration.
So here’s step one of the abundant dad process:
1. Be grateful for what you have. Simple, but deeply effective
Gratitude is underrated. It often gets diluted by wants and needs (perceived wants and needs) but hedonic adaption is a term given to the sad truth about winning the lottery. Once the short term buzz of being able to afford fast cars, to quit your job, sit by a pool and generally choose your poison wears off, lottery winners tend to sink back to their previous level of happiness. That is the amount of happiness they experienced before their big win. There’s solid science for this if you care to explore it.
It’s why you always want the latest iPhone but get bored of it within a fortnight. Or why you eventually stop fancying the person you’re with and start fantasising about Sue in accounts. The grass is always greener. For a short while it is, but sooner or later it reverts to the same shade as the grass you used to mow. Pretty much everything you think you want that is a version of something you already have, is like this.
At the end of my bed, since the dawn of time (when I was about 3) has sat Boris. Boris is 3 years younger than me, which puts him at 38. In dog years he’s already in the ground. He’s blind, had the stuffing replaced numerous times and when I first entered Australia on my own, in my twenties, he was put through the scanner by himself just in case he was being used as a drug mule/dog, because I clearly looked the type who might try that (they never did find the drugs) and why on Earth else would this fully grown man (that’s an oxymoron right there) have a stuffed old dog in his suitcase eh?
I had a stuffed old dog in my suitcase (and still have on my bed) because sometimes, what you already have can be better than anything you could get to replace it and deep down we already know this. Boris is still alive because of it (in a sense).
This is why I start my day with the 5 Minute Journal (don’t worry I won’t digress). A simple and very quick way to dump your gratitude onto paper before you go about your day. A habit forming ritual that ensures that I’m always pausing for a few minutes every day to think about what I’m happy to already have. A tiny little thing with immense power (insert your own double entendre here).
I’m not suggesting you rush out and get one, I’m just saying take a breath occasionally and have a little think about the things you have that you really wouldn’t want to be without.
Happy isn’t in the something you don’t have yet, it’s somewhere in your house or your life or on the end of the phone or on the end of Skype or in a cupboard upstairs, covered in dust and dog hairs. I’m not trying to be all spiritual or minimalist or suggest you don’t buy another thing or become a trappist monk and live off beans and stay with someone you don’t love. Just try to be more aware of the balance. A bit less need and a bit more gratitude for what you already have.
Here’s how powerful gratitude is:
Imagine that tomorrow morning your youngest child storms into your bedroom at 5.30am jumping on your bed, trying to wake you up, get you out of bed, make you SEE and HEAR them, demanding breakfast, cartoons, cuddles and everything NOW. And not a little loud too.
You could A) Tell them to shut up, leave you alone and go play in their room for an hour until you can get your brain together. Or B) Get your brain together and give in.
Now imagine that after choosing A. You go into their room an hour later to find them dead.
Yes, I know. But this can be real life, be brave for a moment.
Now you are offered a trip in a time machine back to the moment they burst into the room. By golly you’re getting up now aren’t you? Suddenly you don’t want to lie in, you want to spend every ounce of your waking life being with them. Every moment will be precious, you will be completely present and won’t even check Facebook until they’ve gone to school. Right?
So why isn’t every moment like this? Like it might be our last? Not enough gratitude for what we have that’s why.
OK, you can stop reading for a moment while you go kiss your kids and call your mum and stroke the dog etc. And I promise I won’t do that to you again.
Action to take:
How do you do this? Take a bit of time to consider what you have that is amazing in your life and occasionally remind yourself how it would feel to not have those things in your life, possessions as well as people. Make it an automatic responses to ‘needing something else’ whenever you can. Learn to WANT the things you already have.
I’m ‘lucky’ here in that every Sunday (or whatever day it turns out to be) that my boys go over to their mum’s house for mum time, I close the front door, sit down and mope, often to tears. Even after 4 years of this new family shape. This isn’t ‘poor me’ this is real grief and I think every parent in this situation, mums and dads alike, feel this way at changeover time. Full time parenting can be deafening, but so can the silence of an empty house. I’m only ever a week away from understanding gratitude, and it makes every moment all the sweeter.
Congratulations, you now have an ABUNDANCE of gratitude. A critical ingredient in happy everything, not least in parenthood.
2. The man in the mirror: Make that change!
Let’s take a look at you. Are you fit and healthy? Fit and unhealthy maybe? Perhaps you run at weekends but you also smoke and drink during the week (which kind of cancels out the running times a million). Strong? Attractive? Confident?
You’ve heard the cliche “how can you love others if you don’t love yourself?” well, it’s only a cliche because it’s true. More importantly, you can’t give yourself completely if you aren’t at your best. What you see when you look in the mirror, more than that, what you feel when you look in the mirror will reflect in the hearts and minds of your kids too. They don’t just do what you do, they feel what you feel too. You can’t hide everything from sponge radars. And they are uber sponge radars.
We need to start by reverse engineering it. What do we want our kids to feel? To know? We want them to be comfortable in their own skin. We want them to be confident but not at the expense of compassion, we want them to be happy with who they are and not to fall into the trap of believing how others claim to see you is how or who you are.
So if we want them to get this, we have to get this.
I asked you to think about yourself. I’m sure that the best answer you can give is “I’m fit for purpose” Fit and healthy enough for the rigours of fatherhood. A strong, confident, compassionate protector. This will mean different things to different folks. I can tell you what it isn’t; it isn’t looking like a movie star, or a Men’s Health model or David Beckham. I can’t tell you what this should mean for you, I can’t give you any advice at all actually, I can only tell you what works for me: I need to be strong enough to protect them. I need to be fit enough to keep up with them. I need to be healthy enough not to die on them if at all possible.
So with these general themes in place I can adjust my diet, my vices, my exercise routines to suit. I used to smoke so I know how hard it is to quit, and I know how hard it is to get motivated to get off the sofa sometimes. But for motivation, take a look above (the section on gratitude, not heaven) and imagine a few scenarios.
You fall ill with lung cancer that you could have navigated if you’d only quit smoking. Do you really want to see them crying over your hospital bed? I imagine not. What about being in the park, watching the other dads run around after their kids while you wheeze your way to the bench and park your butt? Sound like fun? I’m not saying this is where you are now or that it makes you any less an amazing dad if you don’t. But I wouldn’t be able to call myself an abundant dad if I didn’t do what it took to at least try and prevent disaster before it strikes.
Action to take:
Start small; start with something you can not fail at like maybe cutting out drinking in the week, or doing 5 pushups a day, or walking the dog twice a day instead of once. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I have to say on this topic and there are plenty of posts you can look at that cover this stuff but the important thing to remember is, and this is a stone cold FACT:
You can go from overweight, tired, grumpy, breathless and sallow to energetic, fit, healthy, happy and handsome in 4 – 6 weeks with very little exercise, no calorie counting diets, no going hungry, no gym memberships (gosh, really no gym memberships – sorry gyms of the world, but you’re all rubbish) and without taking up too much time. Believe it. I can’t get off topic here but if you’re seriously in that place then email me, I’d be happy to help for free. Kids need their dads to lead by example.
The other thing I found helped me connect with my boys more effectively was by getting back in touch with my younger self. Yeah, I know how THAT sounds! But try this: Next time your boy (or girl) gets out the lego tub and demands that you build stuff with them.
Even if you’re usually happy to join in rather than fob them off and watch the news instead, try this: Pause for a moment and remember a time when you used to play with lego. What did you build? How old were you? What was the set you always wanted but never had? Go back there, remember. Then just play. Only now you’ll be really, really playing, not just placating for half an hour. Lose yourself in activities with them just as you used to lose hours when you were their age. Speak to your younger you. Ask them for advice, how would they have played? I don’t care how mental it sounds, too much analytical thinking leads to planning, which leads to imaginationless play…
So now you have and ABUNDANCE of healthy, playful energy to add to your growing stack of abundant charms.
3. An Abundance of Time.
According to Seneca (who said a lot of very wise stuff, check him out), trotting out the cliche that ‘time is short’ is not enough. We have to take it a step further and consider that life is long enough and it’s what we fill it with that matters.
I’ve never been traditionally employable. I like to keep my own time, set my own limits, define my own goals and successes and build my work around my life, not vice versa. I started that path about the same time that my kids were born; not out of some canny plan to spend more time with my kids but because the company I worked for went belly up and we’d not long moved back from Australia to the UK so I needed to do something. I didn’t fancy another stint as a hospital porter (not a massive fan of blood, vomit and norovirus, call me old fashioned) so I gathered a few clients from the dust of my previous employer and got on with it. That was 10 years ago and I’ve been consulting in the digital marketing space ever since.
It’s not a huge money spinner, I don’t save much, don’t plan too much for the future and the balance of lean and productive times can be stressful. But this stress is no more or less than the impermanence of proper ‘jobs’ these days.
I’m going to make a prediction about 90% of people reading this. Your boss sees you as replaceable, accepts the work you do for them and pays you just enough for you to pay your bills, repay your debts (mortgage, cards etc). Sometimes the prospect of a promotion will crop up and there will be an internal scrap for the small increase in salary and HUGE increase in workload that the promotion entails (because the status leap rocks your world because you are a mammal and evolution dictates you respond to such things) and whatever the salary increase, you will spend it, not save it. You may enjoy what you do (but probably not love it) and derive satisfaction from it but for the most part you are spending a LOT of time for not enough money doing things for other people amongst people you don’t even like that much. We’ve all been there.
2000 years ago you may have been lucky enough to be slave for a Roman overlord. You would have been fed, clothed, housed and even valued. But then you would make one too many mistakes, or get too old or not be as efficient a prospect as younger model. And you would be replaced. Or you may get traded (or engineer the move yourself) to another house, this time a General, where you’d enjoy slightly better conditions and the cycle would repeat. The history might be off base, but the point is valid:
You’d still be a slave.
What are you now?
So what is freedom? To me, freedom is TIME and time wealth, as opposed to monetary wealth, is a factor I consider when I look at my income streams. I can always make more money but my kids will grow up, move away and not need me in their life half as much. They won’t need me to help with their homework or play football in the park after school. They’ll pull away, as is their evolutionary prerogative as they grow up and seek new support structures out of the peer groups. All cool, all normal, but do I want to work away my time with them NOW? Nope. Not even a moment of it (see gratitude above).
An abundance of time is important. But more important is how you engineer the time that you have because I understand that you can’t immediately pack in your job or cut your hours or change your shift. The TIME you spend that costs nothing in the park is FAR more important than the MONEY you spend on the week at Centre Parcs (which is roughly a Gazillion pounds these days). Which of those can you get back and which one can you not?
Am I really advocating changing your whole working life, quitting your job, becoming self employed? Taking a massive risk, a drop in income and off the ‘ladder’? Yes actually. For one, the ladder is a relic of the post war employment scene, especially the 80s boon. And it’s all propped up by consumerist ‘needs’. Instead of a ladder, the 21st Century is an income playground. Everything is different (although your employer won’t tell you this because he needs his slaves) and you are surrounded by opportunity. I couldn’t possibly cover this topic here but what I’m saying is that for me, I wouldn’t trade my time for money. I found a niche, created my own space in it and work in a way that supports everything that is ‘genuinely’ important to me.
Action to take:
It’s a broad canvas and an imposing proposition if you’re currently on the ladder but all it takes is for you to find a process not unlike:
- Decide what you need to earn
- Determine the hourly rate you need to meet your needs
- Find (or rediscover) your passion
- Write, blog, build, make, create, consult (for yourself or for others)
- Build a network, use the Internet and social media
Hugely simplified but not a bad start. If you want some cool ways to think about this and for some very cool ways to find more time in your life even if you remain employed (like how to convince your employer you should be working from home) then check out Tim Ferriss’s The 4-Hour Work Week: Escape the 9-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich. There are plenty of other guides, books, support networks and tutorials out there but Tim is an ideal filter to get you started.
I don’t want to digress too much from the point here, I just want to illustrate that working in such a way that you have an abundance of time to spend in the right way is achievable because it works for me. Of course there’s effort and a great deal of bravery involved but nobody ever said on their deathbed “I wish I worked more hours and spent less time with my kids”.
Being an Abundant dad
If I could distill what being an abundant dad means to me, I’d say I focus on being grateful, present, compassionate, fit to be useful and use the time I create for myself for keeping up with all those things. You don’t need to apologise to anybody for taking your allotted time on this Earth and spending in a way that makes you and your loved ones happy.
If you don’t make these choices for yourself I can guarantee that consumerist (and junk food) marketing, your boss (and those of your peers still stuck in that post war work ethic mentality) will be happy to dictate which ladder you cling to on your behalf.
Decide to be an abundant dad and you’ll be leading by example; for me that’s the most important lesson I can give my kids
Even more abundant dads…
If you want to learn more then you need to follow these guys. Honest, helpful and inspirational fathers who share the best (and the worst) of their experiences and lessons. I’m not affiliated with these guys, just love their attitudes.
@dad_or_alive – author, blogger & full-time stay-at-home dad for 3 under 6. former comedy exec for sandler & handler.
@dadarocks – became a parent & then started a blog – about being dad / father & fatherhood
@dodomesticdad – just an average dude trying to be an extraordinary dad. author of the first 9 months
@manvdadhood – i am a dad. good, bad, and everything in between. i am unapologetically trying to be better
@jimhigley – award-winning author, speaker & radio show host
@playgrounddad – connecting dads who aim to spend better time with their kids.
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