Dads, I have a simple — or as you might realize after reading this — a not-so-simple question for you:
Who are you?
I don’t mean in the literal sense. You are the guy who works his job, takes care of his family and his home and tries to enjoy his life.
What I mean is what defines you?
I often feel that once our kids arrive and we try to balance work and home life, we become, chiefly, a provider. We begin to allow those things that defined us pre-kids to slip away. Our sole job, it often feels like, is to keep the lights on, food on the table and a roof over our family’s heads. That’s all good. And if we accomplish that in this day of $200 cable bills and skyrocketing college costs, more power to us.
But we can lose sight of who and what we are we devote the extreme bulk of our time and energy to the production of money.
If you asked my kids who I am they would probably say that I’m the money guy, the grocery shopper, the king of the catnap, the grill guy, the guy who fixes stuff and the guy who works out on the back patio. In their eyes, I’m the guy who reads to them and hammers them about their homework. They define me by what they see me doing.
If you ask the people at their schools and our church I’m J’s Dad, H’s dad or M’s wife. Those folks might only know my face. They define me by my relationships.
My co-workers define me by my output.
My wife defines me by much more on more of an emotional scorecard. It is our connection that gets to the closest me.
But the question remains — how do I define me?
I am all of the things listed above. And more. Like Walt Whitman once wrote, “I contain multitudes.” And that’s true for the vast majority of us. However, sometimes in the midst of parenting, I think we lose sight of who we are. That lighthouse that signals our home base becomes obscured. In the helter skelter of our lives and demands on our time between the have-to’s and want-to’s on our to-do lists, we are unable to remember who we truly are.
For this portion of my life, when my kids are young and I am consumed with school, activities and a schedule that would rival a presidential candidate, I am defined by my family commitments. That is as it should be. But I wonder about the time when this period of my life is over. Will I go back to being the guy who played golf and tennis, performed in community theater and slept in? Or are those days behind me? Do I even want them back?
My current definition involves a lot more science and dinosaurs and outer space than I ever dreamed it would. That’s because those are the interests that my children have and, like a chameleon, I’ve changed as I’ve been around them. When I was a kid — about 12 — I started performing in community theater. Before you knew it, my parents and my sister were performing in shows as well. It was as if my interest quickly became their interests as they decided that rather than waiting for my rehearsal to be over, they might as well get involved, too.
For me, I never want to stop growing. I see some men who get to a comfortable place in life and seem stunted, unable to listen to new music, enjoy new movies or realize that there was anything good that happened after 1996. For us to stay relevant in our lives and in the lives of our spouses and children, we need an eye in the present and an eye on the future. But sometimes the best way to connect with the future is through the definition of our past.