At National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI), we focus on helping fathers to be involved, responsible, and committed to their children and families. I've reflected a lot on that mantra over my more than 13 years at NFI. Most recently, I've wondered what is the relative importance of these characteristics of a great dad.
I've realized that exercise is a bit of a fool's game because each one of them is critical to being a great dad. Their importance is like our need for food and water. We can't do without one and rely only on the other. Nevertheless, there is one characteristic that the other two depend upon if dads are to realize their full potential as fathers--commitment. Commitment drives involvement and responsibility. It's where good fathering begins. Great dads are "hatched" when they become truly committed to being involved and responsible in the lives of their children and--just as importantly--in their relationships with the mothers of their children.
In The Dark Knight Rises, the last installment of the Batman trilogy starring Christian Bale, Bruce Wayne faces a commitment challenge. He (as Batman) is beaten almost to the point of death by a villain named Bane who takes control of Gotham City. After the beating, which left Wayne broken physically and spiritually, Bane sends Wayne to a subterranean prison in a foreign country that only one person has ever escaped from. Wayne faces a choice. He can wither away and die or recommit to becoming an even better Batman. He chooses the latter, of course. He first rebuilds his body to become even stronger than before. Then he faces a life-threatening challenge that is vital to escaping the prison.
Escaping the prison requires a symbolic but very real leap of faith. For an inmate to escape, he must climb the circular, slippery wall of an open hole that leads to the surface. If an inmate gets to a certain point on the wall, he must jump across the hole and grab onto a small ledge on the other side and pull himself up. From there, it's a piece of cake. The standard approach is to tie a rope to the waist so that if in attempting to jump to the ledge the inmate falls short and falls, his fall is stopped by the rope. Wayne tries the jump several times with the rope tied to his waste. He fails each time. After he is challenged by a confidant in the prison to completely commit to the jump by not using the rope, he tries again and succeeds.
Dads must be vigilant about their commitments to children and families because those commitments are constantly challenged. These challenges can arise in the form of work-life balance, the ups and downs of marriage, and personal struggles such as addictions. Life has a nasty way of constantly challenging dads to commit to their children and families. Dads who didn't plan to have children must do the right thing and commit to their children and the mothers of their children. These dads must rise up and take a leap of faith that they can become great dads, partners and husbands in the first place. In other cases, great dads lose their way and must, through a leap of faith, rise again as committed fathers. Dads must do this even in the absence of a safety net.
Here are 5 tips for staying vigilant in your commitment to your children and family.
1) Create habits that put your commitment on auto pilot. Research shows that establishing habits is vital to behaving in consistent, healthy ways. Establish habits, such as eating regular meals with your children and mom, that achieve work-family balance. (For tips on work-family balance, click here.)
2) Find another dad who will agree to be your "commitment partner" and you his. Schedule regular meetings in person or over the phone. Avoid using e-mail or texts if possible to keep these meetings as intimate as possible. Meet no less than once a month. Focus your discussions on what each of you have done to stay committed since your last meeting. Agree that if either of you spots a lack of commitment in the other to challenge that lack of commitment and develop a plan for getting back on track.
3) Agree with the mother of your children to call out each other on a lack of commitment. Parenting is a team sport. Just as teammates call out each other when they're not pulling their weight on the field, you and mom must be willing to call each other out (in a respectful way) when either of you aren't fully committed. Applying this tip is one of the most difficult because it can push your and her buttons. Have an open posture and mind so you can receive her feedback without feeling threatened or resentful.
4) Take advantage of NFI's free resources. Keep reading this blog, subscribe to NFI's Dad Email™, keep track of your child's growth and development using Countdown to Growing Up™, and access our articles, podcasts, and other tools.
5) Get back on your feet when you stray. Realize that you will lose your way at some point in your fatherhood journey. How far you stray depends in part on how well you apply the previous tips. You'll have to step up, be a man, lick your wounds (getting help, if necessary, to heal them), and move on.
Question: Have you strayed in your commitments? What do you need to do to become even more committed?