There are so many types of dads out here and the term “being present” means so many things.
To the dad who lives at home with his kids, being present may look like putting down your digital device long enough to give your kids attention. To the long-distance dad, being present may look like using creative ways to spend time with your children. That can be physically or virtually. To empty nest dads, finding a way to stay involved in your children’s lives when they no longer live at home is a challenge. That’s especially true if they have created a family of their own.
As a dad, I have my own definition of what being present means, but I don’t have the right to define that term for all families. “Being present” should be defined by one or both parents, but more importantly, your children should have a say in what makes them feel like you’re there. I will touch on my experiences and what that term has meant to me.
Hopefully, many of you will relate and this will add value to you.
As a divorced dad of four small kids, my definition of being present has changed over the past few years. At one point, I worked a full-time job during the day with entrepreneurial tasks being done at night.
During this phase of fatherhood, I had to make time to be with them. My schedule might not have always permitted trips to the park, but even playtime in the front yard was something that I could do. Maybe trading the morning routine for the bedtime routine was the best strategy depending on what shift I had to work.
It was the effort that mattered.
I also had a stay-at-home dad phase as well. I got to experience working remotely, preparing breakfast, assisting with schoolwork during distant learning, lunch/dinner, snacks in-between and the bedtime routine. The kids might have gotten used to always having me around, but it definitely wasn’t easy.
I had a new appreciation for the work their mother put in all the years that she was solo while I went to work. To be clear, I wasn’t the male version Mary Poppins. My daily goal was just to keep these kids alive. Succeeding at the end of every night was satisfying to me!
Learning all the details of their personalities was very insightful. Catching the good and bad habits and identifying which parent they got it from was also an activity I did during those days. Seeing my kids’ verbal and nonverbal cues of genuine happiness was so fulfilling. Knowing those smiles were there because I checked their box of “being present” and that was everything to me. I was also proud of myself for being able to do it!
Now post-divorce and relocation, I have had to redefine what being present means.
I couldn’t do that without my kids and giving them the opportunity to voice their feelings. I’m still new to it, but I have already learned that deciding on a mutually beneficial method of communication and frequency was the top priority.
I have had several flights cross country to see my kids to nightly recaps of their day via FaceTime with bedtime prayers to end each call. Routines change and we are constantly finding what works as life throws different challenges our way. Even sending random “just because” gifts via Amazon goes a long way to show that you love them. Depending on your kids’ personality, ages and even environments, your kids may respond positively or negatively to your efforts.
That’s okay as long as you’re trying.
For many of you, your children have grown up and left the nest. Being present is still possible…you just may have to get more creative. Many kids grow up with the desire of getting space and gaining their own sense of independence. That might be difficult for some dads to hear, feel and experience.
My suggestion still applies here. If you can, talk with your adult children to understand who they are now. Try to identify what common ground you have and find ways to maximize it. Most importantly, ask them what they would like their adult relationship to look like with you.
You should discuss what success looks like for the method, frequency and level of involvement. My dad and I are on opposite sides of the country, but we’re finding a rhythm that works for us. It can always be better, but something is better than nothing. I definitely feel like he is present in my life!
Look, it doesn’t matter how many blogs you read, podcasts you listen to and YouTube videos you watch.
Your experience as a dad is your own to learn and grow. There is one thing that I would ask you to look out for. That is not falling into the pit of dad guilt. I definitely did at one point, and it doesn’t feel good.
Feeling like you’re not doing enough and overcompensating in some areas of parenting will tend to rule your thoughts and actions. Even the thought that you might mess up their future psychologically can creep in. If you’re feeling that now or you might have in the past, please seek help professionally and/or from people within your close circle.
As long as you know that you’re doing the best you can with what you have, everything will eventually work itself out. Much success to you all as we continue to figure out this dad life!
About The Author – J.LeVar Bryan, Sr.
As a father of four and the founder/CEO of The Dad’s List, his family life inspires his work to recognize the stories of men who are redefining what it means to be a dad. He uses his talents to advocate for fatherhood through a variety of social media platforms, apparel and The Dad’s List Podcast.
To J.LeVar, it’s so important to craft the message from stories and use these resources as tools to engage with those who need to see, hear, and get involved.
In addition to The Dad’s List, he also runs LeVar Legacy Operations Agency. His agency solves simple problems for existing small business owners and those just getting started. From protecting your small business with access to legal counsel to website creation, graphic design, professional photography and video projects. For select clients, he serves as their dedicated Online Business Manager.
Ways to connect: