New studies suggest that having a sense of purpose makes dads healthier, happier, and stronger as individuals and as fathers. Robert Byrne said, “The purpose of life is a life of purpose.” Jeremy Adam Smith, the author of The Daddy Shift, is a very committed father with a great flair for communication. His article “What is Your Purpose as a Father” makes some really good points about the power of purpose.
Jeremy does live in San Francisco, which is the woke capital of the world. This explains his preponderance for political correctness, but we are all children of our own culture and time. Jeremy’s noble heart as a father shines through. I will let you make up your own mind.
“Sooner or later, our kids will make us suffer. When they’re babies, their crying keeps us up at night. Later, their teenage shenanigans might rob us of more sleep. Some of us stay at jobs we hate so that our kids will never have to wonder where their next meal will come from. We can battle with our co-parents over issues like housework and discipline, testing love we might have once thought would last forever.
These stresses and sacrifices can be painful, but studies are finding one thing that can help us to weather them: a sense of purpose. That is to say, our long-term, meaningful goals as fathers.
A sense of purpose shapes day-to-day goals and behaviour. Seeing a destination on the horizon helps us to lift our eyes over the dirty dishes and temper tantrums, to a future that is better than the present. Purpose makes that pile of dishes matter. It reminds us that we matter, if only to our kids. Purpose keeps us at home with them when we wish we were elsewhere.
While purposes can vary, recent studies suggest that just having one is good for you and your family. So, what does purpose look like in a father’s life? How can you find your purpose as a father? These are existential questions that every man must answer for himself. But research does provide some insights to help us understand ourselves better — and see the fathers we want to become.
How can dads find their purpose?
There are almost no recent scientific studies of how fathers develop a sense of purpose. However, researchers are starting to understand the factors that shape our purposes across our lifespans, providing insights that can help fathers to find their purpose. Here are some of the pathways you might take to explore your own purpose…
- Read books and watch movies
There are countless novels, comic books, movies, and TV shows that thoughtfully portray fathers, as well as nonfiction books and articles on the history and meaning of fatherhood. When I was becoming a father, I found particular inspiration in Michael Chabon’s novels, the short stories of Alice Munro, the graphic-novel series Starman, movies like The Pursuit of Happiness, daddy blogs, and books by feminist scholars like Stephanie Coontz and Arlie Hochschild.
The stories that inspired me may not inspire you. Perhaps you’ll look more to religious texts, or even to the stories of sports stars. The important thing is the search for inspiration. Seeing the purposes of other fathers, both real and imagined, can help you to see your own.
- Talk to your co-parents, friends, and family
While purpose is a very personal thing, it often emerges from our connections to other people.
It’s important to thoughtfully, intentionally sit down with your co-parent and talk explicitly about what shapes your idea of a good father and what your goals are—and to listen to what the other parent has to say. It was incredibly meaningful for me to interview my grandfather and father for my book, The Daddy Shift, because in my family, we never discussed fatherhood. You can talk to the fathers in your own family right now.
If your kids are young, think about joining a neighbourhood group for moms and dads—and then, later, volunteering at school. All of these conversations will help inform and sustain your purpose as a father.
- Look to your hurts — and turn them into healing
Many men have described to me feeling hurt by their own fathers. Sometimes, the pain came from physical punishment. More often, it’s emotional, arising from absence or verbal abuse. As we saw in my Facebook discussion, men do turn this pain into a purpose to be better than their own fathers. Other fathers described being hurt by racism or some other form of collective discrimination — and so are raising their children to fight back against injustice.
You’ll incur hurts as a parent, too, when you feel overwhelmed or heartbroken. Instead of beating up on yourself, you can ask yourself what that pain means and how you can do better next time. Your purpose as a father never stops evolving, because we learn something new (about ourselves and others) at every stage of our child’s life.
- Move toward joy and meaning
There’s more to purpose than pain, of course. Many fathers describe their purpose as raising happy kids, and so they try to be happy themselves. “I want my kids to be happy and to put good into the world, to do the right thing rather than the easy one,” says Honea. “My purpose is to model that, sometimes (often) I fail, and let my children see me learn from it.”
Read Jeremy Adam Smith’s full article, republished from Greater Good Magazine, at this link.
Mark Twain said, “The two most important days in life are the day you are born and the day you discover the reason why.”
The beginning of the New Year is a great time to discover your ‘reason why’ — which is your purpose.
Yours for more Purposeful Dads,