On Being a Dad

By Leo Babauta

Being a dad is messy … not just the many spills and broken dishes and dirty kitchens and finger-painted walls you have to clean up, but messy because nothing ever goes as planned.

It’s messy because you start out with the best of intentions, hoping to be super dad and loving and perfect, and then it all goes to hell.

Things get said, tempers flare, feelings get hurt, you get mad at each other. Kids never turn out as planned, and neither does your life. You hope for one thing, and get a wonderful mess in return. How I love the mess I’ve gotten.

I never planned to be the dad of six kids. I had two with my first wife, and I love them desperately. I married my second wife, and inherited two more, and I love them with all my heart. Then we made two more, and I love them all so much I am overwhelmed when I let myself feel it.

Being a father is about uncertainty. You create a kid, and you are flooded with uncertainty, because you don’t know how to do any of this. You don’t know how your kids will turn out, and you don’t know what the hell you’re doing. All of a sudden, you’re up to bat, and the pressure is on you, not just to provide, not just to keep a fragile human being alive, but to be their role model, to shape them, to make them happy. And none of it comes with a manual.

They have problems, like a kid teased them at school, or bullied them, they’re struggling with motivation or boredom or fitting in … and you don’t know how to deal with any of it. You try your best, but in the end you don’t know. It’s filled with uncertainty.

This uncertainty can be terrifying. You’re not just playing a video game here, these are real lives you’ve been given to steward. Your heart is flooded with the fear of uncertainty, and you don’t admit to yourself that you’re scared.

So how do you make it through this uncertainty? The dad way is to try to find certainty: come up with a solution, fix things, create a system, teach them a method, create lists, be on top of it. This is all an illusion, because even after your systems and methods, you still don’t know crap. It’s still uncertain.

The only way through uncertainty is love.

Being a dad is about uncertainty, but it’s also about love. You are scared witless, and yet you make it through all of this because you love them endlessly, you are undone by your love for them.

You do whatever you can for them, despite the fears, amidst the uncertainty, because you love them.

You aren’t alone, of course. You are joined in this uncertain journey by their loving mother(s), who are amazing and who bear the brunt of the burdens and messiness and uncertainty. You have their loving grandparents, their aunts and uncles, everyone around you helping these kids through life, helping you deal with the uncertainty. The love of all these wonderful people help you through.

In the end, they grow up and become adults, and then the uncertainty only increases. You don’t know how they’ll deal with life, but you know they’ll be amazing, because they too have learned to live amidst the uncertainty anchored in the unending groundlessness by their love.