Being a great father only makes you a father — it doesn't make you a successful man.
When I was a kid I told myself, "I'm not going to be like my dad — I'm going to take time to understand my kids and tell them I love them and acknowledge them more often than I raise my voice."
I think most of us say that, but how do we do different when we don't know how to be different? And how would I know how to become a great father when I didn't even know how to become a great man?
Without a clear sense of purpose or direction, I chose (settled for) a woman who I thought would ease the journey and who I could help do the same. After seven years and three separations, I was on the verge of leaving for good when she sat me down with the announcement: "You can't go. I'm pregnant."
I wish I could say I was happy. I'd looked forward to being a father, but not like this. Instead of celebrating, I did everything I could to hide the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach and the thought, "There went my last chance to leave."
A real man stays and makes it work no matter what, right? One thing I knew for sure, being a father was a part of life I refused to fail. The first thing I began to do was read; the second thing I did was find and interview remarkable fathers.
The big day was planned. It would be a C-section because she was breech. Then just two days later we were bringing her home. Two days old and they were sending this completely helpless little person home to a couple of "adults" whose only experience of being responsible for a life was with a dog. I still remember the sense that security was going to stop me and return her to a nurse's care.
Well, no one stopped me and no one pulled me over. Even worse, none of the nurses were waiting there when we got home. We were about to take this on alone and I soon realized that her mom was more afraid than I was. Isn't there supposed to be some kind of instinct that magically turns a woman into an all-knowing mother when the baby is born?
So I poured myself into becoming the best possible parent, putting on hold the challenges in the relationship while giving up my purpose and happiness in order to be the father I'd committed to be so many years before.
I didn't understand that when a man gives up his sense of purpose — no matter what the reason — he can't show up with conviction in the other parts of life. I settled. And even though I was a good dad, because I settled rather than pursuing life with passion, I was only showing up as half a partner and half a man.
My life became numb. Days became weeks, weeks became months, and those months became seven years. I was miserable, and the harder I tried, the more it felt like my partner hated me. I didn't understand that she didn't want me constantly seeking her approval; she wanted a man that she could trust to lead a family unit with a clear vision and a plan to make it happen.
I knew that our toxic relationship had created a toxic home, but I thought I could hide it from my daughter. I thought I could disguise it, hold the illusion of happiness together long enough for her to fall asleep before her mom and I would have the argument that never ended.
My heart broke when my daughter told me that she'd heard us and that our loud voices had scared her. I felt the best I could do was to give her permission to come and tell us if it happened again and that I would promise to stop.
Less than a week later, a little seven-year-old girl was standing at the top of the stairs with a look I never wanted to see in her eyes ever again. She said, "Can you stop? You're scaring me." Until that moment, I had been afraid to leave, but now I was more afraid of what would happen if I stayed. It was a defining moment and I knew something had to change.
To leave a child in order for that child to succeed is a choice that no one should have to make. I didn't know how much I'd have to sacrifice to keep it, but I made her a promise when I broke the news: "I promise that your life will be better and you will be happier, no matter what I have to do, with your mom and I living apart than when we were living together."
I thought it would be a relief to her mom; after all, from what I could tell there wasn't a single redeeming quality about me in her eyes. The harder I'd tried to be what I thought she wanted, the more it seemed she resented me. What she couldn't say, and what I know now, is that she couldn't respect a man who needed her to tell him who he should be.
A woman deserves a man who knows himself before choosing a partner who will complement the direction he's going. I didn't know, and like most men, I chose a relationship to support myself rather than doing the work necessary to define myself.
The result was a woman feeling she'd been deceived, a relationship that felt like it had all been a lie, and a sense of betrayal and abandonment from the person who had claimed in front of witnesses that they were committing to forever.
The reason I accept responsibility for the pain in that separation is that I now believe it's up to a man to know who he is and what he's committing to when he tells a woman, "You're the one!" What most men mean is actually, "I'm not clear on who I am or what I'm going to accomplish in life, and frankly I'm intimidated about what it will take to get clear on it and make it happen. So what I'd really like is a companion to share the job of figuring that out with me, and you're the one!"
When a woman settles for a man who settles for her, it can only lead to a bad ending. Most soothe themselves through their relationship and never figure out their real purpose, and those who do almost always realize it will take them on a radically different trajectory than the woman they partnered with is designed to support.
The cost of settling was enormous. I lost my business, my fortune, my home, the security of having a partner, and for four years the anger that leaving created prevented me from being the kind of father I was accustomed to. I refused to fight; I'd left to end that pattern and the promise I'd written to my daughter shortly after she was born ensured that I did. I discovered that you can fight for your kids without fighting with the other parent.
I'm a single dad and have been a committed father, despite the challenging circumstances. I understand that being a great father only makes you a father — it doesn't make you a successful man any more than being a successful businessman makes you a great husband.
This is the promise I wrote to my daughter, but it takes more than being a good parent to be a great man. Parenthood is a responsibility all on its own. Choosing to become a man of clear vision who consistently delivers what he promises is what's required to be a success in the other areas of life.
Women are waiting for men to make this choice. The "evolved woman" knows that she wants far more than a male nanny or a man who promises, but can't deliver. She's waiting for her "evolved man": the one who lives with the courage of his conviction and a passion for his purpose.
So if you're a dad, be a great one, but be a magnificent example of a man with focus and follow through everywhere else, too.
My promise to my daughter:
- I promise to teach you the importance of doing the difficult things first.
- I promise to support your talents and interests, and help you discover the special gifts you have to offer this world.
- I promise to encourage you to take risks and open your mind to new ideas and possibilities.
- I promise to participate with you in a healthy lifestyle and live a life of social grace and emotional intelligence that you're inspired to model.
- I promise to support you in discovering your purpose, and share that unique value in a way you find personally and financially rewarding.
- I promise to exemplify the way a man should treat a woman by the way I treat your mother.
- I promise to remember that you have your own valid feelings and inner guidance.
- I promise to set firm boundaries and hold you accountable for your actions, but give you enough room to learn to make your own wise choices.
- I promise to allow you the freedom to fail, and I will forgive your mistakes and apologize when I'm wrong.
- I promise to be there when you suffer loss and celebrate with your success, and to tell you the things that I'm proud of you for.
- I promise to attend your events, find activities we enjoy together, and spend time finding out what's important to you.