Fatherhood and Reading the Stitches on a Fastball
Starting a new endeavor or changing a habit can be hard. Whether you want to start a new business, transform your body, or become a better father, challenges rise to face us. Obstacles appear, seemingly out of nowhere, to block us. Worse, we fall into old habits and patterns. We give up all too easily. Convincing ourselves “this must be who I am” or “people can’t change.” You can’t teach an old dog new tricks after all.
Change is possible, but you must put in the effort. There is no magic dust to sprinkle on yourself to make you better. It’s about getting reps in. It’s about doing the work. Take baseball, for example.
Standing in the batters’ box, bat in hand can feel fantastic. Then, the pitches start coming at you. As balls are hurled in your direction, you swing wildly. Missing most, if not all, of those initial pitches. Over time, however, you begin to settle in. You start seeing the ball better, reading the stitches on the fastball as it’s racing towards you.
Once you’ve got the fastball, you’re not done. There are a number of other pitches to master:
Each pitch has their unique characteristics. New skills to learn. New setbacks to grow from, that’s not all, though.
Identifying the various pitches doesn’t guarantee you’ll actually hit the ball. Even if you do make contact with the ball, the odds are extremely good; you won’t “knock it out of the park” your first time. Maybe you only hit a single or a double. Maybe you hit a grounder to the shortstop and are thrown out at first. Perhaps an outfielder catches your pop-up fly to center field. More than likely, you will strikeout. In fact, the odds are strong; you will strike out more than you hit the ball.
I struck out hard with my marriage which ended in divorce. There were a number of things I needed to work on. However, as a father of two daughters, one of the more important concerns was what I could do to be the best father I could be when I only see them half the time? How could I be the father they need me to be in divorce?
Forging a stronger relationship with them wasn’t easy. In the aftermath of the divorce, I was stressed out and emotionally drained. I had to adjust to this new lifestyle. I had to take care of them while taking care of myself, cooking, cleaning, getting them ready for school, helping with homework, practicing instruments, getting ready for bed, and helping them deal with their emotions about the divorce while managing my own.
I have never punished my girls; I never spanked them or gave them timeouts. I did use my dad voice, though. Indeed, I used it a lot. Post-divorce, I knew I needed to change that if I wanted to forge deeper bonds with my girls. Early on, I’d often fail no matter how determined I was to change. I was so focused on the short-term, the thing that needed to get done “NOW,” that I would get angry with the girls. I would snap. Yelling at them in an attempt to gain compliance.
I read a number of parenting books. I spoke with a number of fathers, asking for help and exchanging ideas. Although, knowledge alone does not guarantee results. I was continually learning, experimenting, succeeding at times while failing at other times, but always working on getting better.
Over time, I would feel myself getting angry and stop myself in the middle of yelling. Eventually, I shifted my thinking from the short-term, in the moment, to long-term relationship building. I would catch myself before I started yelling. Now I’m able to avoid getting into a situation where I could get angry or stressed and yell, preventing it before it ever happened.
I worked with the girls to build a framework emphasizing negotiation over confrontation. Each week they’re with me, we sit down and talk about the week ahead, what’s going on, and when. Each day, I look for opportunities to give them choices. How can I give them a sense of control in a situation (the divorce) in which they have no control?
When I ask them to do something, they are empowered to offer alternatives. Sometimes my answer is no. More often than not, I’m able to say yes. No matter what, there’s little whining or complaining. We work as a team, with me leading the way.
I’m not perfect, far from it. Occasionally, I lose control and start to yell. However, the work I started post-divorce and continue to do today gives me a fighting chance when I’m standing in the batter’s box.
The fact is, as you try to improve, you’re going to fail. As you grow, new challenges appear. Things may even seem to get worse as you work to get better. Remember, success usually lies just beyond the point most give up on themselves.
Get the reps in.
Do the work.
Eventually, you’ll hit a home run. … and when you do, with the work you’ve put in, the victory will be sweet.
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