I’ve messed up many times as a father. I’ve forgotten to feed my kids, accidentally knocked them off a swing, and neglected them for something ‘more important’ on my phone. Many times it’s something that I know what to do, but don’t do it. Those are the worst failures and in the beginning I beat myself up over them.
It was difficult then because beginnings are naturally hard. You’re going through a strange new land with strange new people, one of which you have to keep alive. It’s like the start of a video game where the first level is so easy that you think you should do well, but you don’t. I started getting slighly better at this game of fatherhood but never really cracked the code.
I would progress, then fail, move forward only to fail again. These weren’t epic fails, but it still seemed like I was failing more than I should have. That’s when I realized four truths about failure.
- You don’t see other people fail. Failure is mostly a private thing. Adam Carrolla talked about this in an recent interview when he shared that he really doesn’t care much about failures. He’s written dozens of scripts for television studios and has never made it past making a pilot. That repeated failure might seem infuriating but he keeps it in perspective by reminding himself that over 2,000 people have failed in the same way. It’s true for parenting too. Even the celebrity parents that are mounted on the cover of People’s Magazine towing their children like crab baskets in Deadliest Catch. They mess up too. So do you. So do I.
- Failure might be the only learning experience. As I’ve written before, I’m playing ultimate frisbee this summer and thankfully our team has a lot of people younger than me. These young legs however don’t always know what to do. Sometimes they make a mistake but still get a desired outcome thanks to some other goofy variable. I used to try to correct this with words but realized they had to have their mistake turn out badly and sometimes many times. So it goes for being a parent. One recent example was when our daughter said she wasn’t hungry while we were at the county fair. We asked her an hour later and again she said she wasn’t hungry. Then her mood burst and she had a meltdown. You’ll never guess why, she was hungry. This wasn’t the first time this happened but I’m slowly learning to have food ready for them when they haven’t eaten in a while.
- Challenges are fun. In high school one of my friends had an AIM profile that said something to the effect that life would be boring if we were all the same. Brave and wise words from a high school student. That’s true for parenting too. Yes I wish my kids would put on their damn shoes when I asked, but if they did everything exactly as I wanted we would miss out on a lot of funny, crazy, one of a kind wrinkles that are part of a good life.
- Failure is part of persistence. Ryan Holiday’s latest book is about stoic thinking and I’m a firm believer. One Stoic idea was introduced to me before Stoicism. If God brings you to it, he will bring you through it. To keep moving forward as a parent there are going to be obstacles. People regularly bring up that teenage daughters are going to be a handful. I hope so. I hope they push boundaries – even mine – and we look over the cliff of failure and dead ends.
Failure isn’t a grade, it’s a feature of life.