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Once upon a time, I heard about a gathering of Dads. A bunch of men getting together to hear about the latest and greatest in parenting techniques and innovations. Or to shop for the ever-elusive book that explains step-by-step how to perfectly raise kids. There are always a plethora of specific subjects in which to partake, from creating traditions to cyber-bullying. And a great cross-section of populations, from single dads with a daughter, to extended families with many kids. The keynote is always powerfully motivating, putting the emphasis on fathers and the things fathers do positively. I am referring to the Annual Father’s Conference, something I’ve talked about before.

This is all well and good.  It is exactly what I came for and wanted. And then I found a workshop that was intriguingly entitled: “King Dad.” It sounded like taking fatherhood to some heretofore unknown level. So I checked it out. Upon entering, I was greeted by a stately man with snowy white hair and matching mustache, a gentle and relaxed presence, and a friendly face. He was casually chatting with some of the other men. Bringing men together by encouraging them to open up, I would learn later, was his passion. I would also learn that he was one of the founders of the entire conference, as well as many other fatherhood initiatives. I took a seat with the others and began listening to him.  He had a presence about him that was gentle, yet commanding of respect, and bold when his passion broke through to emphasize specific points. By showing his own vulnerabilities, he created a trusting, safe atmosphere that lent extra credence to his every word. This was Tom Fitzpatrick.

As I’ve mentioned above, the conference had workshops that centered on specific things. What I liked about Tom’s was that he took things one level up and brought them all together into a bundle to form a functional Father. To wit, there were separate workshops about how to be a better partner. A workshop on how to be a better father. A workshop on how to balance home and work life.  A workshop on how to be a better man. Tom’s workshop brought it all together in a logical, intuitive, intentional, beautifully organic way.  I remember the name of the workshop as “King Dad,” and I have also seen it as “Waking up the Kings,” “Fathering With Purpose,” and “Husband, Father, Man: Setting Priorities and Finding the Balance.”  “King Dad” is my favorite, because it sets the tone for something different than what passes for traditional stereotypes of fathers and dads.

What follows is my interpretation of his ideas. I am grateful to have this as a stepping stone on which to forge my own methodologies. Grateful to have this solid framework on which to carry forward and construct my path forward. Honestly, each one of these ideas merit an ample amount of time to study fully. This is why I go every year. Even though the basic workshop was the same, I got something new from it each time. For instance one year I spent just working on the “partner” aspect. One year I spent on the concept of “fuel.” I haven’t even gotten to “career” yet. This is not a how-to, but rather a collection of ideas intended to be integrated into everyday life. Just as a new diet is most effective when small steps are incorporated into your lifestyle, so is this. It may fundamentally change how you do things. It did for me. The idea of putting my partner before my kids seemed silly at first until I spent some serious time thinking about it. So keep this article handy, and refer to it every now and again as a reference. As part of your fuel (more on that later).

1) Self-Care with Purpose and Passion: The first priority of a man who acts with intention and plans on helming a marriage, parenthood, and career, is to take steps to care of himself. Without getting into detail, it is important to honor yourself and take care of both body and mind. Create space to make sure the mind can function freely without distraction, and function calmly. It is not selfish to ensure that the tools that your success will hang on are in good shape. It must be part of the makeup of who you are, just as a pro athlete prepares for competitions.

2) Partner with Purpose and Passion: Tom begins by setting the second block of what gets built on top of a family man. For success to follow (fathering, career), a partnership must be rock solid. While this is not a new concept, it must be stressed. Like a lot of the points Tom makes, being an effective partner centers around mindfulness, observation, and corrective actions towards a specific vision.

Things to keep in mind, and to use in creating said vision: A weak partnership depletes energy and confidence. Effective conflict brings couples closer; avoidance of conflict does not.  A partnership is a living and changing thing; without cultivation it will wither and weaken. “Partnership is a straight commission job; there is no salary just for showing up,” Tom says. Be mindful and observant of what is working and what is not. Listen to her; listen to what’s important to her, how she’s feeling, and how to honor her.

In creating a vision for incorporating the things above, the over-arching partnering plan should be simply to make her smile. “How can I make her feel my love?” is not about doing things expecting her to be appreciated in return. It’s about treating her the way she wants to be treated. Doing things she wants done, not what you think she wants done. Speaking her love language. Naturally, this ties back to being mindful, observant, and listening. Reciprocally, you are allowed to ask your partner for what you want. This is the fertile ground of a functional relationship, where each of you is nurturing each other. For me, I believe a lot of it has to do with honoring each other by showing appreciation, creating a safe space for both to explore hard personal trials, asking for what you want, and honoring boundaries. There is more, of course, and the proportions vary per couple. The point is, do what it takes to co-create a grounding, solid, mindful, evolving relationship. And do it every day.

One of the biggest things we will do as fathers is to be a model for our children. They will be watching us. Watching what we do, how we do it, and how we react to life. They will, of course, pick up what they want, which we have little control over. However, we absolutely have control over what they see us do. And if they are of school age, it’s precious little time so everything has to count. Kids will learn how to interact with people, and their future partners, from seeing how we interact with ours. It is important for kids to see us doing the work to create a strong relationship with our partners. It is important they see our relationship with our partners is more important than them. This may sound counter-intuitive but is, in fact, a critical point. By creating a strong relationship, we create a solid foundation that our kids can always look to for modeling experience. They will feel confident they have a safe atmosphere to flourish in and evolve, compared to other venues that may not be so kind. So yes, if we are in a relationship with a partner and have kids, our relationship with our partners comes first. The consequence being if that falls apart, fathering efforts will be short-circuited. Prioritize: model a good relationship for your kids.

3) Father with Purpose and Passion: Fathering is about more than just giving advice and embarrassing the kids in front of their friends. I’ve talked about modeling, and why that is so important. Strive to be the father you wanted, or had, as a kid. To be the father your kids can be proud of. This doesn’t mean to be what they want or their friend in order to win their praise. After all, there will come a time when they won’t agree with us on issues very close to both of our souls. How we model dealing with that is more powerful and important than any specific issue.

I talk about modeling because it colors how we approach everything else. It governs how we teach. How we show them our excitement about things that matter to us. How to interact with people. It shows integrity that we are following our own advice. It shows consistency in our word and deed, and ups trustworthiness in their eyes. If we choose to model an atmosphere of empathy and compassion, our kids will be more likely to have healthy disagreements with us, having seen that modeled that with our partners.

In addition to modeling, there are a few other action items that should be in your fathering vision. Fathers should teach, bless, and inspire children. And in fact everyone around them. Leadership qualities are very similar to fathering. The father prepares the plan in harmony with his spouse, and leads the family toward a successful journey down that path.

It should be said that while this vision may persist unchanged, the way we model and teach it must be adapted for every developmental age of your child, as well as for each individual child. We will repeat the lessons over and over, as their developing frameworks will interpret the world differently at different stages. Know this now and prepare to be patient and repetitive. (I wish I’d had that advice when I became a dad.)

When teaching children, what core things do we want them to learn? What makes a successful human being? These are discussions I still have with myself; how can I be my best self? The old adage of teaching how to fish instead of catching a fish for someone plays a big part. Teach how to deal with the world. How to navigate relationships. How to get back up after falling down. How to fall down safely. How to laugh, cry, love, hurt, persist, and have discipline. Teach with a combination of showing them in other people, modeling them yourself, and straight up explanations. Surrounding ourselves with like-minded people also has a huge influence, as they will pick up lessons from those like-minded people.

Bless your children. Positive reinforcement goes a long way. This is not just saying nice things to or about them, but rather mindful, carefully chosen words of appreciation when they do something in line with what you’ve taught them. Be specific about what they do instead of how they look. The more this is done, the more they will feel appreciated and seen. It will snowball in the best way. Bless them by letting them know you see who they can become, and that you approve. Be especially mindful of when they don’t do things you asked them not to. This is very difficult, and becomes easier with practice. For instance, “I appreciate that you didn’t fart at dinner today,” or “I really liked how you were patient when you taught your sister how to skip stones,” or “It’s a lot of fun for me to watch you play gently with the neighbor’s dog,” or “That was a very clever way to solve that silly math problem.” You may see them bless you as well…be sure to model graceful acceptance and gratitude instead of shrugging it off as no big deal.

In addition to teaching and blessing, a father’s vision should include a healthy dose of inspiration. Be an inspiration to them and show them that they way we live is one of the best ways to live. Inspire courage, confidence, optimism, and resilience. Be a credit to them, instead of expecting them to be a credit to you. Be proud of your kid for who they are and the choices they make, instead of their accomplishments and accolades. We are not raising someone to be proud of. We’re raising a child that will be proud of us. Show them that you’ve come a long way as well, and overcome many obstacles. Show them that we’ve evolved into strong men who embody all the things we’re trying to teach. This gives them (again) a model to look up to and a goal to aspire to.  A North Star. Inspire them to a place you want them to go, and then lead them there.

In the same vein of modeling, show them how a man lives his life. Don’t live only for them; as a spectator of their lives. Hovering and being integrated into every small part of their lives will teach them that being a father is kid-centric and doesn’t involve any other parts of life they might enjoy. Additionally, doing this is not addressing the other parts of being a man that build the base for being an effective father. “The way you live your life every day is like a movie for them, and they’re watching over and over,” says Tom.

Lastly, know that it is unlikely we can make our children more emotionally healthy than we are. It is a fallacy that someone can give a child a “better life” than they had/have. It is a burden to put that on a child, and a skewed method of building someone up. Simply do your best. After all, we can’t do better than our best. Healthy men make healthy dads who make healthy kids. In that order. This ties back in to what I said in the beginning about taking care of ourselves. Just like at work, showing up while sporting the flu doesn’t help anyone and most likely causes harm. The same is true for fathers: if we are upset or frustrated about something, we may cause more harm than good by trying to ignore it.

Lastly, Fuel Our Passions: How does a man sustain his passion and gather fuel with which to accomplish all the above? Who leads the leader? The leader of course! But he cannot do it alone or in a vacuum. Like all high-performance machines, there needs to be a premium of high quality, custom-engineered fuel. Before I go into what that is, I want to say what it is not. A source of strength and fuel cannot be our kids or spouse. While they can honor and cherish us, provide us with fun memories and happiness, they cannot supply us with fuel. This is a circular argument, and those of us hip to programming know that circular arguments only ever end up going in stagnant circles, never moving beyond the first loop.  This is why having a mission, a purpose, developed independently from husbanding and fathering is so critical. A man answers to his soul, and not the demands and expectations of others. Our soul, and the direction we take our souls, drives the qualities and characteristics we love, teach, and inspire with. The work put into that, and the continued evolution of that, form the man you are, the many our partner appreciates, and the person your children aspire to be like. How does one go about that?

The answer comes in four parts. Detoxify and clear the decks, then build positive ways of fueling yourself:

A) The first part is to excise the negative and toxic parts of life. Being competitive, sarcastic, or hurtful will take precious time away from reaching goals, and erode any progress in intimate, work, familial, and friendly relationships. So much can be gained by simply ceasing to poison the soul. Once these are gone, fill that space with healthy ideas that move you towards the direction you want to go.

B) Be around other men. To be around similar men who share the same values to learn from, and to teach others. Seek to create safe spaces in friendships or groups of men to talk about hard things. Things that are troublesome or that are preventing your soul from being nourished. Simply talking about experiences and feelings. Clearing the air of resentments and anger so they do not cloud the mind. Finding out what drives and nourishes other mens’ souls. We learn from each other. Practice with each other in a place where it is safe to fail. Seek to get what we should have gotten from our fathers (or did get).

C) Work with passion and purpose. Do what you love and what feeds your spirit. Do what makes you happy and excites you. It could be collecting stamps. It could be developing into an entrepreneur. It could be literally anything, as long as you get fired up and excited by it. Maybe it’s a main job, a hobby, a side venture, or simply a way to spend time. In an ideal world, our chosen profession is our calling. A man’s vision should be how he wants to make a mark in the world, and how he pursues that vision. It is his life’s purpose. Whatever it is, it may come later in life and not be immediately apparent. Tom confesses that after two different 15-year careers, he finally found his desired pursuit. Even if you’re not there right now, strive to find what it is that stirs your soul. You can even bring components of your passion to your existing vocation. How this gets mindfully integrated into our life, along with the things I’ve talked about above, allows for a well-rounded, well-loved, leader of a family.

D) Tom stresses that one place men CANNOT find fuel, is in the home and in his spouse. Too often, men project and try to extract what they didn’t get from their fathers onto their spouses. This is unfair to her, as it’s not her role, job or desire to build up a weak man. The circular argument applies here. A man must find his passion and bring it to her in order to fully engage with her…not the other way around. The same goes for children. Hell, even pets.

As I come to a close, the fact that this is less than simple to digest does not escape me. I attended this workshop for 5 years, and every year I’ve come away with something new. The changes and ideas I put forth here are not meant to happen overnight.  In fact, the only reason I can comprehend and appreciate Tom’s ideas are because I’ve worked on and examined many of the individual topics contained within. It is a collection of ideas assembled in Tom’s head, presented to us as his passion for helping men lead better, healthy lives. Bringing men together to further the collective consciousness of fathering. This was his passion. As a man inspired by him, I pay tribute by doing my best to accurately translate his ideas, and present them to other men.

Will you choose to lead your family or simply drift along?

Will you choose to do what you can to raise the kind of children you want or let them grow up with no input from you?

Will you choose to pursue a life full of passion?

Will you choose to mold yourself into a man your spouse and kids are proud to call King Dad?

Do you want to be part of creating a kinder, more inclusive society?

Join like-minded individuals in The Good Men Project Community.

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