‘For Generations, Parents – Especially Fathers – Were Deprived Of Being Involved In The Lives Of Their Children’

Ryan Holiday explains where his stoical parenting movement The Daily Dad comes from...

Father's Day

by Ryan Holiday |
Published on

Ryan Holiday is in his thirties and is one of the world’s bestselling contemporary philosophers – and a dad of two boys with his wife Sam. He lives in Texas and runs the online community for modern fathers and parents The Daily Dad (also on Instagram) and his fans include Matthew McConaughey and Emily Oster. His The Daily Dad bookhas just been published in time for Father’s Day. Here he explains where his stoical parenting movement comes from.

A lot of people have kids. Not enough people are parents. Let’s be clear: this is a modern choice. It’s not an exaggeration to say that just a few generations ago, keeping your kids alive was about all that was expected. A child was seen as a future asset that began as a liability, another set of hands to help work the land on the family farm or a warm body to slot in on the line at the local factory and draw wages to help make ends meet.

Even the early years of the twentieth century were still a gauntlet of obstacles defined by mortality and infirmity. If all your kids made it through, it was a bona fide miracle. That you had a responsibility to care for them emotionally? To love them unconditionally? Please, who had the time? Or the ability?

There is a story about Winston Churchill, who was by no means a perfect father but had been raised by two self-absorbed and preoccupied aristocratic parents, themselves products of Victorian England. One evening, while talking to his son, Randolph, late into the night during a school holiday, a thought struck Churchill. “You know, my dear boy,” he said with a kind of forlorn amusement, “I think I have talked to you more in these holidays than my father talked to me in the whole of his life.” It was not only not an exaggeration but far from uncommon—and for many years after continued to be common. It may well be relatable to you and your own childhood.

How sad that is - not just for the children but for the parents too.

For generations and generations, parents—especially fathers—were deprived of the most rewarding and beautiful thing in the world: being involved in the lives of their children. Loving them not just generally but actively, on a daily basis. The flip side of a patriarchal culture that burdened women with the whole of domestic life has been the soft big­otry of low expectations for men at home and with their children. Lov­ing and being loved? Understanding and being understood? Nobody taught it to men. Nobody demanded it of fathers.

Again, think about how different history might have been if more parents had been parents.

While we can’t change that traumatic past, we can write a better future.

That’s the philosophy that underpins The Daily Dad.

Despite the flaws of generations past, parenting is one of those beau­tiful experiences that links us, in an unbroken chain, back thousands and thousands of years. One of the most beautiful passages in the writ­ings of Lucretius, the Roman poet, captures the joy of a father bending down as his children race each other to jump into his arms. One of the oldest pieces of evidence of humans in America is the footprints of a parent, probably a mother, walking in what is now White Sands Na­tional Park, carrying and then setting down, carrying and then setting down, carrying and then setting down, a young child.

This thing we’re doing, our wild, chaotic daily existence—the one filled with joy and difficulty, love and labor—is a timeless one. The an­cient world was unfathomably different from our world today—those footprints in New Mexico are intermixed with those of giant sloths and ancient camels and an extinct species of mammoth—yet somehow that experience is one you’ve had yourself countless times, at the park, walking back to the car after dinner, at the beach on a vacation.

Parents have always worried about their kids. Parents have always played games with their kids. Parents have always made plans for their kids. Parents have always tried to be a model for their kids. Parents have always tried to support and encourage their kids. Parents have always questioned and doubted and wondered if they are doing enough, if they’re providing enough, if the school is good enough, if the sport is safe enough, if the kid’s future is secure enough. They were doing the same stuff you’re doing, and it’s the same thing people are going to be doing fifty generations from now.

We are a part of something timeless and eternal, something very small and very large at the same time. This should humble and inspire us. It should give us purpose, perspective and practical advice.

Parenting is a lifelong affair. No one is expecting you to magically “get it.” In fact, that is the fundamental flaw of far too many parenting books. You’re supposed to read some book, be it in the scramble before they’re born, in the sleep- deprived toddler years, or in some crisis when they’re older, and then be good? That’s not how it works. On a minute‑by‑minute basis, your kids and life put you in situations you could never have imagined on your own (and that none of the books seem to anticipate). So while there is no sudden transformation in parenting, there is still a process, a working at it, that you must take up.

We will fall short. We will lose our tempers, get distracted, priori­tize the wrong things, even hurt ourselves and the people we love in the process. What then? We must accept the fact that we are flawed humans while doing our best to learn from our errors and to not make the same mistakes twice . . . or any more times than we already have.

Dust yourself off. Recommit. Do better.

That journey is, of course, not just for men. Our daily email, which has been free at dailydad.com, is received by thousands of women each morning. It’s called The Daily Dad because I happen to be a father—of two boys—and that’s about all you need to read into the name.

Raising children—or, as I heard a parent once correct an interviewer, raising adults, since that’s the goal—is the hardest thing you will ever do. It will also be the most rewarding and important thing you ever do.

The Daily Dad: 366 Meditations on Parenting, Love, and Raising Great Kids, is available to buy now.

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