There I was, a new father, my wife and I blessed with a beautiful young daughter, before our second daughter came along.
I had been awed at her birth, feeling the world move. Growing up, I had always hoped to have a family and be a father. I knew it would be a tremendous responsibility to be in charge of someone’s care.
I knew it conceptually and thought I understood it but really had no idea whatsoever—no clue—until I became a father and experienced how magical, and sometimes how trying, it could be.
I recall one day home alone with her, around age two, and we were both out of sorts. I was trying to get things done and felt so much pressure about all she needed and all I needed to get done. I was trying to juggle, but she was not having it. I was overwhelmed. I felt an unbearable pressure. How is it possible to do all this? How do others do it? What’s wrong with me?
I was at my wit’s end, and it just kept getting worse. She resisted everything with her signature strength. I reached a breaking point. Out of ideas, I sensed that my only option was to give myself over to her. Completely. There would be nothing else:
I am here for you, only you, all for you, totally you.
Not long after that, she saw that something in me had shifted, and so she stopped resisting. Just like that. A total reversal. Everything was okay, and perhaps would be, as long as we remembered that silent, secret pact.
Take the Traps Test
We all fall into traps in life. Sometimes we’re not even aware of it, and we can’t get out of traps we don’t know we’re in. Evaluate yourself with our Traps Test.
Five Words that Changed Me
Some time later, I was talking to a friend about being a father and raising children and he, further along the parenting journey with older children, shared something that stopped me in my tracks:
They are only young once.
With five words, he engraved something on my heart. I suppose it hit me because it was something deep down that I worried about, as someone deeply committed to being a good and present father and also deeply committed to working hard and doing good work in the world and, like so many of us, sometimes feeling caught in between.
Those five words often come back to visit me. I have shared them with many friends who are parents.
“Once” is of course a slippery concept. “Once” is the mystical sequence of days that, for us, God willing, can last a couple decades in raising our daughters as they discover way in the world. And “once” is also the blink of an eye. An eternity, and a millisecond, just the same.
“Young” is also a slippery notion. There is the miracle of youth and all its hope, promise, energy, enthusiasms, heartbreaks, insecurities, and triumphs. And also a state of mind, and of being, that can last long after those early years.
In the end, I know he is right: they are only young once. We will only have what we have now for a time. We will, I trust and pray, stay deeply connected in the years beyond, but it will be different, as it must be. Looking back, I want to stand behind these times we had together, as a family, together, connected and committed to a bond like none other in all the world.
So I try to live up to that charge. Some days are better than others, some a complete disaster. But the words keep calling to me and reminding me of this amazing gift before me. Today, like all days, is a good day to treasure it.
They are only young once.
Tools for You
- Traps Test (Common Traps of Living) to help you identify what’s getting in the way of your happiness and quality of life
- Quality of Life Assessment to help you discover your strongest areas and the areas that need work and then act accordingly
- Personal Values Exercise to help you clarify what’s most important to you
Postscript: Quotations on Family and Parenting
- “The fingerprints on the wall get higher and higher and then they disappear.” -unknown
“If your children look up to you, you’ve made a success of life’s biggest job.” -unknown
“The question isn’t so much, Are you parenting the right way? as it is: Are you the adult you want your child to grow up to be?” -Brené Brown
“Parenthood is the most important leadership responsibility in life and will provide the greatest levels of happiness and joy. And when true leadership–i.e., vision, discipline, passion, and conscience—is not manifested in parenthood, it will provide the greatest source of sorrow and disappointment.” -Stephen R. Covey
“If I had written the greatest book, composed the greatest symphony, painted the most beautiful painting or carved the most exquisite figure I could not have felt the more exalted creator than I did when they placed my child in my arms.” -Dorothy Day
“Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling five balls… work, family, health, friends, and spirit. Work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will never be the same.” -Brian Dyson, former CEO, Coca-Cola Enterprises
“Every home is a university and the parents are the teachers.” -Mahatma Gandhi
“I’ve had a wonderful and successful career. But next to my family, it really hasn’t mattered at all.” -Lee Iacocca
“The home is the ultimate career. All other careers exist to support the ultimate career.” -C.S. Lewis
“Family is a way of holding hands with forever.” -Noah benShea, author, poet, philosopher
“Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. Wherever our children go and whatever they go through, our hearts are with them, rising and falling with each victory or defeat.” -Elizabeth Stone
“Being a role model is the most powerful form of educating… too often fathers neglect it because they get so caught up in making a living they forget to make a life.” -John Wooden
Gregg Vanourek’s NewsletterJoin our community. Sign up now and get Gregg Vanourek’s monthly inspirations (new articles, opportunities, and resources). Welcome!
Gregg Vanourek is a writer, teacher, TEDx speaker, and coach on leadership and personal development. He is co-author of three books, including LIFE Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives (a manifesto for integrating our life and work with purpose, passion, and contribution) and Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (a winner of the International Book Awards). Check out his Best Articles or get his monthly newsletter. If you found value in this article, please forward it to a friend. Every little bit helps!