It’s Hard: Fatherhood and Realistic Expectations

  by Andrew Wolgemuth

Chris recently wrote about culture’s low expectations for fathers and the importance of raising the bar. I think he’s absolutely right, and I think his tips and guidance are wise.

Somewhat counter-intuitively, however, I’m following-up on his post by challenging you to lower your expectations of fatherhood. Yep, lower. Let me explain by way of an illustration.

I’m a jogger. I once had visions of becoming a marathoner, of being able to glide through miles effortlessly. But instead, I’m a runner who hacks and strains through a three-mile jog. I typically return from a jog tired, sweaty, and sore. The road kicked my butt once again. Yet when one of my (rightly) concerned family members asks the haggard me, “How was it?” I respond with something along the lines of, “Great!” Despite my post-jog appearance, despite my bodily exhaustion, that response is the truth—a great run is often a bit painful. And (here’s the key, I think) that’s exactly what I expected.

I set out on my jog with the aim of pushing myself. I expect to encounter hills that I really wish I didn’t have to climb. I anticipate that there will be moments when I really want to quit and walk the rest of the way home. I know that sweat will flow, muscles will complain, lungs will gasp … and these are all normal aspects of jogging! The desired ends—a little fat burned, some muscles tightened, and self-discipline slightly increased—only come by working hard. I know this and I expect this, and that proper sense of expectation makes a ton of difference.

The same holds true for being a father. The reality is that being an engaged, present dad isn’t easy. It pushes against us and engages muscles that we didn’t know we had or that we don’t hardly use. It requires character that we may not initially possess. But it’s worth it … for our kids and for us.

Few (none?) of us enter this journey dreaming of diaper changing, looking forward to evaluating dining options based on the cleanliness of their playgrounds, eagerly anticipating maintaining road trip sanity via silly games, or digging the sound of playing slow-paced, low-skill board games. And yet, each of these is an aspect of fatherhood. Our expectations for this journey should match the course we’re traversing. This isn’t an easy trek. You and I are going to get worn out … we’re even going to want to quit. There’s wisdom in accurately acknowledging what we’ve gotten ourselves into.

When we’re realistic in our expectations, when we realize that we’re joggers straining through a few miles and not smooth striding marathoners, then we’re much better prepared to appreciate the good that’s happening amidst the challenges.

Sure, kid-less you could have completed that hike in half the time that it took you with the kids, but look at how hiking slowly nurtured the adventurous spirit within your children. Undoubtedly, kid-less you could have completed those errands in time to catch the entirety of The Game, but you got to know the little person who joined you a bit better because you let them set the course through Buy ‘n Large. Yep, it would have been nice to have your kid stay in bed last night, but you got to cuddle a few more minutes and she enjoyed the story you made up on the spot.

As fathers, we’re no longer walking through life on our own, setting our own pace. We’re no longer walking the beach, just us and our spouse. Instead, we’re jogging dads. Set your expectations accordingly, and I’m confident that you’ll embrace the challenges that come with a bit more grit and satisfaction.


Picture by Chanan Greenblatt; Used via Unsplash license.