The dadcraft Life: How Patton Dodd not only survived, but enjoyed, multiple cross-country trips with two young children.
Wife, Michaela; 12 year old, Bel; 8 year old, Henry; 5 year old, Lou
You’ve moved across the country with three kids twice within a year. How have you survived?
I’ve leaned hard on my friends and even harder on my wife. It’s been really, really difficult. We’ve survived and not always thrived. These moves involved a lot of risk—career risk, financial risk, relational risk. And not being able to back down from those fears.
But it has been hard not just for me, but for the whole family. Everyone in a family sacrifices when you make moves like this. All these individual stories in a home play out all at once, and the drama is real. This has put me in a vulnerable, exposed place in the middle stages of my fatherhood.
We have survived by keeping close accounts with each other, by changing course when we needed to, and by a good bit of holy luck.
How have you made those hours in the car not just bearable, but intentional?
By connecting with people we knew between origin and destination. We didn’t sightsee along the way. We saw people. Last summer, we drove a long way the first day in order to rendezvous with my sister and her family. The next day we drove a lot of miles to see an old friend and his kids. On the way from Maryland to Texas this summer, we saw a cousin I hadn’t seen in 30 years and my mom and step father and aunts and uncles I hadn’t seen in 20 years. We took circuitous journeys in order to see people we cared about, but the time with people was worth it.
We always ask: What do you believe is your finest fathering skill?
Empathy. Except when my kids get physically hurt—then I struggle to have patience. I just want them to move on when they’re crying too much about small injuries. But, in general, I’m empathetic with their feelings and how hard things can feel at times. The moves were really hard. They have low moments where they miss friends and family. And they feel lonely and scared. I feel a great deal of empathy for them in those situations.
When I’m at my best, I just sit with them in their feelings. At times I’ve made the mistake of trying to talk them out of it or talk them through it. It’s better when I know that I need to just be a fellow traveler.
We always ask: How has becoming a dad made you a better person?
It’s made me less utilitarian. As a dad, I do things just for the utter joy of doing them. When I was younger, I used to do that. But, I stopped when I became an adult. My kids have reintroduced that to me.
They’ve reintroduced me to things that are joyous and make us laugh. It makes me more wasteful, you know? More wasteful with time and money, in a good way. Fatherhood has helped to remind me to a play.
With my kids, we just play in the swimming pool. We choose to dance when the rain falls. I just bought a big really nice hammock we can swing and hang out in together. It’s totally impractical, but that’s exactly the point.
We always ask: What is your favorite activity to do with your kids?
We love to enjoy outdoor adventure. Even when nobody is in the mood to get on a trail and hike, we just make it happen. We get our backpacks, hiking boots and the dog. It just always goes well.
Postscript: If your family prefers flying over driving, don’t miss our guide to flying with children without losing your mind.
Photo used with permission of Patton Dodd.