The Simple Way To Be A Better Father

For fathers eager to behave in the most beneficial manner for their children, there are so many sources of inspirations to tap into. But that abundance may precisely be a distraction from their goal.

I became a father 5 years ago.

It came as a relief, but it didn’t come with the inner transformation I was expecting. Being a father was both obvious and disorienting. So I looked for clues the way I explore anything — by reading.

In Search For A Fatherhood Guide

You’re going to want to throw your kids out the window. The important thing is that you don’t.

— Austin Kleon’s father-in-law

I read many interesting books that taught me a lot about the development of a child, and the practical role parents play in it. It was useful, and yet, somehow, I was missing something. Maybe what I was looking for was some kind of philosophical guide.

So I tried something else, and I started listening to a podcast called Stories of Daddies (Histoires de Darons, in the original version). Fathers talking about what it’s like to be a father. One episode, one father interview.

This was inspiring. So many creative approaches to discover! So many positive ideas to steal from!

But it was also a bit intimidating — so many great things I wasn’t doing…

Then a special episode came out.

For Father’s Day, the interviewer changed gears and decided to interview… daughters. Ten daughters, each one talking about their dad. The main question was: “What did your dad do (or didn’t do) that contributed to you becoming who you are?

This episode was very different. Some stories were cute. Some stories were much darker.

The Pattern of Bad Fathers

You want to know how to paint a perfect painting? Make yourself perfect and then paint naturally.

Robert Pirsig

Listening to these women made a pattern appear. Some of those fathers, who had failed their daughters in very different ways, seemed to have one thing in common. It felt like the source of their attitude as a father was the side effect of something they hadn’t sorted out in their own life. The personal struggle of these men had unintentionally led them to hurt their daughters, in heart-breaking ways.

In contrast, the daughters who had positive stories to share were less insightful. What they seemed to have enjoyed from their dad was more mundane. Very simple actions from their fathers had meant a lot for them. They never mentioned widely creative attitudes, or out of the ordinary events.

That podcast was an epiphany for me.

A Strategy Of Avoidance

It is remarkable how much long-term advantage people get by trying to be consistently not stupid, instead of trying to be very intelligent.

Charlie Munger

In the eyes of my kids, I wanted to be their extraordinary father. But I now realize that, as a father, being there can be extraordinary enough, provided you avoid a couple of pitfalls. That’s the simple way to be a good father — you just need to avoid being a bad one.

Instead of trying to achieve greatness, avoid the obvious mistakes:

  • Avoid being absent too often;

  • Avoid scaring them;

  • Avoid hitting them;

  • Avoid ignoring them;

  • Avoid abandoning them;

  • Avoid being addicted to drugs, legal or not;

  • Avoid dying before having told them “I love you”.

Put Your Oxygen Mask On First

It's better to build strong kids than to fix broken adults. 

— Médine

If you’re looking for ways to be a better father, read again the list above. You may discover that there is one or more dimensions that you are sometimes struggling with. In which case it might be interesting to wonder why you are behaving this way. The root cause is probably not related to your kids, but addressing it could be more beneficial to them than imagining extraordinary ways to become a better father.

Thank you to Erwann Robin, Ayça Sevkal-Guyot, Valentin Ménard, Eliette Guyot, Thibault Glaunez and Nicolas Beytout for reading early drafts of this article.

Every two weeks, I write an article to explain how the mind works, usually through a comparison that everyone can relate to.

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P.S.: I don't know why you're still scrolling down, this email is over.

You probably have better things to do, no?

But since you're insisting on reading further, let me tell you about this wonderful intellectual challenge I discovered recently. (Please note that this is entirely unrelated to the topic above.)

So, I just finished reading The Dark Forest, by Liu Cixin. The pitch pulled me in instantly, and I was hooked till the very last page.

It's a popular Chinese science-fiction novel, published in 2008. I had barely read any science fiction before, so I have no idea where it stands compared to monuments of the genre, but it's the most thought-provoking thing I’ve read recently.

The pitch is as follows. A civilization from another star system has discovered the existence of Earth, and is planning on invading it. Luckily, its fleet will not reach our planet before 400 years. But this advanced civilization has managed to set up a surveillance system that informs them of any communication happening on Earth. No human can say or write something without this enemy being aware of it. To fight back, the United Nations appoint four people to develop four different defense strategies. They are granted unlimited resources and can give whatever order they want, but they cannot talk to anyone about their ultimate plan, or even takes notes about it. Their plan must stay entirely in their head.

What strategy will they come up with to overcome that challenge? How can they influence the path of humanity to reduce the risk of being wiped out?

The book covers many other topics, but I found that initial plot to be a magnificent puzzle for the brain.

What about you? Any book you loved recently? Can you pitch to me by replying to this email?