New Dad / New Identity
By Guy Beck
When I was young, my grandfather sent my older brother a catalog about West Point. At the time, my brother was not interested.
I was four years younger and fascinated with the thought of attending a military service academy. My goal was set in the beginning of my high school years to gain admission to this school. I failed! However, I was given an ROTC scholarship to attend Valley Forge Military Junior College.
The next year I tried again to get into West Point. I failed again.
After that, I decided six years of military school may just be a little more harassment than I was willing to put up with. So I finished my degree and waited to go on active duty as an officer. I entered the Army as an infantry officer.
My colleagues and I were poster children for testosterone . It was what I thought being a male was all about. Anything dangerous and competitive was what we strived for.
Guess what? The military decided it did not need more officers. The rules and guarantees changed and I found myself being “reduced” from the active duty military.
Just like so many before me, I had invested eight years of my life carefully defining who I was going to be: a U.S. Army infantry officer. My ego and identity came crashing down.
About two months before I was laid off from active duty, I went out with a group of other officers. Some already had children; they talked about how much their lives had changed. I boasted to them that I was not going to have any kids for at least four to five years.
The next morning at about 4:45, I was doing physical fitness training with the same officers. I looked over to one of my good friends and said, “I got a call from my wife last night and she’s pregnant.” Well, everyone was laughing so hard they could not continue.
I was completely unprepared to be a dad. I knew that someday I would become one, but I had spent eight years of my life planning and thinking about becoming an officer, not a father. In addition, I was about to become an unemployed dad.
As I prepared to leave the military, I began looking for something to fill the void. I was looking for a new identity.
Thankfully, I interviewed for a sales position. This man did so much for me. He looked at my resume and said, “It does not matter to me if you graduated from Harvard, Yale, a military school, have an MBA, or were an outstanding salesperson with another company.”
“A salesperson is only as good as what he brings in the door that week.”
Now that is setting a standard: Living daily by what we believe in ourselves to accomplish a goal. The most important identity that any man could ever imagine is being a dad and being an active leader and role model within the family.
What in the world could be more important, valuable and rewarding than being a father? I do not know any position that offers greater daily challenges.
While telling other men that I am a father may not be as status-enhancing or intriguing as saying I am a U.S. Army infantry officer who jumps out of airplanes, it is much more rewarding and usually safer.
Too many men concentrate on who they were and what they did before they were married with children. It is hard to be happy when you are constantly looking behind yourself thinking of who you used to be. Every time we make a major life decision, it is like stepping through a door.
When you have a child, that door closes and locks behind you. You can turn around and try to knock the door down, or you can walk through confidently and look for other doors to open in front of yourself.
Today’s families are uniquely challenged due to the large demands they confront.
It is impossible to tell a dad what his role should be in a family because there are too many variables: divorce, financial pressures, overly complicated lives, two working parents, overtime, stressful work, day care, split shifts, etc. What we have to start with is who we are.
What we perceive as our identity clearly shows what we prioritise in our lives. If I had stayed in the military, I would not have been able to build the same relationship that I currently have with my kids.
There can always be some positives in any situation. Fatherhood should never be put on automatic pilot.
We should examine what we are doing in our personal relationships with others and challenge ourselves like a salesman setting his daily/weekly/monthly goals. If we do this we will have stronger family relationships, will help our kids better navigate a sometimes difficult world and will be happier with our own lives.
Throughout all of my failures, I still have my family. My family expects me to be strong and to be a family leader not because I am the father, but because I spend the time necessary with them.
I would have been a very good infantry officer; instead, I am a father. I am a father first, anything else second.
Jobs are important but should not be the total sum of our identity.