Life of Dad’s Ryan Hamilton finds love, balance, and help in the community of dad bloggers
There’s an old saying that goes, “Parenthood does not come with an instruction manual.”
As I began my journey into fatherhood back in 2006, when my one-and-only child was born, I, too, found myself without a guidebook for the specific fatherly circumstances I had to bear.
To this day, my fatherly life has been wrought with many challenges: an emotionally and physically abusive relationship with my spouse, a highly contested divorce, household dysfunction, family court & legal issues, unexpected and unwanted alienation from my son who has been diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder & Autism, multiple job losses, increased financial instability, depression, stress, loss of hope, sometimes suicidal thoughts, and many other issues to boot.
And, in fairness, plenty of good times, priceless moments, and great memories, too!
But, as a child who grew up in a happy home, with two loving parents who are excellent parental role models, you could not have told me a decade ago that my family life would turn out to be such a difficult and catastrophic thing to bear.
The world absolutely did NOT give me a handbook for all of this! And, quite frankly, had I been delivered such a handbook, I promise you that I probably would have never even ventured into this fatherly territory. (Hmm…Perhaps therein lies the reason that no single parenting manual exists.)
At any rate, given the lack of an instruction manual, my son now lives, and I am a proud and loving father. Yes, there have been many instances when I have wondered, “Where should I go for support? Where do I turn? Who should I be? What should I do?” And, as you can imagine, there has not been one all-encompassing parenting guidebook that has served as my reference.
So, in lieu of a comprehensive manual for parenting, where does a parent turn?
Fundamentally, one has two choices: turn inward or turn outward.
Henry David Thoreau said, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”
For the longest time, that desperate soul was me. And, to this day, in many ways, that still is me. We gentlemen sometimes have a tendency to stay silent and to isolate ourselves. Even the most “social” of us may tend not to reveal everything with even our most trusted mates, let alone strangers.
So, what do we do? We turn inward.
We reflect. We sing that song of sorrow to ourselves day-in-day-out. By day, we put on our game-faces and as much positive attitude as we can muster, venture forth into the world, and we go to battle for our children, spouses, and families. And, at night, we retreat into the quietest corners of our homes and live with the mental residue of our battles won and lost, shining with our successes, crying over our failures.
But, we also turn outward.
There are handbooks, guides, websites, apps, PDFs, resources, organizations, events, groups and networks out there that are there to support and help. And, in our Google-powered Wikipedia-enabled generation, our ability to access relevant resources is unparalleled by any generation that preceded us. And, I imagine, this trend will only improve.
While an all-encompassing handbook does not exist, we do live in great times. The variety of handbooks and supportive people who can improve your particular ever-evolving flavor of parental life are all out there…but you have to seek and find them. In fact, you MUST seek and find them for your and your loved ones’ well-being and survival.
For example, I, personally, cannot turn to my happily-married parents for advice on navigating a highly-contested divorce, but I can certainly turn to other family members, friends, mentors, experts, and even perfect strangers who have navigated those rough waters themselves…Oddly enough, I have found that those closest to you sometimes miss the mark (or flat-out don’t give a shit), and sometimes the strangers of the world give the best care and advice.
Don’t believe me? Try taking your deepest innermost thoughts and feelings about your struggles as a parent and share them with your Facebook friends. See if they care.
All the above said, I am co-founder and web developer of Life of Dad, a social network for fathers, and it was within the aforementioned environment of family discord, struggle, challenge, blood, sweat and [yes, way too many] tears that this social network was built.
The website was built during some of the most horrific and horrendous times in my life.
But, it is a site whose content has personally restored so much hope and belief in myself, in my parental ability, in my family, and it has truly enabled me to dream again…and to dream big…Not only for the betterment of my own personal and family situation, but for my fellow co-founders families and for families across the globe.
Life of Dad actually began as the personal blog of its original founder, Tommy Riles, as his personal emotional outlet, as he was dealing with his own struggle, hardship, pain, uncertainty, hopes, and dreams, while not knowing whether his daughter would even have a chance at life.
His now beautiful and healthy little girl, Barbara, was prenatally diagnosed with Congenital Heart Defects, and had to be rushed into surgery mere moments after birth, so Tommy began his life as a father and dad-blogger during extremely uncertain and troublesome times, as you can imagine.
The purity and innocence of Tommy’s fatherhood story truly touched me, the very moment my childhood summer camp buddy, and fellow site co-founder, David Guest, introduced me to him. I looked at my own life and realized that I, too, had a genuine and unique story to tell, imperfections and all.
And, from that moment forth, I was committed to building the site with Tommy and David with every last drop of honesty and authenticity I had to offer the world.
At that very moment, I became a “dad-blogger” — a term that I never even knew existed. I also looked at how quickly, proudly, and dutifully I incorporated this new role into my life, out of nowhere. I certainly never set out to be a blogger, let alone a dad-blogger, but once I got started I was somewhat hooked.
I became another thing at that moment, too—the chief web developer for a social network for dads.
I built this site because I believed in Tommy, in his story, in his hopes, in his dreams, in his character, in the unconditional love that he had for his wife, children, and family, and I believed his story absolutely needed to be shared with the world. I believed that his story had an incredible therapeutic power, not only for himself, but potentially for countless families across the planet who may find themselves in similar circumstances.
I figured he was setting a good example, through his very life story, from which others might benefit. I honestly believed during those times that he was writing a guide book for people he didn’t even know. After all, he had influenced me to start writing in the most immediate of ways, when I was near rock-bottom, all without pressuring me to do it. I had no choice but to become a dad-blogger.
While totally new to unleashing my own pent-up parental pain into blog posts and online content, because of Tommy, I also humbly started to believe that my dysfunctional and uncensored family story mattered as well, in countless boundless and unforeseen ways. I started to believe that my own story could be the handbook for someone else or for countless people that I may never get to know personally.
It was literally out of this humble, pure, and decent spirit that Life of Dad was built. Not as an entrepreneurial venture, not as a money-making entity, not as a sponsorship-laden Times Square of banner ads, but quite simply as a personal blog, primarily for Tommy, then for a handful of his friends, family members, and us co-founders…then for the world.
From there, the site has grown quite naturally and organically to hundreds of contributing bloggers and thousands of members, whose content has touched the lives of millions worldwide. And, the operational model has not changed one bit since the beginning.
The site is still built upon the same core technical platform upon which it started, and we embrace each new member and contributor as our friends…as equals.
We have so much fun doing what we do, and our best days of serving fathers and dad-bloggers worldwide are ahead of us, both in terms of improving our platform for our current bloggers and members, but also to encourage men in all walks of life to become better, more present, more involved dads…and even beyond that, to achieve a self-actualized personal excellence within their roles as fathers.
We believe that our role exceeds building a popular social network of engaged fathers, exceeds traffic building, exceeds view counts, exceeds monetization, exceeds corporate sponsorships. What we are really here on this planet to achieve is to advance, to advocate for, and to quantitatively and qualitatively improve the overall state of fatherhood for humankind itself…And we will leverage every resource and relationship around us to achieve this end.
We will only achieve this end by amplifying the dad-blogger’s voice, by building their audiences, by raising awareness for their works, by championing their causes, by entertaining them and giving them comic relief from time to time, by sharing valuable resources, content, data, and facts with them, and by shedding light on their stories that may just very well become the handbook for their fellow men, near and far.
We do this all for the dad-blogger. We do this all for them.
So, that said, I ask you, Mr. Father Blogger, what is your purpose?
- Is it to provide a positive outlet for your thoughts and feelings as a father?
- Is it to entertain people and make them laugh?
- Is it to get attention?
- Is it to be famous? A viral internet sensation?
- Is it to prove to the world and/or corporate America how domesticated you are?
- Is it to shatter traditional and outdated stereotypes and media imagery of fathers?
- Is it to be controversial?
- Is it to increase your unique visitors? Your fan count? Your follower count? Your subscriber conversions?
- Is it to monetize your blog?
- Is it to pimp your children’s funny quotes to riches?
- Is it to get free samples from corporations?
- Is it to educate? To enlighten? To uplift?
- Is it to fight for a good cause?
What is your purpose?
All of the above have their part to play, and surely whatever your purpose is, we wish you well as you venture forth to attain your blogging goals. But, I’d humbly suggest the following.
Do not underestimate your power and your reach. You, as dad-blogger, have limitless potential and an infinite ability to affect change in the world around you.
By merely being a dad-blogger, you are most likely an involved father or are at least striving to become a better one. You have to start somewhere, and many of you are already off to an excellent start…admittedly, a much better start than my [dysfunctional] self.
But, just like Tommy’s story affected me back in 2011 and made an immediate positive impact in my life, so can your stories. With each blog post, you are writing pages of a handbook that is yet to be Googled, bookmarked, liked, favorited, shared, pinned, tapped, retweeted, copied, pasted, misquoted, plagiarized, commented on, cross-linked, indexed, you name it…by fathers and non-fathers alike.
You and your stories have unlimited power.
Once your story is exposed, there’s really no stopping the incredible momentum and impact that it might have on the course of others’ lives, and the people that those people might touch, and the people they in-turn might touch, and their families and children, and the people they in-turn might touch.
When viewed in this manner you quickly realize that each story you share has the infinite power to affect all things now, and forever, for generations to come, as long as you choose your words wisely and use the proper channels to distribute your message to fellow human beings who care to consume it, your words are indeed everlasting and infinitely impactful through complex social networks that are ever-growing, ever-evolving, and in constant flux.
And, that’s just YOU…What if we ALL view our every blog post, or podcast episode, or video, or photo, or status update in this same limitless manner?
What if we all studied one another, collectively, both collaboratively and [yes] competitively, like steel sharpening steel, not to steal our fellow man’s corporate sponsorships or site impressions, but rather, more importantly, to make our own dad-blogger kind more radiantly excellent and everlasting?
What if we were truly united as fathers and as dad-bloggers, doing it not solely for our self-interests, nor even solely for the interests of our own children and families…What if we did it for humankind itself?
According to 2009 U.S. Census Bureau data, over 24 million children live apart from their biological fathers. That is 1 out of every 3 (33%) children in America. It’s a documented fact that children who live absent their biological fathers are much more likely to be poor, use drugs, exhibit a range of educational, health, emotional and behavioral problems, be victims of child abuse, and engage in criminal activity1.
What if we collectively, as individual fathers and as an united movement of dad-bloggers, could truly serve as a self-actualized model for fathers, expectant fathers, and absentee & deadbeat fathers. Could we not improve those stats, and dare I say, the world?
Sure, it may be a lofty goal and somewhat impossible dream to say that we can save humankind, especially through our wacky parental stories, but I’ve seen how one story [and many stories] can affect me personally, spur me into action, change my life, and help me to become a better father to my children, who will indeed be able to affect lives in their own ways.
I figure, our lifetime would be better spent chasing after this seemingly impossible ideal than choosing other more futile pursuits. Why not? I hope you believe the same thing I do. I really think we can do it. United. Together.
And, if not, well, that’s okay…I wish you well on your corporately-sponsored test-drive to transform your individual WordPress account into a veritable money machine your family will be proud of. I really do hope you live up to your purpose.
And, on that note, it’s with the utmost of respect and humility, I say to you, “Blog on, brother!”
Seriously, keep writing, recording, documenting, creating, and building…All of you.
Your stories have improved my life so much and have given me hope that I, too, might become a better father to my children and to the world.
You are writing the parenting manual for my life and the lives of many. And, I don’t think you were even aware you were doing that.
So, for all that you do for me and for our kind, I thank you.
Now, let’s go forth and radiate love and excellence throughout the galaxy, my friend.
—this post first appeared, in slightly different form, on Life of Dad