Jay Forte isn’t soft—but he sees the value of the softer side of fatherhood in today’s changing world.
I remember the tough John Wayne, Mohammed Ali and Sylvester Stallone types—macho guys who created the behavioral norm for so many men over the past couple of decades. Tough. Rugged. Courageous. Non-emotional. Be hurt and don’t cry. Be sad and don’t talk about it. All that testosterone. But things seem to be changing.
Our history shares that something major has to happen for us to make a shift. A drought forces us to change what we plant, eat, and grow; $4+/gallon of gas forces us to change our driving choices and habits. A shift in our economy has changed dads to be more personally aware, connected, and softer than the cowboy tough guy of the past. Here’s why …
The shift in economy and its effect on men
Just over 30 years ago, much of our country’s manufacturing moved offshore. What replaced it is our current intellectual or service age. Fewer of today’s employees are working behind machines pulling levers or making products; most are either phone-to-phone or face-to-face with customers providing service. Personal connection is now what inspires customer loyalty and loyalty drives success. This shift in what we, and particularly men, do for work now requires that employees both be good at and like what they do because they are in direct view of customers.
To know what we are good at and interested in doing, we have to be more self-aware—we have to know our unique talents, passions, and values, and which jobs fit these unique abilities. Skill and experience matters, but talents and natural abilities—instead of brute strength—matter more. This economy shift has started an awareness revolution—we must know ourselves to choose our jobs wisely. And this is a relatively new choice for men.
Awareness—tuning in to ourselves and our world—has given us permission to pull the curtain back and start to peer inside ourselves. We now understand that we are who we are, and with language to describe it, we have the ability to share who we are with ourselves and others. Self-awareness. Mindfulness. Consciousness. These are no longer trendy buzzwords.
We are realizing that our greatness is in our internal packaging; we need to know it to know how to choose wisely in work and life. Our DNA doesn’t care about what society tells us who dads and men should be—we just get what we get. And coming to terms with our unique internal greatness is helping us, as men and as dads, start to soften.
Why do we soften?
We soften as we start to tap into and trust our inner selves and intuition. We find it isn’t a weakness to be aware of who we are, but rather a new point of strength. We have power in our awareness of our greatest abilities—whether they indicate that we are decisive, competitive, and analytical, or big-hearted, supportive, and compassionate. We are who we are. Whoever we are has the ability to be an amazing dad by being authentic—not in shifting to a societal standard.
Human behavioral attributes are neither good nor bad (eg. competitive—good, compassionate—bad). Instead, each can be either productive or unproductive based on the situation. A supportive, big-hearted, and compassionate dad may be exceptional coaching his kid through the loss at a big game and a competitive, decisive, and analytical dad may negotiate the best deal on a car, a house or the set of values that guide the family. Know what you’ve got. Use what you’ve got, even if it is on the softer side of humanity.
We also soften as we invite our kids to start to self-discover. We now need to ask our kids questions, instead of thinking we have all the answers. When we ask, we have to listen, watch, connect with and pay attention. We have to slow down, change the dynamic, and be more personal to engage our kids. We have to allow them to have their ideas and opinions because this is where our kids start to see their unique talents and abilities—what they came packaged with. As we soften, we allow and support our kids to discover, try and experience who they are. They don’t get corralled into a stereotype. The only identity we should hope for our kids is their authentic one.
Dads, discover what you came packaged with. Embrace it. These are your greatest abilities; inventory them so you know them and can use them whenever and however you need. Allow yourself to be a kind, supporting, passionate, fun-loving, helpful, thoughtful, optimistic, sensitive, and emotional person if nature gave you these gifts—even if the dad or man “menu” insists that you only choose from competitive, assertive, bold, goal-driven or ambitious. Be authentic. And, as we as dads become more authentic, we give our kids permission to do the same—whatever that might look like.