Kevin Sterling lists the five best things that improved about himself once he realized that he was going to be a dad.
My wife and I had our first kid on the way a short six months after we got married. We wanted to have children some day, but someday probably never would’ve happened if left to our own devices. It blindsided us, we had no preparation, no direction besides “having fun,” and my wife’s job was ending five months into the pregnancy.
Fatherhood was my tipping point. It ignited unexpected changes, and I found myself moving much closer to the person I always wanted to be. There are no hard and fast rules to how fatherhood will change you, but this is what happened to me.
1. My energy overflowed
There’s not conclusive evidence to say that men experience all commiserating symptoms during pregnancy, and rather than sharing my wife’s tiredness, I immediately experienced a wave of energy that honestly has not subsided two years later. Sleep became a side effect, drive overcame me, and I began an intense campaign against our family’s debt, pending income loss, and towards starting my business (Bush Smarts).
Finding out I was going to be a Dad was the most motivating thing that’s ever happened to me. I was always a hard worker, but the reality set in that when that kid opens his eyes, he’s either going to see a champion or a loser. For me, I wasn’t happy with “good enough.”
2. I never get sick
Through most of my adult life, I’ve had the once-a-year cold or flu. A mother’s immune system waxes and wanes along with the stages of pregnancy, going from flu-like symptoms to full-on invincible, but there’s not as much attention paid to Dad.
My observation is that physiologically your body understands your increased demands in providing for and protecting your vulnerable partner, and goes into hyper-drive to keep you in good health. I haven’t been out-of-commission sick in almost three years now.
3. My focus shifted to long-term
When you’ve got the next generation nine months away, it’s definitely time to pull your head out of your ass. The significance of setting my future family up for either a massive structural failure, or a high probability of success weighed on me and encouraged me to seek out responsible teachers to point me in the right direction.
I gained significant insight from Dave Ramsey for debt reduction, and Ramit Sethi for exponentially expanding my income to give us more breathing room. In other arenas, I sought out business development teachers to help me maximize my effectiveness and spiritual guidance as well. The idea of a family “tree” became a dominant vision of my psyche, and I continue to understand guidance, patience, and pruning to create healthy growth for my sapling sprout.
4. I accepted that I’m finite and that’s…fine
As a single dude, it’s easy to “wrestle the bull by the horns” and think that you can and should tackle everything exclusively on your own. From a systems perspective, that makes you the single point of failure. In the case of a family—that can mean scuttling your entire family’s livelihood because of your stubbornness.
I learned to get help: with small things, things I’m not good at, and things not worth my time so that my efforts could be preserved for that which provides maximum value.
5. I got better at saying NO
Having a kid on the way exacerbated many situations that previously put me in a time and or energy crunch. When those resources became undoubtedly scarcer, I had to cut weight and trim the fat. Relationships became more qualified and closer as a result—the best got better. I stopped chasing things I didn’t really want and stopped spending time with people that didn’t result in a positive influence in both of our lives.
In my case, I’m the family breadwinner so how I spend my time is directly tied to my family’s livelihood. You don’t want to let it turn into a guilt complex, but you also have to realize that if you are the source of your family’s income, you have a responsibility to steward it.
My protective instincts came to life even in the small things. I was more likely to speak up about conflict and even became a better negotiator, not only to save money where it counts but also to get more favorable terms in my work compensation.
Fatherhood can be a huge character-driver and shocks many men out of apathy. Its benefits in my experience far outweigh its challenges. Though I can’t say for certain how much of my experience was psychology vs. physiology, I do know that being a Dad continues to forge me into the best version of myself.