I have a very healthy ego. He’s around 10 feet tall, has a beard like Gandalf, and shoulders large enough to pick up a front-end loader. Not only that, but he actually knows what a front-end loader is. His knowledge of what he thinks he can do is very impressive.
You’ll notice that my ego and my physical appearance don’t match up well, but we aren’t trying to win a beauty contest, even though he is sure we could. Where he is tall, I’m short. Where he is confident, I am meek. But we both do have glorious beards, even if his is more flowing than mine. And for most of my life, this ego has pushed me forward.
For every setback and failure, that healthy ego was there to give me the pep talk. “Stand up and walk tall!” he would say when I would get a bad grade on a test in college. Or “The sun was in your eyes, that’s why you couldn’t win,” he would say when I would lose literally any kind of competitive match. Even when I play chess, he would talk about the sun. Sometimes, even I’m surprised by my ego. Did you know that he once convinced me that I could beat up an entire bar full of Olympic Boxers if the need ever arose? Face it, the ego is pretty confident.
Not that it’s not well earned. He has succeeded. That ego pushed me to do well in football, in college, in my marriage, in my first career, as a stay-at-home dad, and as a writer. It’s ok to admit that my ego has some street cred. I mean, he knows it and often talks about it. Wait until you hear him talk about our kids. Mad props to my ego.
However, my ego has a weakness, not that he will ever admit it because the ego does not like to do that. My ego is overconfident. He thinks that he has everything figured out.
And when there’s a problem, no matter if that is with my writing and publishing, or as a father to our kids, he attacks it. He goes in full bore without thought. He’s always geared for a fight. He wants an epic story written about his gallant efforts. If there was a windmill that needed to be conquered, he has no doubt that would do it.
But in fatherhood, my ego, if we’re being honest, is an asshole.
Not everything has to be a fight when we parent, even though my ego often thinks it should be. When my wife comes to me a with problem, my ego’s response is to fix it. Batten down the hatches because the ego has set sail.
When my teenage son is having a hard time making friends at lunch after a full year of online school, my ego wants to go with him and break the ice. When my teenage daughter has heartache from a boy, that ego wants to put on a helmet and get to some hardcore fathering. Time to knock some skulls and make it all better.
Because my ego DOES believe he can make it all better. But as a father, and now I hate to admit this, I can’t make it all better.
I was given a great piece of advice lately that I’ve heard before. Take the time to listen. My ego has always pushed back on that advice. Yes, I will listen until I can make a mental checklist of the Olympic Boxers I have to beat up. That’s not listening. That’s battle planning. And at this point in my life, I’m trying very hard not to do that. I’m trying not to be the hero. To even write that makes my ego shrink.
It’s so hard, though. To leave that ego bottled up and just be the shoulders used to support rather than to fight. My wife doesn’t need me to solve her problems, and neither does my son. My daughter doesn’t need me to find her a suitor. They need me to leave my ego at the door but his overconfident nature fights against that.
Even in writing, it’s difficult to leave my ego. He doesn’t want to go. He believes that if he got the right retweet, or the right shout-out, we would win. But here’s the thing, my ego has no definition of winning. It’s only the fight that he wants. And sometimes that leads to bad decisions. We over-extend ourselves and make mistakes. We take the easy and make it hard. We leave a teenage daughter wanting her father and not his ego.
There’s a balance to be had, my ego is sure of it as we turn this problem over in our heads. Knowing when we need to act and knowing when that act is just giving a bear hug to soak up tears. For all of us, all fathers, we try so much to do the right things. We watch our kids grow and we protect them. We sacrifice sleep, money, and time. We do all this gladly. The ego in us demands it. But sometimes we need to pull back and let someone else’s ego grow and rise to the challenge. The best way we can do that is to humble ourselves in the job we’ve already done and believing that our ego has allowed us to raise some amazing kids. That our spouses are better because we are here.
And in doing that, shrinking our own ego, can give someone else a chance to be the hero. Unless some Olympic boxers want to throw hands. Then we’re ready.
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