Cultivate a reputation for recognizing and appreciating brave acts which are accomplished despite challenges.
My wife and my both spend time thinking about possible disasters. My wife visualizes how the oven explodes, how the house catches fire, how our car crashes into a tree, how some scary stranger enters our house to do scary stuff, how a son falls into the sea — she has a lot of these scenarios in her head, flying around like wasps, ready to sting her conscience to let her know she hasn’t done enough to protect us.
I, on the other hand, extract a quite different lesson from my visualizations. When I half-asleep dream that some random stranger for no apparent reason barges into our house and attacks my family, I see myself turning into a hero, a super-hero, even. I run up to the intruder, kick him in the nuts, ask him politely to leave, and when he doesn’t, I hit him in the stomach, throw him through the window and call the police while I pin him to the ground.
Mind you, I am a peaceful guy. My first instinct is always to trust strangers, and it always takes me a few moments to realise when someone is up to no good. At first I am just confused: why does this random stranger barge in here? He looks like decent bloke, a nice man, there is surely some kind of practical joke involved here. But why does he have to hit me on purpose, then? Ouch?!
When my wife think about disasters, it’s to avoid them as early as possible. She will find out how a kindle smells, or how a psychopath behaves, or how to tell if your son is on the brink of falling victim to the flu — and then she’ll go around smelling the air, avoid psychopath-ish strangers and be scared whenever a child is colder than he might have been.
When I think about disasters, it’s to daydream about how I’ll be the hero. I won’t learn how a kindle smells, I’ll see myself jumping out of a window on the second floor with three kids and a wife on my back while the flames are raging downstairs. I’ll befriend psychopaths, I can handle them. I’ll tell my kids to walk barefoot in the snow, and then, if they get sick (the household jury is still out on whether cold feet can cause the flu or if it’s vice versa), I’ll say in a loud voice: “I’ll look after them! I’ll get up in the middle og the night! I’ll take care of them throughout the day! I can do anything!”
I have spent seven years trying to explain my wife why I think this way. I have spent seven years trying to impress her, because I have a need to be impressive, a need to do heroic deeds and to fight through enormous challenges while she sits on the sidelines and cheers me on — to no avail. I have spent seven years trying to explain to her why I want to be her hero, and she still doesn’t quite get it.
Her hero is one who smells kindles and avoids dangers. When I think of a hero, I think of one who runs back into the flames to save a cat and her eight kittens. I see bravery; she sees foolhardiness. I see a hero; she sees an idiot.
I see someone who masters the elements and does something no-one else can or dares to. She sees someone who for no reason climbs a mountain without security.
On the other hand… I don’t see myself as a hero. I look after the kids, I play with them, I make them feel secure and happy. That’s what a dad does, right? There are challenges, of course you are tired, you get fed up with the quarrelling and the whining, or with changing diaper after diaper after diaper, but those are small challenges, not even close to being “brave acts which are accomplished despite challenges.”
On the other hand, my wife would disagree. To her, my changing yet another diaper is heroic. Perhaps only the worst of diapers demand an act of bravery, but the challenges in diaper changing are just as real, just as challenging, as the challenges you meet if you take the wrong turn up a mountain.
If I don’t do what I should as a father, my kids will have a much worse life. If Alex Honnold does something he shouldn’t do, he falls down and natural evolution has done its thing.
I will always disagree with that last part: For what he has achieved, Alex Honnold is a hero.
But I’m realizing more and more that there’s no harm in agreeing with the first part: for what I have done, and continue to do, as a father, I am a hero.
Cultivate a reputation for recognizing and appreciating brave acts which are accomplished despite challenges?
OK. I am a hero. I change diarrhoea diapers and make friends out of feuding brothers. I am a good father. That’s enough.
Now if only my friends realized how much I recognize and appreciate my own brave acts in my position as a father of three boys, my task had been done.
I’ll tell them tomorrow.