A red, supercharged flat-six barked angrily as it launched the coupe ahead of me into a tight, left-hand corner. I turned the wheel sharply, fed my car throttle, and felt the rearward weight transfer gift the rear wheels with the necessary traction to accelerate out of the corner.
Soon the tachometer swept past 7,000 rpm to 7,100, on to briefly kiss 7,200. Right foot off the throttle. My feet had to move quickly. Left foot clutch. Right hand clicking the shift lever up and over into third gear. Release clutch. Right foot back to the floor. On and on, to repeat as often as necessary. Pure mechanical Zen.
It was a glorious day for a group drive with friends. All the proper elements had made an appearance. Fine weather. Tasty food. Cool, German cars. For me, a near-perfect morning. Despite all this, I struggled to feel completely at ease.
I had a hard time fully engaging with those around me, and I couldn’t escape a nagging feeling. A pessimistic, defeatist voice whispered doubt and worry in my ear. This ever-present dialogue often keeps me from being as present in the moment as I’d prefer. Often this feeling is assigned to mothers instead of fathers. Countless memes speak of “mom guilt,” but moms don’t have a monopoly on feeling as if, at all times, they should be home with their kids. Dad guilt is real.
Obligation to one’s parenting “job”
I’m a househusband. A kept man. A stay-at-home dad. I genuinely don’t get out much. No one begrudges me some time with “the boys and their toys.” My wife would probably prefer I leave her alone more often than I do, and yet it’s hard for me to prioritize my own time away from the family.
I think there are many causes for these feelings. There’s societal pressure to be the provider, so I feel guilty about “playing” when I don’t feel I earned the money to pay for the toys. I feel guilty leaving my wife to take care of the kids when she has worked all week, As much as I desperately need time away from the kids some days, she also deserves her own time after a busy work week (sometimes she actually works seven days a week!).
Because of all this, my time alone feels selfish. My time with friends feels overly indulgent. At their current ages of 7, 5 and 3, my children always want to be with me. Near me. On me (literally on me as I write this). It’s exhausting, but I know it won’t last. I’m acutely aware this cute, cuddly time will come to an abrupt, teenage halt one day. So, when I discard a day with them for something completely self-serving, my dad guilt is ever present and genuinely discouraging.
Overcoming dad guilt
I’ve learned I can’t surrender to this feeling of dad guilt. If I do, I’m not happy. If I’m not happy, how can I raise happy kids? I can’t give them my best if I don’t feel my best, and having a life, having hobbies, and having friends is a crucial factor in me feeling my best. Too many of us are isolated, lonely and stuck feeling guilty, or feeling like we are failures. We need an escape. We need a release, and we need to stop feeling guilty about it.
Moderation is crucial here. This isn’t a free pass to cry “my mental health” every time we want to watch a UFC fight at the bar with the fellas. We need to diligently work toward the type of balance that has us becoming the best fathers we can be. As important as it is for us to “be there” for our kids, sometimes getting away from them is equally as important.
Sounds like a dad’s meetup in Vegas, baby! Although by “Vegas” I really mean the German bar a few blocks away from my house. You know, can’t be too far from the kids. They might need me.