1. Why Am I Ok With Failing as a Dad?

Ok. Here it goes.

In today’s world of social media we are constantly bombarded with how “perfect” life is.  Instagram shows the “perfect” shot from a far away destination.  Facebook encapsulates the “perfect” relationship we have with our spouse and children. TikTok shows the “perfect” dance moves (no I do not have a TikTok account).  Everyone has it going right; except for us. 

As I sit here typing things out, I look back to how I got to where I am.  A pediatrician.  A husband.  A father.  Sounds like things followed the road map set in place for me.  Life couldn’t be better, right?  I mean I have a great job.  I have a loving wife.  I have two little boys who think the world of me (I hope).  Life should be easy here on out. 

But as many of you know, life is not as easy as the title page presents it.  Many times I hear about how lucky my wife is that she has a pediatrician as a husband.  In essence, that should make me the “perfect” dad.  One would expect me to know how to handle every situation, be it poor sleeping at night, not eating at the table, tantrums thrown about screen time, fighting with the other sibling.  The list goes on.  But here is the funny thing – medical school didn’t prepare me for that.  Sadly there is no textbook out there to teach you how to be a “perfect” parent.  Heck, most medical textbooks only brush the surface on preparing to be a good pediatrician.   Parenting books?  They cover what works best for some people, but not everyone.  And let me tell you – studying in medical school is nowhere near as hard as learning how to be a parent.

In life we strive for some type of perfection, either through our jobs, social life, marriage, or parenting.  But sometimes we forget life wasn’t made to be perfect.  We were made to struggle, only to better appreciate the good times.  We were made to fail, only to be able to come back stronger the next.  That is what it is to be human.  That is what it is to live.  That is what it is to be imperfect.  We should learn to embrace the imperfection.

I am hoping with future posts to discuss my imperfections as a dad; but not only as a dad. My viewpoint as a pediatrician allows me to see my failings from two sides – the parent and the physician.  Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t use the word “failings” as a negative.  We all have to fail to learn.  Just as our kids have to continuously fall to understand to balance with walking, so do we as parents have to fall to learn what it means to be a parent. 

In some cases we have our parents to look to when we determine what kind of father or mother we will end up being.  I grew up with a dad who was a physician.  He is also a husband and father of three kids. There were three roles in life for him to play – the husband, the father, and the doctor.  All three of those roles take a toll on you.  They require constant attention and growth.  As one takes the driver seat another may move toward the trunk of the car. 

As a child I remember my dad leaving early in the morning for work, only to return around dinner if we were lucky.  He worked weekends.  He was on call.  That was how things were.  I never second-guessed it at the time, because as a child that was all I knew.  I remember him at sporting events.  I remember him teaching me hockey.  I remember him trying to teach me how to pitch in our unfinished basement with a taped up strike box on the cement wall – sadly that endeavor would not come to fruition.  When looking back I remember a lot more of the good times than the failures that may have occurred.

I also remember the times we would be out to eat, at the mall, or at the grocery store, and a couple would come up and thank him.  My dad was an OBGYN, and he mainly focused on high-risk OB as well as reproductive endocrinology.  He was helping people with complicated pregnancies, problems getting pregnant, and everything else in between; as I child I got to witness it first hand.  Not in the operating room.  Not in his office. I viewed it in the real world.  I saw his successes as a physician through the gratitude of his patients.  Never did I see his failures. 

In helping other people through his work, however, that also came at a cost to not being at home.  I will never know what the struggle was like for him.  I will never know what stress it caused on my parents’ relationship, and I am grateful to them to never show any of that to us as we were growing up.  As a husband, father, and now physician, I understand what that three-way pull feels like.  I understand what it means to make your patients a part of your extended family.  But in that extension I also know how important it is to not lose sight on what you already have. 

I am not the perfect dad.  I am not the perfect husband.  I am not the perfect pediatrician.  Sometimes I wonder if I ever want to be, because with perfection comes the knowledge that there is no growth left.  My children challenge me daily – not only in their actions but also in my own.  As my children grow I grow with them.  The goal of perfection is never in mind.  To be better today than I was yesterday is.  Imperfection is a beautiful thing as long as we are willing to embrace it.

Imperfect Dad, MD.

2 thoughts on “1. Why Am I Ok With Failing as a Dad?

  1. I’m in a similar boat boat Dr. Toffle – highly successful/accomplished professional, husband of 14 years, father to two, etc. All roles vying for your attention and focus and performance. And I’m a ‘people pleaser’ – I hate to let anyone down.
    Striving for perfection is a ‘zero-sum game’. The more you try, the more you fail. And the closer you get, each failure gets amplified. What I hope doesn’t happen to you is that is zaps your self assurance or self worth. At the end of last year I finally came to terms that I suffered from generalized anxiety disorder. Your thoughts sound a lot like many of the thoughts and concerns that went through my head over the years…but my negative thoughts were left unchecked. I never say failures as a learning opportunity – only more evidence that I was a failure in life. These negative thoughts
    ultimately ended up controlling my every move. Luckily I didn’t lose everything.

    Through my recovery I have found that nobody expects perfection out of you (except yourself). You will make mistakes & people will be upset by things you do at some point – it’s inevitable. Also know that there are two sides to every experience (with others). What what person experiences in a moment may not be perceived by another person experiencing that same moment in the same way. Though I’m extrapolating your feelings here: perhaps you’ve put immense (unfair) expectations on yourself. Just because you think you might be failing in some aspect of your life, the others experiencing that part of your life might not see it that way and could actually see it the opposite!
    As with your father – you didn’t see him as a failure for being away so much – you experienced all the things he did in a positive light and revered him for doing so. Never did you say “He was a bad father, he wasn’t there for me”.

    I now have a practice for writing down the positive things that I do – and now pay special focus on noticing positives in areas where I previously thought I was failing/not living up to expectations. So that when I do screw up, I’m not wrecked by failing to meet my perfectionist standards. I can consult my list and find re-assurance that I am doing good things in that area of my life and celebrate those ‘small wins’.

    You’re in a tough place and you’ll be here for a while… how do deal with the all of the pressures of the world was never something you learned in medical school!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the response Greg. It took me a while to accept that trying to reach some level of perfect was not only unfeasible but self destructive. I still beat myself up from time to time on failures, but overall I’m trying to just keep learning from them and be slightly better every day.

      Like

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