I wake up at 4:30 a.m.
The alarm screams at me and I slam it off, trying not to wake up my wife or—even worse—the kids in the next room.
Where the fuck did I put that serenity meditation candle?
Locate the candle. Turn on the meditation app on my phone.
A small price to pay for enormous success. After all, the real hustlers start their day with meditation. And exercise. I saw it on YouTube.
But the toddler was up in the night… flopped over me so that I spent it half hanging off the side of the queen mattress. How can a toddler take up so much space? I should have just gone to sleep in her bed.
I stretch the new ache in my back.
Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe… in…. Breathe….
The alarm clock wakes me at 6:55.
This (true) story was a moment in my life a few years ago when I went down the deep well of personal development. It probably started with that Tony Robbins documentary, but I fell hook, line, and sinker.
The thing is, I actually still really like personal development. A lot of it has pushed me to do more, become more, and—the best part—earn more.
I took control of my life and future at a time when I felt out of control. And that felt pretty great.
But eventually, personal development took over.
I quit reading novels. If I was reading, it was going to be to learn… not for pleasure.
Every waking minute was filled with a success podcast.
I was going to be fucking rich if it killed me.
And I’d curse my laziness every time I hit the snooze button or skipped the gym. That must be, I reasoned, the reason I haven’t seen massive success yet. If I were just a little more disciplined and driven, surely I could hit a million a year.
If young men develop low self-esteem on Instagram because they look at the male influencers and see six-packs and bulging biceps, then for us middle-aged men it must be a bit more complicated.
For middle-aged men, social media presents something else. The perfectly-optimized male specimen who sleeps eight hours in a cryo-chamber before dunking in an ice bath, running 10k, and chugging a ginger and beetroot protein shake.
And the kind wisdom of middle-aged influencers. “You can have this too!” Just work harder.
The health. The wealth.
Meditate on it. Visualize it. Journal it.
Replace your coffee habit with mushroom juice.
Master wealth building. Leverage your real estate. BRRR.
Lower your tax bill. Airbnb arbitrage.
Breathe like a Navy-fucking-SEAL.
Optimize. Perfect. SUCCEED!
One popular YouTube host talks about how he manages to squeeze THREE working days into one — which involves successive 6-hour shifts that start at 5 am.
And somewhere along the line of trying to optimize my life, I finally thought to ask: “Where the hell are these men’s children?”
Forget about the kids with Ferraris telling us how to succeed. They’re easy to write off.
But quite a few of the middle-aged male influencers I respect and follow (I did the research but won’t call anyone out) are childless. Then there are many others who are functionally childless—as in, a woman is raising their children while they “succeed.” The kids are with the wives. Or the ex-wives. Or the stay-at-home mom. Or the nanny.
For them, apparently daddy can take his lunch box and go off to work like the good old days of the industrial revolution. Making YouTube videos while the sun shines. Publishing thought pieces. Doing keynotes.
Good fatherhood for him is stepping in the door at 6:45 and kissing his kids goodnight.
The perfect chin-up.
The perfect bench press.
The perfect… father?
I’m not questioning people’s life choices… Honestly, if that’s how you set up your house and domestic duties, you do you.
But a nagging feeling hits me every time I watch a YouTube video from an apparently successful man.
“Where the hell are this guy’s kids?”
Why is the only picture of male success apparently childless?
Male success is still a childless business
The messaging that comes both inherently (and occasionally herently) through the avalanche of wellness tips and sales mastery is pretty simple:
Male success is still a childless business.
In that respect, things don’t seem to have changed much over the decades.
If fatherhood IS ever talked about, it’s usually about sons.
“My son is going to see his dad working 29 hours a day and grow up respecting me and will work hard himself one day.”
But where the hell are the success tips from the dads who are downing extra spaghetti off their kids’ plates? Dads who spend 3 hours of domestic time cooking supper, washing dishes, and packing lunches.
Maybe they’re just too tired to make YouTube videos.
Want an extreme plunge? Try sticking your hand into a diaper at 3:00 am to see if it’s clean. It’s the best way to find out if your kid needs changing without waking them up to check. High risk. High rewards.
Want to feel more alert? Forget cold showers. Try having a newborn puke in your mouth. It’s happened to me twice.
You’ll feel pretty fucking alive after that. And the dry heaving is good for the abs.
Optimizing your life is all well and good until kids are around. Try meditating for more than 13 seconds with a toddler in the room. I dare you.
Only a man with no kids would be dumb enough to offer the success tip I heard last year: “You can get an extra 5 minutes of productivity by brushing your teeth in the shower.“
Fatherhood… the ultimate success hack
But the thing is, none of this is even what drives me crazy. The thing that makes me tear my hair out is that fatherhood is really fulfilling, in a way that ice baths and ginger scrubs just aren’t. Watching my kids run out of the school toward me every day is a hell of a lot better than being around the table with important people or closing the next deal.
There’s a generation of dads like me who really love spending time with their kids. We want to be there, to play, to have the conversations, to hug through the tears…
Dads who consider fatherhood as being about more than just meeting material needs.
And you realize pretty quickly that you live in a tug of war between being a materially providing father and an emotionally providing father.
Maybe you can be a great dad or reach your full potential in your career, but probably not both.
To which moms everywhere say, “Welcome to the party, asshat!”
Of course, moms have walked down this path for decades. Faced the difficult choice between career and motherhood — wondering if they can succeed at both. Realizing they probably can’t give both 100%.
And we’ve had the conversation. We recognize the challenge.
We recognize the difficulty for women. We talk about it publically. LinkedIn posts pay homage to it. Many women don’t really get to have it all.
But modern fatherhood is changing too. More men are staying home, child raising, domesticating.
And we’re still not really talking about it–at least not in my algorithms. I don’t see much conversation about how male success can mean being a great, hands-on dad… period and full stop.
Attract your wealth from the universe.
45 minutes of transcendental meditation.
Of the men our society idolizes, so few of them seem to have done anything much in the fatherhood department. STEVE JOBS DID THESE 5 THINGS EVERY DAY TO SUCCEED, the headline screams. I feel pretty comfortable ignoring them. He’s not a role model I want as a father. As to those “successful” men still living, I’ll leave it alone.
Maybe any definition of success with kids means that someone has to pay the piper. A successful man with kids—by conventional standards—usually builds on someone else’s back. And often at the expense of someone else’s dreams.
And as for the men with no kids, I’m just saying, there’s something a little weird about a 40-year-old who can so perfectly optimize his health and well-being.
Where’s the messiness? The kid spilling your essential oils or wiping taco juice on your shirt?
Routine perfection is for childless men.
My wife and I didn’t sleep for 7 years. Our kids were up at least 3 times every night. Bathroom needs. Comforting. Bad dreams. Fears for the next day.
Again and again, we slept hanging off our sides of the bed. Sore back. Waking up the next morning and trying to thrive in our careers.
And I cursed myself… “Why am I so damned lazy! Why aren’t these affirmations getting me more motivated?”
I had the answer when I finally slept through the night for a week straight. I suddenly felt like I’d snorted coke. Where the hell did all this energy come from?
Welcome to parenthood.
So in the middle of the night when the cry comes… “DAADDDDYYYYYYY,” we fight over whose turn it is for a while. Then I climb my sorry ass out of bed and go hold my child. Knowing tomorrow will be a write-off.
Because surely this is success too. Maybe a deeper, richer success than some men apparently understand. A success not worth sacrificing.
And a realization that if I accomplish everything else but aren’t a good father, I’ve accomplished nothing.
Oh, and to the man on YouTube bragging about how important getting home by 7:00 to put your kids to bed…
If 15 minutes before bed with your kids is all you get to have, then I hope it’s precious. There’s no shame in that.
But if you could have so much more, and those 15 minutes before bed are all you choose to have… you’re a moron.