Wanna be a father? “You lose a book for every child…”

Originally published on 21 Feb 2020 at my other blog.

After having two kids, and another one on the way, by now, I should be a better father–accepting both the blessings and limitations imposed by being a father.

I have yet to reach 40. To be honest, I still am adjusting to this role. After all, fatherhood is a process–a life stage. And every life stage takes getting used to. Some of these stages are easier to transition to than others.

Success, Achievement, and Fatherhood

Elsewhere in this blog, I have written about the price of success and achievement and how Steve Jobs focused on his career to the detriment of his relationship with his daughter.

I do want some success and do something significant in this world. But not at the expense of my children and family. This choice, however, needs to be a deliberate one.

It is so easy to fall into the rhythm of working, going home and still be thinking about work… So easy to say yes to every good opportunity that comes along… So easy to prioritize earning and saving money over family.

After all, when you have bills to pay, dirty dishes to clean, blog posts and books to write, and countless other personal desires to achieve, it’s easy for family to take a backseat in your life.

But when does family become an excuse for not pursuing projects that you truly care about?

Writers beware: “You lose a book for every child…”

This year, I decided to learn more about fatherhood. I have been reading books written by fathers, and about fathers and fatherhood.

I have yet to reach 40. As a father, I have almost 7 years of experience under my belt. And yet, it doesn’t seem to get any easier. Instead, I am reminded of my childhood and my experiences with my own father, including the emotions and issues I had growing up.

When our first born entered the world, I went through a two-year period where I cut back on the number of projects and commitments I got involved in. It took me two years to let go!

While chatting my friend Rei, he told me a quote that another friend said: “you lose one hobby for every child you have…”

This is another way to say what Michael Chabon related in his book “Pops: Fatherhood in Pieces”.

“Put it this way, Michael,” the great man said, and then he sketched out the brutal logic: Writing was a practice. The more you wrote, the better a writer you became, and the more books you produced. Excellence plus productivity, that was the formula for sustained success, and time was the coefficient of both. Children, the great man said, were notorious thieves of time…. Anyway, writers are restless folk. They could not thrive without being able to pick up and go, wherever and whenever it suited them. Writers needed to be irresponsible, ultimately, to everything bu the writing, free of commitments to everything but the daily word count. Children, in contrast, needed stability, consistency, routine, and above all, commitment. In short, he was saying, children are the opposite of writing.”

“Richard Yates,” said the great man, preparing to deliver the tercio de muerte, like one of Hemingway’s matadors. “You know what Richard Yates said?”

“‘You lose a book,'” the great man quoted, or paraphrased, or possibly invented himself, “‘for every child.'”

Now, substitute “book” with money or success or achievement…

While this incident related by Michael Chabon applies to writers, substitute “book” with money, or success, or achievement and you’ll realize that fatherhood or parenting, for that matter, has real tradeoffs.

Fatherhood is a commitment–an intense commitment. It will require dedication and lots of patience.

That is why, perhaps, Filipino parents still warn young ones that marriage, and parenting by consequence is not like “hot rice that you put into your mouth and spit out when your lips get burned.” Pardon the rough translation.

Tradeoffs and the Four Burners Theory

There are real tradeoffs if you want to pursue ambition and success. Blogger James Clear wrote about about the Four Burners theory, which he heard from other authors.

Put simply, the four burners represent:

  1. Family
  2. Friends
  3. Health
  4. Work

This theory states that “in order to be successful you have to cut off one of your burners. And in order to be really successful you have to cut off two.”

In most cases, the burners of health and family get cut off first.

Thankfully, the calculation of which burners you will focus on may change over time, depending on the season of life you find yourself in.

People like me in late thirties with young children may have the burners of Family, and Work turned oh-so-ON!

The burners of Friends and Health take a back seat and not get much attention. You see, ever since Caspian was born, I have not gone back to the gym, and I have neglected my diet, too.

Embrace the constraints

I have been reading some Stoic philosophy lately. One of its core tenets is to focus on the things you can control and accept the things you cannot.

My head is still bursting with a lot of ideas and my list of projects does not grow thin. So I find myself thinking about the constraints of my life in this season and embracing them.

Embrace the constraints. It rhymes, too. That is the theme of my life as a father these days. But at the other side of the constraints is the immense joy and happiness of family.

My wife, too, has embraced a lot of constraints since becoming a mother of two, and now pregnant for our third child. Heck, I would go even before that when she agreed to move from the Philippines to the USA five years ago. But that deserves an entirely new article.

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