What Happens When Dads Sacrifice Their Dreams For Their Children

It’s 2033.

Your firstborn is visiting, and as you sit full-bellied at the dinner table, you begin to reminisce.

You recount with laughter that campout when the tent leaked, that Florida trip when the minivan broke down, that old lawnmower you had to yank on a hundred times before it would finally start in a cloud of blue smoke.

And then comes a moment of silence as you’re both reminded of the underlying cause, of the story beneath these stories: that money was always tight. That the only camping gear you could afford was that shitty $49 department store tent. That all you could afford to drive was that fifteen-year-old minivan that always smelled like gym socks.

Your chest begins its thudding. The old stab of guilt, the old anger at not having provided your family with a better life…

For a moment, your face falls.

But then, you trot out the old consolation: “Well, we didn’t have much,” you say. “But we had each other. At least I was there for you.”

Your child has heard this line their entire life, each time responding with a dutiful nod.

But this time you see nothing but a pained pause.

And then, a new response ripples out of their mouth in a slow wake of devastation:

“But Dad, you WEREN’T there for us.”

The words continue, like a knife slowly carving your flesh:

“I know what you tell yourself: that you chose to scale back your business and eventually shut it down, that you gave up your music and a lot of your other dreams so you could spend more time with us kids.

That you chose time with family over money and accomplishment.

But the truth is, you weren’t there for us. I know you want to think we had this amazing frolicking childhood, full of “poor-but-happy” adventures, but that’s not how I remember it.

I remember you going through the motions. I remember the forced smile, the feigned excitement. One look at your hollow eyes was all the proof we needed: you weren’t there. Not really.

You were half-hearted, Dad, because you were playing it small. And even though you didn’t want it to matter, didn’t want it to bother you, it absolutely did.

You didn’t know how to create a bigger life for your family, so you retreated to a smaller corner and pretended you never really wanted a bigger life anyways.

Worst of all, you put the guilt on me. You made it seem like being a father was so demanding, so all-consuming, that your kids made it impossible to achieve anything beyond mere subsistence, like it was us that kept you from greatness, not your own lack of will.

I never asked you to sacrifice your dreams for me. I never wanted to be your excuse for not reaching higher.

So, as much as I love you, and as much as I appreciate the time you did spend, I can’t go on pretending that what you did was heroic or some kind of higher choice.

You settled, Dad. That is the hard truth. You gave up on creating a better life for us. You used us an excuse for playing it small.”

That night, as your wife sleeps beside you, your eyes bore through the ceiling and out to the planets, bile in your mouth.

You feel deep, wrenching anger. In one 5-minute conversation, your firstborn took your long clung-to excuse and shredded it before your eyes.

And so you find yourself deeply lost in that old, familiar, excruciating way you did not know you were still capable of.

That old wound you thought to be healed has been broken wide open again, as bright and pulsing as the day of the first cut.

It’s one thing to fail to create a life of abundance and expansion for your family through poor strategy or effort or circumstance. That can be changed, because you can always, at any moment, choose to forge a new path.

But when you absolve it in a sanctioning story… when you institutionalize that failure by weaving it into the very fabric of your family mythology… that is a tragedy that can poison generations.

So stop with the treasonous stories.

Stop with the story of your “loving sacrifice.”

Stop with the story of how “I can’t do X because I have a family.”

Stop putting the burden of your surrender on their shoulders.

No matter how squalid the house, no matter how scoffing your wife, no matter how destroyed or pathetic your career, no matter how vertical the walls of your pit, kill all temptation to settle and accept.

Kill the part of you seeking excuse.

Hold for yourself a standard of unrelenting expansion. Commit to a life of kingship and largesse.

1. Imagine in detail the highest level of health, wealth, fulfillment, adventure and reach available to you and your family.

2. Determine what courageous acts you can take today NOW, today, to move you and your family closer to that position.

3. Do it again. Every day, as long as you have breath.

And as you become again the man who climbs, you will find to your amazement that your striving leaves you not depleted but strangely fed: that the greater the work, the deeper and truer the rest.

Your problems will not grow fewer. In fact, they will multiply, and come to you in increasingly finer vintage. But as you face them… as you live out kingship… your commitment will make you finally fit for the task.

Your heart will pump clean, your eyes shining clear, your lungs rising like a blacksmith’s forge. Because you see it now: you can trace the trajectory of your inevitable rise.

You are no longer the man who retreats behind cover of family. You are the man who advances, relentless, precisely because of them.

Good news: it’s not 2033 yet. You have time.

So change your life.

Reboot your vision.

Ratchet up your commitment to making that vision manifest.

Take whatever scraps of light and heat you can find, ball them up, and build a new life.

Each day, as you rise from your bed, resolve anew.

Aspire. Endlessly.

Don’t make your children your excuse for mediocrity. Make them your inspiration for greatness.

***

Bryan Ward is founder of Third Way Man and author of the LIT Black Paper

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Comments

  1. Powerful!

    This is exactly what fathers need to know. Don’t let your children carry that burden. Own it and claim your greatness.

  2. Caninus Maximus says:

    Holy crap that’s good. Thank you!

  3. Profound unspeakable truths.

  4. Well said.

  5. Anthony says:

    I really enjoyed this piece. It struck a chord within me, as I was able to draw a direct parallel to my father. The man I call dad strives for nothing, has no dreams or desires, no goals, no passion. I don’t want to be anything like him.

  6. This is vague garbage. Some dreams should be sacrificed and others should be worked for. My dream is to provide a comfortable life for my kids AND spend time with them — you shouldn’t act like the two are mutually exclusive.

    The truth the article should focus on is that kids look up to parents who have their own dreams.

    • Jim, I hear you, but it appears you may have taken the article a little too personally. Vague Garbage were your words. You wrote “Some dreams should be sacrificed and others worked for. My dream is to provide a comfortable life for my kids AND spend time with them.” That’s pretty vague. The author seems to be speaking to the long list of Men/Dads who rely on a narrative as their excuse for a lack of achievement and fulfillment. Accountability for results, or lack thereof, must rest on the shoulders they belong and not a child’s.

  7. Wow.

    Thank you, Bryan.

    Please keep this up. Keep preaching. It is nmso easy for me to backslide. This stuff is the best I’ve heard.

    God bless you, man. You are saving souls.

  8. Damn.
    I’m not a father yet but this definitely gives me something to work hard towards avoiding AND doing the hard/right things now so I can truly fulfill my dreams and passions.
    Well said.

  9. Wow, I’m about to have my 4th child and this really “hit home” for me. Great words of wisdom for Dads looking to improve their life.

  10. My concern with this article is that it kinda communicates the idea that giving up on dreams or ambitions because one has a family is wrong. In reality, there is no world where you can put in an 80-hour week as a musician or entrepreneur or student/family man/employee AND experience crucial moments with your family. At some point, you have to choose who or what you’re going to take from, so you can give to the other. That doesn’t mean that we give up hope or ambitions; however, a realistic balance must be struck between what YOU want and what your family needs.
    No one ever looks back on their deathbed, and with regret says, “If only I had made more money.” Doesn’t happen, trust me, I know. My wife is a director within a hospice organization, and she’s seen countless end-of-life scenarios play out. People don’t lament the sacrifices they made to spend more time with their family, they lament the the time they spent at the sacrifice OF their family.
    If I chased every hope and dream I had, I’d never see my children or my wife. You can tell yourself that going all in now will result in a happy life and family later, but guess what, you only experience today once. And even if every day seems the same to you, each one is unique and filled with minutiae that cannot be replicated, repeated, or relived.
    So yeah, I get what he’s saying, and I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong. But it’s lacking the teeth of specificity. Life doesn’t function on a platform of “you either give up and are a failure or you succeed and have a great life and family.” Real life is full of give and take. Sometimes, as a good family man, you need to say “no” to late work nights, so you can tuck you kids in and spend time with your wife, even if it means your business or degree takes a bit longer to come to fruition. Because again, at the end of life, you won’t regret the $49 department store tent, or driving the used minivan, or that you didn’t make your first million by 33, you’ll regret the missed first steps of your daughter, or the middle school play your son was in on a weeknight, or helping out on your child’s science fair project. There are no do overs, guys. Every day is one and done. So yeah, have hopes and dreams, and definitely pursue them, but NEVER at the expense of priceless and unrepeatable moments in life.

    • Jonathan says:

      The coin flips. Yours is the side of reason or commonality in regards to modern day norms expected to be followed. These are similar to words I’ve told myself for years. I don’t believe you’re wrong. What I think you’re missing is this story is against the mainstream way of thinking but is not necessarily wrong either. Some of us can’t do both. For me, it’s impossible. I want to pursue a dream in an industry that is non-existant in the country I currently reside. However, I can’t afford to take my whole family where I need to go, at least not yet. I’ve spent a decade living for the moments and it’s been wonderful. But the banality of monotony in daily life has caused me to seek refuge since it creeps into my home life. Then what? I’m missing moments working my butt off. My kids are becoming complacent and begin to expect a sleepy, grumpy middle-aged man who is not really even up for a game of go fish because he’s been going for 12 hours straight and it’s not even for something he feels strongly driven for anymore.

  11. Jonathan says:

    I like this. As an expat who is married to a non-native American and raising kids in a foriegn land, my excuses for trying to get back to the states and start a whole new career are excessive. I’ve been ‘planning’ to make the leap for years. My fear has been spending months, if not years not in the presence of my children. I also have a pretty good job. it’s so easy to find a reason to not be courageous. I’ve done it for years.
    Two things have really nudged me recently. First, there were a set of events that, if happened, being set as boundaries were to indicate that my time to break out and try to achieve my dream had come. These have recently come to pass. But, even then I was second guessing; teeter-tottering between bold adventurousness and content submission. Mostly because I really don’t want to be oceans apart from my children.
    The thing is, part of my dream is to offer my kids something even greater than they have now, so my excuses are dissapating.
    The big thing though, was what my daughter said to me. You know, I begin to feel lifeless and become less excited about my job daily regardless of how great a place it is. They like me and I like them. It’s just not what I want anymore. I explained to my 10 YO how I had to work for money so we could live well. Her question stung as she asked, “Is it all about money?”

    So many thoughts shot through my mind. I really didn’t know what to say. This was what I felt at her age. I couldn’t believe I had been brainwashed by the system I had despised growing up. I am now going through the motions and pandering to the logical side so much that I almost forgot what I really need (hint, it’s not money). My kids will be fine. I’ll miss them. They’ll miss me more. I’ll struggle for years trying to achieve my ridiculous dream. I may even fail. Though, I doubt that. Meanwhile, my children will learn something from me that I can never teach them by always being with them and protecting them. They’ll see me follow my mother’s advice that we can do anything we put our mind to. They’ll see me try to achieve the impossible and they’ll know the answer is, “No darling, it’s not all about money.”

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