by Justin Ricklefs
This past year, 8 or 10 of us mid-30’s to mid-40’s type friends have started playing pick up basketball at 5:30 a.m. at our high school alma mater. It’s been a day I’ve looked forward to each week, a great start to my Thursday morning.
But in the course of eight weeks, I have suffered two old-man basketball injuries—the kind of injuries where you are embarrassed to tell your wife and co-workers. First was a right ankle sprain that kept me out a few weeks, then a couple weeks later I sprained my left MCL. I haven’t been back on the court since. At least not yet.
It’s not the most important thing in life for sure, but it is frustrating how quickly you can go from getting a good workout in to being evaluated by a doctor. And as much as I wanted to tough it out and just get back out there, my body won’t cooperate.
So I went to see an athletic trainer. He twisted and torqued my knee around, then sat me upright, slapped me on the shoulder and said, “You’re going to be just fine. Just keep getting 1% better each day.” He then showed me some simple exercises to help rebuild the strength in my knee.
As I left his training room that afternoon, I realized that fathering is a lot like my sprained knee. Hang with me here.
In my mind, I should be further along in my fathering journey. I have five kids after all. I should be past the sharp response I have on occasion. I should be beyond the disappointed look I give my son. I should know that my daughter wants me to look at her eyes, not at my iPhone. I should have gone to this event. Should have said this instead. I can should myself to death if I’m not careful.
But like my hobbled ankle and knee, the goal isn’t to be perfect. It’s to keep progressing, to get 1% better each day. Because in doing that, when we look back in a year, a decade or a lifetime, we’ll see something amazing. At least that’s the bet I’m making.
Here are four ways I’m learning to get 1% better today:
- Admit I’m Not There Yet. I think we all put this crazy amount of pressure on ourselves to be perfect dads. We see the edited trailer versions of another dad’s life movie instead of seeing his entire movie. I promise he has struggles, too. Admitting that we have a long way to go still seems daunting at first, but it actually gives us the freedom to start from where we are.
- Don’t Go Alone. This daddy thing is hard. There isn’t a perfect guide or formula to follow. That’s why we needn’t go alone. As men, it’s tempting to try and be the hero or muscle through the confusion. But what we really need is a buddy to walk alongside us on the path, a fellow dad that can say, “Yeah, me too,” and encourage us to keep going.
- Try One New Thing. It could be initiating a conversation at the dinner table, inviting your daughter to ice cream, putting that puzzle together with your son or simply being a listening ear. The specific thing isn’t the point; it’s your actions that matter. Do something, even if it’s small, that you didn’t do yesterday. Take the initiative.
- Ask For Forgiveness. When I blow it as a dad, the most powerful way to keep getting 1% better is to ask my kids to forgive me. “Hey, Daddy was really stressed out about work. Will you forgive me for raising my voice?” “Son, I am sorry for not being at your game when I said I would. Will you forgive me?” “Sweetheart, it’s a bad habit of mine to look at my phone when you’d rather play a game with me. Will you forgive me?”
If you’re like me, the thought of being the best dad—or even a really good dad—is sometimes overwhelming. But thankfully, if we focus on just getting 1% better each day, we’ll be amazed at how much ground we cover.
Hopefully I’ll say the same about my knee.
Just Improve 1%. Just Be DAD.
Justin Ricklefs is husband to Brooke and Daddy to 4 girls & 1 boy. He enjoys the art of sales and business. He is a contributor at GoodMenProject, HuffPost, Redbook, TODAY Parenting and his blog, JustinRicklefs.com.