One thing I will teach Little DDW and her unborn sister is the importance of toughness. Through a lot of boneheaded decisions made by yours truly, I finally figured out the true definition of the word, and I think I’ll be ready to share my wisdom with my girls when the time comes.
You may or may not agree with me, but when attempting to become the best dad I can be, these are the rules of toughness I follow (in many cases, I learned these rules the hard way).
#1: Toughness is being sensitive. Tough men don’t cry, right? All men are taught that being sensitive is the opposite of toughness, right?
Enough of that crazy talk.
Here’s a story for you: back in December 2008, my twin brother and his wife had their first baby. I remember visiting my twin in the hospital and I cried when I looked at his beautiful little girl, I cried when I held her, and I cried when I watched my brother comfort a two day old baby from a mini-meltdown. Nobody around me questioned the tears. They totally understood it, and they knew what I knew: I was ready to be a dad, and my tears were the purest sign of that.
Fast forward to present day, and I’m a guy who cries at least once a week due to something my daughter does that moves me emotionally. It could be a simple, “I love you, Daddy” or it could be due to watching her play with a little girl with Down Syndrome she met at the park. I’ve learned that fully expressing my emotions whenever I feel them and not caring about the opinions of others is true toughness. Believe me, it took a long time for me to feel this way.
This isn’t the stone ages. It’s OK for dudes to cry just like it’s OK for women to be CEOs of corporations (like my wife). I think society has made strides in that regard, but we still have a way to go to eliminate gender stereotypes. That said, I hope my girls marry men who aren’t afraid to show their sensitive sides.
#2: Toughness is being kind and nice. For some reason there are a lot of people who think toughness means yelling, screaming, and being violent – and that couldn’t be further from the truth. Here’s another story for you: When I was younger, I was a pretty good basketball player. But for those of you who’ve followed me for a while, you know that I was a punk of the highest order too. On the basketball court, I told everyone around me how good I was, I pushed people around, and tried to demonstrate my “toughness” whenever I played.
Then one day something happened.
When I was about 20 years old, I went to the local park to play a game of basketball and there was a white kid on the other team who looked somewhat athletic, but I wasn’t impressed. In my punk ignorance I knew that white kids couldn’t play basketball (ignorant, I know – and I’m embarrassed to say that’s how I felt at the time), so I tried to show my “toughness” by yelling in his face whenever I scored, and I pushed him around the court as if he was a rag doll. The white kid never responded to my trash-talking and just quietly ignored me. At the end of three games, my team won each time and I started gloating like an asshole.
“I’m unstoppable! Nobody can guard me! NOBODY!!”
When I was about to leave, the white kid approached me in front of all of the other players and challenged me to a game of one-on-one. I laughed in his face thinking that this poor sap MUST be kidding.
He wasn’t kidding.
Not only was he serious, he also said we should put a bet on the outcome. I put my wristwatch on the line and he put $50 on the line.
Everyone crowded around us. The first person to score seven baskets would be the winner.
I scored the first two baskets.
He scored the next seven.
He crushed me, embarrassed me, and made a damn fool out of me in front of everyone. When I sheepishly walked over and gave him my watch, he looked me dead in the eye and said, “I don’t want your watch. I want to teach you a lesson. Maybe you’ll learn to keep your mouth shut and just play ball. You’re not nearly as tough or as good as you think you are.” Then he walked away calmly like he was on the set of an action movie. The only thing missing was an attractive woman on his arm while an abandoned warehouse exploded behind him.
I’ll never forget that day for as long as I live and I’ve never been more embarrassed and humbled in my entire life. Nowadays I cringe whenever I see young athletes talking trash the way I used to.
The point is that we live in a society where people measure toughness by how much of an asshole someone is. If your boss yells at you, she’s tough. If your husband beats the shit out of you and your kids, he’s teaching tough love. If you verbally abuse the customer service representative on the other end of the phone, then you’re showing that you’re a tough customer.
It’s all bullshit.
I want my daughters to know that being nice and kind when you want to explode is what true toughness is. Gloating, bragging, and other douchebaggery will accomplish nothing else other than making you look like a damn fool. Trust me, I know.
#3: Toughness is taking time to solve your problems instead of complaining about them. Parents, you know how annoying it sounds when your kids whine, right? Multiply that by 1,000 and that’s how I feel whenever I hear grown-ass men and women whine.
- “My kids never listen to me.”
- “I’m soooooo tired.”
- “Nothing is going right. I wish I could catch a break.”
- “The man is keeping me down.”
- “My life sucks.”
I bring this up because as recently as a few years ago, all I ever did was bitch, moan, and complain about everything. In hindsight, I realize that people screened my calls and avoided hanging out with me because I was such a whiny little punk. Nothing was my fault. I was just an innocent victim of bad luck and poor circumstances.
Finally, I had someone tell me what I desperately needed (but not wanted) to hear.
“Enough! Grow up and stop making excuses for everything. It’s your fault your life is the way it is. If you want to change it, CHANGE IT! I’m done listening to you.”
That person was my twin brother Shola.
It took a while for his verbal beatdown to sink in, but deep down I knew he was right. I AM in control of every aspect of my life. I want my daughters to know that they have the same amount of control too.
To be clear, I’m not talking about life-altering problems (being diagnosed with a disease, physical abuse, finding out your spouse is cheating on you, etc). People with those issues have more of a right to complain than people who complain about being tired. However, even in those situations there comes a time when a decision must be made to “get busy living or get busy dying” as quoted in my all-time favorite movie Shawshank Redemption. None of my problems were life-altering (even though I thought they were). I was just a punk who wanted people to feel sorry for me because I was too immature and lazy to hold myself accountable. It’s so important that my kids demonstrate a mental toughness and not be like I was.
Editor’s Note: Also to be clear, I’m not saying that people shouldn’t vent, because venting is a good thing. If someone or something pisses you off, do whatever you need to do to get it off your chest quickly. Tell your best friend, cry, go for a walk, whatever. Then get over it. There’s a big difference between venting and whining, and I’m going out on a limb by saying the majority of you don’t like listening to people whine no matter how much you love them.
#4: Toughness admits to being wrong. Here’s a newsflash: I’ve done a lot of stupid things in my life. Some were harmless, like putting my daughter’s diaper on backwards a few weeks ago, and some were ridiculously embarrassing and humbling, like this. I’ve come to realize and accept the fact that I do something stupid pretty much everyday of my life, but I react to it totally differently than I used to.
I’ve lost friends due to some hurtful things I’ve done in the past. Hell, I’ve lost some friends/followers due to some of things I’ve written about on my blog. The main thing I’ve learned is to own my mistakes as soon as I make them. So if I hurt someone and it’s my fault, I need to recognize that immediately and take action to correct it. However, I’m not attached to outcomes. If I make a mistake and sincerely apologize for it and the opposite party doesn’t accept it – then I just wish them well, learn from it, and move forward without looking back.
I want my daughters to know that nobody likes the person who never admits to being wrong. Being “right” all of the time doesn’t make a person tough, it makes them wrong because nobody is right all of the time (funny how that works). Toughness is knowing that there will be times when you’ll look like a fool and there will be times when you’ll make mistakes (big and small), but you should always own them without making excuses. I’m two years into this Daddy gig and I’m only eight months into this blogging gig, and you can bet your ass that I’ll make plenty of dumb mistakes as the weeks and months progress. I’m OK with that.
#5: Toughness is about showing up. I’ve failed a lot in my life. A lot. As a matter of fact, I’ve failed more than I’ve succeeded at anything in life. When I was younger, I just quit whenever I faced adversity. If a coach or boss yelled at me, I’d quit. If I tried a new hobby and I couldn’t figure out how to do it well, I’d quit. Put simply, I wasn’t very tough. I’ve learned that the toughest people I know don’t define toughness by yelling, screaming, or bench pressing 250 lbs. They define it by doing whatever it takes to achieve a goal no matter what obstacles are placed in front of them. One of my mentors told me, “It doesn’t matter how many times that door gets slammed in your face or how many times people laugh in your face. You have to keep showing up. By showing up, you’re telling the Universe that you’re for real – and that’s when good things happen.”
I know I talk about my friend Hera a lot on my blog, but that woman is the perfect example of what I mean when it comes to “showing up.”
When her 15-month old son died, she easily could’ve gone into a deep funk, but she kept showing up to get justice for her son.
When she feared for her safety while her ex was walking free, she kept showing up to get justice for her son.
When ignorant haters spewed nasty comments and blamed her for the death of her son when she was clearly the victim, she kept showing up to get justice for her son.
When I asked her how she kept going, she said, “I’ll never quit because if I did, it would mean that I quit on my son and I will never do that no matter what.”
That, my friends, is true toughness.
I want my daughters to choose a goal/passion and go for it with the same energy and ferocity that Hera goes after justice for her son. Always show up and never quit.
#6: Toughness is about talking less and doing more. That’s a crazy statement coming from a dude who pumps out 2,000 word posts every Tuesday, but it’s true. A wise person once said, “I can tell when a person is serious about achieving his goals when he stops talking about them.” For example, we all know that person who keeps saying he’s going to lose weight, but never does a damn thing about it. When he complains about his weight, it takes everything in us not to say, “If you spent half the amount of energy working your body as you do your mouth, you’d be on the cover of Men’s Health Magazine.”
I know what it’s like to be a talker. Back in the day, all I ever did was talk.
- I’m going to be (insert thing that I never became).
- I’m going to do (insert thing that I never did).
It took me a while to figure it out, but my life changed instantly when I stopped talking about the stuff I wanted to do and just did it. Being a Daddy Talkin’ Work doesn’t quite roll off the tongue like a Daddy Doin’ Work does. As a guy who always talked a big game, I want my daughters to know that talk is cheap.
I also want them to know when a person’s actions and words aren’t congruent, always go with their actions.
For the majority of my life, I was never tough. Actually, I was an excuse-making, shortcut-taking punk. Although I’ve come a long way by the time my daughter was born, it was her birth that made me realize that I absolutely had to step my game up to be the dad she and her unborn sister need and deserve. In order to achieve more, I had to be more. Although I’m still a flawed individual, I feel that I’ve become a tougher and better man and I’ll never stop working to improve myself.
Based on this short video, it may appear that Little DDW already demonstrates toughness.
It’s up to me to teach her that true toughness encompasses so much more.