The Value of a Father: Reflections on Parenting and Making Space for All Emotions

Here’s a little-known day you may have never heard of before: National Play With Dad Day

It’s observed on November 25th, just around the time this blog and corresponding podcast will be published. 

I don’t pay attention to every single “National Day of XYZ,” but this one is meaningful. I often reflect on the podcast and in my work on my relationships with my mother, but less so my father. 

And yet, my father shaped my life in countless ways. From his integrity to his presence to his high expectations of me, I remember so many wonderful moments with dad. 

National Play With Dad Day is supposed to further the movement of fathers engaging in the home life of their children. While our society is progressing towards more equality at home, mothers and women still carry the lion’s share of responsibility surrounding children and home life. 

To discuss this and his experience as a first-time father is Edward Kim, who joined us on episode 25 of the Unlocking the Club podcast

Earlier this year, Edward pivoted from his career as a coach, leader, and co-founder of Measured Leadership to stay at home with his newborn son. Together we discuss what he’s learned from it and how he navigates the full gamut of emotions and societal expectations as both a new father and the primary caretaker. 

The Both-And Experience of Parenting

Family playing a game together

What initially drew me to connect with Edward was his candidness about fatherhood. Unlike the highlight reels we see on social media, Edward’s always been authentic about both the good and the bad, the celebrations and the challenges. 

One of Edwards’s biggest reflections on being a first-time parent is that it’s hard. 

Doesn’t sound like much of a revelation, does it? Most people know parenting is hard!

So why don’t we talk more about it? 

Why don’t we share the challenges, the grief, the pain, and the frustrations? 

And why do we deny the Both-And experience of parenting? 

Because, here’s the thing. Parenting, like many other things in life, is bound to bring conflicting emotions. Parenting stress and anxiety is real, and it co-exists with joy and love. We can experience multiple things at once. It’s entirely possible to feel: 

  • Both grateful for a healthy baby and miss the freedom you had before they were born. 
  • Both excited about your growing family and mourn the loss of new work projects or opportunities as you step back for a while. 
  • Both joy and laughter while playing with your child and bored when they want to read the same book for the 100th time. 

Emotions aren’t as simple and clean-cut as we like to think they are. Like parenting, they’re messy. And if we don’t embrace them as such, we’re not giving ourselves—let alone our loved ones—what we need. 

As Edward reflected on these both-and emotions of parenting, he’s learning more and more to let himself feel and experience them all. To acknowledge the grief or frustrations and make peace with that part of him. 

Refusing to make space for your emotions doesn’t make them go away—it just means they’ll come out another time, in a worse way. So, embrace every part of yourself and your experience. Parenthood and life are messy… and that’s okay. Letting yourself feel bad is actually the first step to feeling better, so let the emotions go.

Being a Stay-At-Home Dad 

Father reading a book to their child

Together with his wife Sarah, Edward decided to step away from his day job and be a stay-at-home father to their son. 

It was an intentional decision with much thought and consideration. Or, as Edward put it, he’s going into this with “eyes wide open.”

That intentionality—a single-track focus on his love for his family and belief that this is the best way to support them—helped him navigate through the expectations, judgments, and fears over his new role. 

Because, while stay-at-home fathers are more common today than in the past, it’s still fairly rare. Edward knows that some people may not understand it or may judge him for it. His experience as a new father and deciding to stay at home has brought up old insecurities of not fitting into what people expect of him. 

To deal with these insecurities, Edward does a few things: 

  • Remembering his “why.” Edward was crystal clear in his decision to stay at home as being the best way to support both his son and wife. This helps him fight off doubts and overcome the pressure to do something a specific way.
  • Removing the “shoulds.” A lot of the confusing feelings surround questions like, “should I be doing this?” or “should I feel this way?” But each person, family, child, and context is different… there is no universal “should.” There’s only what’s best for you and your family.
  • Focusing on where he’s most comfortable, now. Another strategy is to continue to check in with what is right and feels comfortable now, at this moment. This, again, helps him focus on his current situation rather than feeling like he’s missing out on something at work or in another area of life. 

It is so important to have these conversations about parenthood and, specifically, fatherhood because we need to keep breaking stigmas. If you’re looking for a specific resource for fathers, check out this guide: Just for Dads.

Honesty and authenticity about both the ups and downs of parenthood and subsequent choices can empower parents to make decisions that are right for them and their children, freeing them from the expectations our society puts on them. 

Parenting and Social Media

Someone looking at a computer screen and mobile phone

Throughout our conversation, Edward touched on some of his thoughts and feelings about social media. After becoming a father, he realized just how unique and individual the journey is—what he saw online did not prepare him for his own experience. 

So, he’s unfollowed a lot of the parenting accounts he initially kept up with. Their experience, whether real or curated, is not his. 

Instead, he focuses on his community of people and support. He’s learning to be humble and ask for help or be humble and receive help—both hard things to do in a society that encourages independence and the idea you should do it yourself. 

Another aspect of social media we discussed is the #girldad trend going around online. In essence, it’s fathers sharing the time they spend with their daughters, perhaps doing their hair or practicing a dance routine. 

But why is this upheld as special and unique? Isn’t this just the base requirement for being a parent? 

Edward thinks so. Spending time with your kids—offline and in the day-to-day—should not only be the baseline role of a parent, but it’s what truly matters. 

It’s the good, bad, messy, fun, silly, frustrating, beautiful moments that make up life and family. It’s the undocumented moments that matter most. So, let’s keep first thing first: spending time with your family the way you need to. 

Edward had so much more to share with us on the podcast—make sure you check out our full interview on episode 25 of Unlocking the Club podcast. And if you want to keep up with Edward, connect with him on Twitter, LinkedIn, or his company website, Measured Leadership.

(Image of Edward and his son)