“They don’t want the ‘pretend you have it all together’ version of me, they simply want me. To be present. To be engaged. And to be there. To be real.

By Justin Ricklefs

 1. To cherish memories over material things.

At one time I believed that part of my worth as a husband and dad was how much I could earn or how quick we could climb the social ladder. It’s a freeing thing to let go of that pursuit in exchange for a life chock full of memories with my family.

2. To laugh more.

There are tons of opportunities (and incidents) for bad attitudes, complaining, and generally being a jerk in our home. At my worst, it flares up in me during tough financial times, chaotic schedules and sleepless nights. But a small smile often leads to a full belly laugh, which goes a long way towards unifying our family and reminding us that we’re going to make it.

3. That the mundane is where real life happens.

Oftentimes, I’m in search of the next big thing. Maybe that’s some promotion at work. Or I’ll put pressure on myself to deliver some over-the-top date night or special memory with our kids. But life lived fully alive and engaged in the mundane is actually a joyful place to be. When little people climb into our bed in the middle of the night. When they ask for one last story before bedtime. The big stuff is fantastic when it happens, but don’t miss all the other little moments as you wait for it.

4. To cry more.

Before I got married, it was easy to bottle emotions up and not let stuff hurt. But I realized that feeling the hurt is much more meaningful than suppressing it. It shows my family that I’m not disconnected, rather I’m right there with them. Somewhere along the way, I believed the lie that men had to always hold it together. But now, my tear ducts are well oiled machines.

5. To say I love you, lots.

My kids know I love them to the moon and back. I tell them that every single day. Verbally and without hesitation. In a world full of cynicism, criticism and hurt, love is what will fuel them to do great things. To know that we have poured love deep into them is an incredibly gratifying realization.

6. That my iPhone often hinders my relationships with my family.

I fool myself and think that my proximity is the same thing as my presence. It’s not. At stoplights, at the park, or on the couch, I am tempted to check in with my phone before I check in with my wife and kids. The text, tweet and email can wait.

7. That I’m in this for the long haul.

It hasn’t been all roses and fairy tales for our marriage and parenting efforts these last 11 years. There have been miscarriages, financial troubles, tough moves, confusing decisions, the list goes on. But the hard stuff has forged a stronger bond in our marriage than would have ever been possible had the challenges never come. Character is refined by sticking around even when things are hard.

8. To realize they don’t want Superman, they want me.

Having it all together isn’t a prerequisite for becoming a dad. Thankfully. When my pride gets in the way, I try to be a self-reliant superhero. But I need my family just as much as they need me. They don’t want the ‘pretend you have it all together’ version of me, they simply want me. To be present. To be engaged. And to be there. To be real.

9. That my marriage is better when I keep showing up.

Anyone can have a great marriage when things are rosy. But when the chips have been down, Brooke has told me that she’s thankful that I just keep showing up. Not that I always have the answers or can fix it, but that I care enough to put my heart into our marriage. Beyond the doubts, struggles, and pain, I’ve learned that the meaning is in the execution not the intentions. Even if it’s with a limp, my actions and efforts are what my family cares about, not my well-meaning plans.

Dads, buckle up. The ride isn’t always easy, but it’s worth it.

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