What Fatherhood Teaches You About Being a Gentleman

This story originally appeared on the Gents Cafe Newsletter. You can subscribe here.

Three years ago today, I became a dad.  It was one of the most profound, charged, and poignant experiences – a moment that immediately changed the priorities, trajectory and outlook of my life. Three years later, I’ve learned so much yet also realize that every day as a father will be filled with learning and with growth.  And that’s the first parallel to being a gentleman – as with being a father, being a gentleman is about an understanding that one is never done learning, that there are always more opportunities for growth, and that the journey can be just as valuable as the destination.

Often as a father, you need to put someone else’s needs before yours, prioritizing their well-being ahead of your own.  An infant doesn’t care if you only slept four hours the night before, they need to be fed; a toddler’s demands rival those of history’s most unforgiving dictators (there is no reasoning), and if they “need” to dress themselves, it doesn’t matter that you’re running late for work. Being a gentleman is not much different. A core tenant of being a gentleman (I believe) is the respect and consideration you give others, being attuned to their needs and having the grace to put yourself second.  (I can’t claim I get this right at every turn, but like I said at the beginning, it’s a growth process!)

Fatherhood is also a shrewd lesson in humility and patience. Through your child’s eyes, you’re confronted with a mirror of your whole self – the good and the ugly – and there’s no turning away. As humans, we are flawed and imperfect – including gentlemen – and it’s important to own our imperfections and flaws, acknowledge them versus ignore them, and seek to improve.

Patience is the same – a child knows no timeline, has no agenda, and couldn’t care less that bedtime is cutting into cocktail hour. Being a dad requires another level of patience that I for one didn’t have but am getting better at daily. So, too, does a gentleman require patience – when waiting for his date to get ready; when listening to another’s meandering story drone on; when dealing with a particularly obtuse customer service representative. Patience is a virtue that fatherhood teaches you and that all gentlemen should wield.

And fatherhood teaches you there are times when you need to be strong – when your child is having trouble breathing in the middle of the night or when you need to discipline a teenager whose acting out – and other times when you need to be sensitive – when you son comes home after being bullied or when your daughter’s heart is broken for the first time. Gentlemen also need to understand this range of strength and sensitivity (the wider the range, the better), and have the courage to be strong when needed – to stand up when someone is being disrespected, to offer help during an emergency – and the wisdom to be sensitive when appropriate – to lend an ear to a friend in need, to offer a heartfelt apology when required.

Being a father and a gentleman are very different roles that still share a lot of overlap, with each role making the other stronger. And, three years later, I consider myself so lucky to be on both journeys.

(Happy birthday, Emmaline.  I love you.)

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