9 Fathers On How They Make The Time For Self-Care
On a recent call with my dad, I told him that I was working on a few articles about self-care. I was met with a pause and after a few seconds, he responded, gruffly, "What's that?"
Working in the health space, I'm used to hearing the term self-care thrown into sentences like punctuation, and it surprised me that he'd never come across it.
"It's just another way of talking about how you take care of yourself and intentionally take time to recharge," I told him.
"Oh—OK," he said, and the conversation moved on.
Was it possible that someone I knew—granted someone who was a baby boomer and decidedly not into the wellness scene—had gone through life having never heard the term self-care? And was it just that he'd never heard the phrase or never engaged in the practice?
The differences in how men and women approach self-care.
Looking back, I suspect a lot of the disconnect was generational—but I do think part of it had to do with the very different ways men and women prioritize health and healing.
I'm generalizing, and I know that this will change as we continue to move into a more nonbinary world, but self-care has historically been marketed to women: It's been used to advertise bubble baths, sheet masks, face oils, and all that is stereotypically feminine. Society's clichéd and harmful definition of what a man "should be"—macho, strong, independent—has told men they don't need these things. And they certainly don't need the deeper, more meaningful applications of self-care, like talk therapy or meditating on emotions, either.
"For many, the crux of working with men is the understanding that masculinity is both associated with a wide range of health (physical and mental) concerns and less willingness to seek help for those problems," the APA's Guidelines for psychological practice with men and boys read. "They are more likely to underutilize health and mental health services due to not perceiving a need for them."
To break this cycle of unhealthy toxic masculinity, we need to normalize self-care for all members of the next generation. And one way to do so is by leading by example and investing in health—whether that means going to the gym or the spa; calling your best friend or your therapist—around children.
That's why today, in honor of Father's Day, we're sharing how the dads in our circles prioritize real and reverberating self-care for the sake of their families. We hope their stories are permission-giving examples of all the ways you can and should put yourself first as a parent.
How dads in our community keep self-care at the forefront.
"The minute you become a father, an instinct takes over to set aside personal well-being in favor of meeting the needs of your child. Self-care suddenly feels indulgent—a luxury that can be no longer afforded. But the truth is that your ability to parent successfully is tied to your willingness to look after yourself—because you cannot give what you yourself do not have. Despite my extremely busy schedule juggling work commitments against raising four children, it's easy to say 'I don't have time.' Instead, I make time. Early morning meditation and journaling. Quietude on the local trails. This is my battery, fueling my ability to be my most present and effective self for my children."
—Rich Roll, ultra-endurance athlete
"Self-care gets lost for so many dads, yet kids are such an incredible source of wellness. Nothing has made me pay attention to my sleep and nutrition like my kids. Nothing pushes me in a workout like thinking of setting an example for them. And nothing has made me stronger than carrying them around. From mindfulness in the garden planting seeds and teaching them to have fun in nature doing things like paddleboarding to the more serious self-care questions like personal values and spirituality, my kids have pushed me like nothing else."
—Drew Ramsey, M.D., holistic psychiatrist
"When I look around me now, I see a welcome change in how close and tender many young fathers are with their children. The old image of the distant, emotionally unavailable father is fading. I take this as a sign of rising consciousness.
"Our children reflect who we are, not just as parents but as conscious beings. In the highest sense, a father exists not only to protect and provide for his family but to embrace them as his own expanded self.
"The next sign of rising consciousness I foresee is that children will learn peace and love from a father, and that instead of teaching the next generation to continue the tradition of war, anger, and rivalry as acceptable masculine traits, the new masculinity will acquire its power from within."
—Deepak Chopra M.D., spiritual force and bestselling author
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"As a dad of two young daughters, alone time is infrequent, and self-care can look like lots of different things--especially during COVID-19! I love my Theragun and use it during the week whenever I'm worn out. Push-ups and sit-ups have become my every-other-day workout of choice, and I often practice yoga at home—even if it's just a 10-minute vinyasa flow. I'm incorporating breathwork into my daily routine and have been focusing on keeping my mouth closed and breathing through my nose—inhaling for a count of two and exhaling for a count of four to activate my parasympathetic nervous system. While walking through the park and nature bathing is often just what the doctor ordered, I think sleep is the best form of self-care. To make sure I get quality sleep, I take our magnesium+ sleep supplement every night. It’s my non-negotiable."
"For me, self-care needs to be easy and simple enough that I can be in it all the time. Because without that, especially now that I'm a dad, it might pretty easily become none of the time.
"This is why I like the movement practices in tai chi and qigong so much. They give something simple and easy enough that I can practice nearly anywhere, nearly all the time. So if something hurts, I can take care of it while I'm washing dishes. If I want my next time on the bike or climbing to go better, I can practice dropping tension and moving with some more harmony when I'm bear crawling on the floor with my daughter, Daisy. I figure I'm moving all the time, so just by remembering these simple practices, everything I do can become a way to feel and be better."
—Michael Taylor, co-founder of Strala Yoga
"Since I became the father of three children over 34 years ago, I have worked very hard to be present when I am graced with family time. It is harder than ever to put away the phone and laptop and hear about their days, their worries, their successes. I find that face to face and eyeball to eyeball is so rewarding. Just like a date night, child time needs to be scheduled and honored as a time without distraction."
—Joel Kahn M.D., cardiologist
"Since I became a father to two beautiful boys, the meaning of self-care has changed for sure—but for the better. Now, playing hide and seek, tag, or a game of catch not only allows me to connect with my sons but also get out in nature, relax, and reconnect with the environment. We like to have a family hygge day as well where we just disconnect from the world and reconnect with each other; it's the ultimate form of self-care."
—Marvin Singh, M.D., integrative gastroenterologist
"First, know your sense of purpose. Obviously, ensuring our kids grow up well is important, but so is having good, health, a rich work life, social life, romance, and a hobby or two. So, taking time to rank all of the above in order of importance and getting them on the calendar. Secondly, I think we do ourselves and our kids a favor when we tell them that we need them to help: It gives them a sense of responsibility, it frees up our time and, well, it's free labor. I'm all about requiring kids to help with the housework, the yard work, cooking and—the big win—tutoring us on technology."
—Dan Buettner, journalist and blue zones expert
"For me self-care is all about balance. I work a lot, but I work from home so I do my best to get a little bit of morning alone time to get some exercise, journal a bit, and get ready for the day. It's usually the only time I get alone. Aside from that I am VERY big on balancing my family time and work, so I make breakfast for the family every morning and make dinner twice per week. This way I make certain that work doesn't make me an absentee dad (and spending time with my kids is often the only opportunity I have to laugh out loud for the silliest reasons ever!). Finally, my wife Sophie and I make sure to get at least two or three date nights per month and spend a little downtime together almost every night to make sure we keep our relationship strong."
—Adi Jaffe, Ph.D., mental health expert