feeling like a failure

Masculinity and Fatherhood When You Feel Like a Failure

Feeling like a failure? Maybe you can’t teach your kids how to throw that nasty curveball. Or maybe you don’t have a job like the other dads or you can’t fix your carburetor or even change your oil. Maybe you yelled at your kids for the hundredth time when other guys seem to have more patience. Or you’re suddenly single, trying to raise responsible kids, knowing you failed in your own marriage.

Pick a cultural hallmark of masculinity. There’s bound to be a place you feel like you don’t measure up as a man. Each of us, at one time or another, feels like a failure or a fraud. So now what? How is it possible to be a good father when it feels like you don’t even have what it takes to be a capable man? Here are 5 things to remember when you are feeling like a failure.

1. Recognize that “perfect” is a myth.

You don’t lose your man card or your responsibilities as a father simply because you’re feeling like a failure, you screw something up, or you lack know-how. Give yourself some grace. You don’t have to be a smashing success all the time. This attitude might free you to enjoy the things you are good at instead of poring over your flaws. Stay the course. Your record as a parent will outlast this moment of deficiency. Failures happen, but they are not the whole story.

2. Be wisely transparent.

Admit the places you are weak. Even better, own the times you’ve straight-up failed in parenting or fallen short. Your kids won’t be perfect, either. It is a gift to children when fathers demonstrate with their example what it looks like to recover from failure and keep moving. Embrace the fact that mistakes and failures are some of the richest material for parenting imperfect people. Be a learning laboratory for your kids.

3. Beware of self-pity.

Grief and sorrow, very different from self-pity, can be appropriate and healthy responses to genuinely painful life circumstances. Self-pity, though, adopts a posture of helpless self-indulgence.  Part of successful fathering is having “other-focus,” a mentality that intentionally leverages “my strength and resources for your benefit.” Beware of excessive self-absorption and self-pity that robs us of the outward expression of love.

4. Watch where you get your identity.

Having skills with power tools isn’t the same thing as being a good father. Neither is your employment. Providing for your family is an ingredient of being a good dad, but not the whole enchilada. Don’t reduce your identity as a father down to what is actually only just a component of it—one of many ingredients.

5. Move toward your kids.

A sense of shame over failure is haunting and lonely. But it’s likely your kids don’t know you feel what you feel. So commit to pursuing relationships with them anyway. You don’t have to feel strong and courageous to do this. You just have to hug your kids, stay curious about their lives, and strike up a conversation rather than retreating into fearful silence. Children need their dads regardless of what Dad is feeling about himself on the inside.

Grace, transparency, watchfulness, and purpose are key concepts that can help anchor you in the times you feel like a failure as a dad or as a man. Feelings like these can make you want to retreat. Don’t. There’s more to you than your momentary setback. You’ve got what it takes.

Sound off: Where have you felt like you’ve fallen short as a father?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What are some places you feel like you’re not good enough?”