Happy Father's Day
My son Sam and me in 1994

Happy Father's Day

Today is Father's Day, and since I have six children, I would like to share a few things that I have learned the hard way about being a father and parent.

As a surgeon who had to overcome major early hurdles to become a surgeon and be "successful," I was under the mistaken impression that my protocol of picking a path/destination, working like hell, staying the course, and not quitting would apply to all of my kids. Copy and paste.

This led (unconsciously) to me seeing my kids in a more transactional light. In other words, this is the protocol that needs to be applied to each of them, regardless, so they can become "successful." Successful being secure job, income, social position. The focus was not on fulfillment.

The protocol led me to not really see my children for the wildly different and unique individuals they are. It kept me from digging deeper to understand, embrace, and nurture their unique personality, dreams, and aspirations.

Not only that, but my very rough childhood and then surgical training led me to minimize their struggles and setbacks as "no big deal." Soul finally became aware of this after sharing this comment of a resident as part of a 360-degree review from 2009 in the areas for improvement section: "he is like an abusive boyfriend that you absolutely adore but can never be sure won't slap you."

I asked for their written feedback, and they all agreed heartily with the statement - making it clear that they did not feel psychologically safe with me when bringing up their struggles since, with my past as a framework, I would often minimize them as nearly trivial, whether explicitly or implicitly. To me, perhaps, but not to them.

Since then, I worked hard to change and to "parent" using these first principles as my guide:

  1. Psychological Safety: I learned to keep my mouth shut when they came to me with anything. I stopped offering advice and learned how to actually listen. This was very hard, given the surgeon in me and my desire to fix everything. Once they started to feel seen and heard, the gates of connection flung wide open.
  2. Muscular Patience: The brains of young kids, and especially teens, are maturing, and they can be all over the map. To have muscular patience with the process and compassion is the key here, with clear boundaries around values and expectations, but with a wide enough birth for their sense of autonomy and evolution into adults.
  3. Embrace Their Uniqueness: We have all heard it over and over again. "I can't believe how different all of my children are." They are different. They are not us, me, or you. Your life protocol, whether good or bad, may not be right for your child, as an individual. It may not be the right fit. The sooner you really, and with genuineness, embrace them as the individuals they are, the stronger your relationship will be, and the stronger your relationship will be as they become adults.
  4. An Expectation of Excellence: Through my actions and the way I live, I try to role model the value of excellence and the path to the neverending life long project of becoming the person we all have the potential to be, which will allow each of us to contribute to the world in our own unique way. I tell them this explicitly, and it is one of my expectations that I am very explicit about.
  5. Take Care of Themselves, Mentally and Physically: This is the other explicit expectation: exercise, meditation, being out in nature, sleep. The foundation.

These are just my thoughts and experience. Changing my approach has led to real, and deeper relationships with my children, and it dramatically fostered the transition to the incredible joy of having a mutually respectful and close relationship with them as adults.

And, just as I finished writing this piece, my daughter Anne walked up, gave me a huge hug and the book The Soul of an Octopus with this inscription inside:


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