June 18, 2020

HFD. What I learned about fatherhood during COVID-19

Trey Harness

President and Chief Client Officer

When the quarantine began, I thought it would be incredibly hard on us as a family. My wife and I both work demanding jobs and juggling our careers with homeschooling and normal responsibilities seemed like the right elements for a catastrophe. The kids already have a complex social network, and participate in multiple extra-curricular activities. Yes, we are the typical over-committed family. 

But a funny thing happened on the way to helping our healthcare system shoulder the burden of a novel viral outbreak. The Harness family became highly functional. We have grown much closer. We enjoy each other’s company now more than ever. Our kids have become even better friends. I feel like I’m more in love with my wife than I’ve ever been, and more connected to my kids than I ever could have imagined. I have a new understanding and appreciation for my wife as a mother, and I didn’t think that was possible. Even if the world completely opened back up tomorrow, I think we would choose to stay home and enjoy each other’s company. I can’t believe I just wrote that. 

In the last 12 weeks, I think we may have saved our family. Not that our family was destined to fail or end or anything horrible like that, but we saved our family from falling into the trap of letting our lives OWN us.

That’s what happens when you do everything you can to just maintain. You miss actually living. This “break from normal life” has opened my eyes and my heart. It made me realize what my life can be like if I live it thoughtfully. 

A few weeks ago, I wondered if other working fathers had similar experiences. I asked, “What have you learned from this experience as a father that you will take with you?” I had some great responses and some of those led to heartfelt and memorable discussions. Some really opened up and shared struggles and failures while others shared stories of joy and pride. 

There was one common theme in all of the responses and discussions - that we can be better fathers, that we should be better fathers. That isn’t an epiphany. This has been true for generations in my own family. For many of us, this new normal has given us an opportunity to truly understand HOW we can be better fathers. That seemed to be invigorating to all of us. 

There was also a big challenge realized by all of us. We have to stay committed to improvement as the expectations of our lives pre-COVID come back into focus. It would be tragic to let this short window of enlightenment be just that. 

I’m the kind of person that believes in the power of a stated or public commitment. So I decided that Father’s Day will have a new meaning for me. It will be a day I make commitments to my family to be a better husband and father. To me, that’s the best way to honor fatherhood. That’s the best way to keep me focused.

Here are my Father’s Day commitments:

  • Be fully present, not just physically present. Devices stay away when the workday ends.
  • Be active together once a week. Find something you love to do as a group that promotes healthy living. We spent every weekend on a new trail during quarantine. 
  • Relax together once a week. That could be a game or movie, but something we’re doing together. 

Those aren’t special or particularly interesting. They’re infuriatingly simple. But, they’re also easy to deprioritize when normal life gets in the way. Following through on these will have an immensely positive impact on my family’s happiness and my overall well-being. That feels like the best Father’s Day gift I could receive.

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