Dads, Use Your Superpowers!

I‘m not much of a superhero movie buff, but I did watch Marvel’s Infinity War recently. In the movie, there are a number of scenes where The Hulk just can’t seem to change into The Hulk. They finally have to give him an oversized mech suit to compensate for the fact that he can’t use his superpowers. He is supposed to be The Hulk, so when he is just a guy in a mech suit, he sucks.

He is supposed to be The Hulk, so when he is just a guy in a mech suit, he sucks.

Dads have superpowers, but we don’t always recognize what they are, or how powerful they can be. As a result, we miss some of the greatest opportunities to make the greatest impact as dads. We end up sucking like The Hulk.

I wrote this post to help dads tap into their dad superpowers and connect with their kids–not just when they’re young, but through the teenage years and even in their adult years. We all have weaknesses we need to work on, but this is not about “fixing” yourself so can be the ideal father figure you have in your mind. This is about being awesome by doing what you are already wired to do. It’s time to activate those superpowers. Ready?

Play and Roughhouse

Every dad likes to play. The more we play with our kids, the better the relationship we’re going to have with them.

Take every opportunity you can to play. Some of my favorite memories with my son Wes are times he and I would play Starcraft, a video game where the alien races fight each other. I remember some Saturdays when we would play Starcraft all day, eating popcorn and junk food. I’m not a big fan of video games, but I’m a big fan of video games if dad is playing them with the kids.

I’m not a big fan of video games, but I’m a big fan of video games if dad is playing them with the kids.

Along with playing, don’t forget to roughhouse. (You might have to tell mom to chill out on this one.) Dads love to roughhouse, and roughhousing always works. Kids get hurt now and then, but that’s okay. It’s good for them. It makes them tough. Seriously, researchers are only beginning to understand the complexity of the powerful positive effects that dad’s roughhousing has on the kids, especially on boys. Warren Farrell’s book, The Boy Crisis, has some great research on this.

Now, although every dad likes to play and roughhouse, dad’s stress level has a direct impact on how much or how often he plays. This is one of my biggest regrets from when I was younger. Dads need the community of other men to help them cope with life’s stresses so they can live in the present and play like they should.

Gamify Everything

Hauling Candy

So many dads gamify things with their kids intuitively but don’t realize how powerful it is. Dads love to turn everything into a game.

I’m not really a fan of Halloween because of the whole death-evil-horror theme of it. But I wanted to use the holiday as an opportunity for fun without the dark side, so I turned it into a game. Every Halloween, I’d take the kids trick-or-treating with the express goal of collecting as much candy as possible. Over the years, the kids eventually ran themselves for miles, sweating and panting, collecting as much as they could. Halloween literally became a track and field event in the Feller Family. Our biggest take was over 25 lbs of candy in one night.

Halloween literally became a track and field event in the Feller Family. Our biggest take was over 25 lbs of candy in one night.

The kids loved it and we still talk affectionately about it 15 years later.

Hands-on-your-head!

Gamifying even works great with boundaries. When we would take the kids into one of those stores where there was a risk of them breaking things or becoming a public nuisance, I would call out, “Hands on your head!” This was the signal that the kids had to walk through the store like prisoners of war with both hands on their head. I got eye rolls from them at the time, but it was hard for them not to crack a smile because it was so ridiculous.

I would call out, “Hands on your head!” as we walked in the front door. This was the signal that the kids had to walk through the store like prisoners of war with both hands on their head. I got eye rolls from them at the time, but it was hard for them not to crack a smile because it was so ridiculous.

Eventually, hands-on-your-head would only be activated if one of the kids actually touched something they were not supposed to. To this day they have fond memories of the “hands on your head” prisoner walk through stores… and our kids never broke anything in a store.

The wake-up chicken

Teens hate waking up in the morning. In our home, we had a stuffed animal rooster that crowed (loudly) when you squeezed it. Guess what came flying in at the kids every morning while they were in their beds? They still joke about it today and I still have that chicken for the next generation.

Gamifying things changes the atmosphere and can even make miserable things fun. Most importantly, it helps kids reframe difficulties and hardships, which is a critical skill they need in life. You can gamify practically anything, even eating spinach and broccoli. Get your dad creativity on and gamify something this week with your kids.

Adventure

Adventure takes us out of our comfort zones. It leaves the familiar in pursuit of exploration. Kids love adventure, but it takes some creativity to create the right kind. When our kids were growing up we’d take them camping, but they didn’t seem to always like it. This was especially true in the teenage years. A strange thing happened when they got older, however. They started loving the outdoors.

When our kids were growing up we’d take them camping, but they didn’t seem to always like it. This was especially true in the teenage years. A strange thing happened when they got older, however. They started loving the outdoors.

After I started rock climbing in my late 40s, my son, who was married at that point, came along and got hooked. His wife Liz also got hooked on rock climbing. Now they can’t get enough of the outdoors. I did an 80+ mile hike last year with the two of them 0n the High Sierra Trail, and it was one of those trips we will talk about for the rest of our lives. In a few weeks, my son and I will be in the eastern Sierras climbing some big mountains together. I can’t wait!

Adventure bonds people together because it takes us out of our comfort zones. It gives us all shared “war stories” and collective folklore. My best memories of my own dad are of camping and fishing in the Sierras.

Adventure also provides the context for hang out time. Boys especially tend to only open up with dad after spending hang out time. Daughters also need it, but they tend to open up without as much hang out time as sons need. We are seeing a trend of unprecedented brokeness in boys and men. And this brokenness is often rooted in the lack of connection with dad. Adventure is a great way to forge deep connections with our sons. Once again, Warren Farrell’s book, The Boy Crisis, has some great research on this.

Challenge

Use this sparingly. It is potent in small doses. The kids might go to mom to cry on her shoulder and get some compassion, but they go to dad because they might need a shoulder to cry on AND they know dad is going to challenge them. It breaks our hearts to see our kids suffer, but they need to in small doses if they are going to have the strong character we want for them. The “safe spaces” we are seeing on college campuses are evidence of what happens when dads don’t impart the gift of suffering.

Tom Smith, the executive director of Summit Adventure, told me a story last week about a young man he once took rock climbing with his dad in an event we call Adventures in Fatherhood. While doing some easy climbing, the son absolutely flipped out of his mind. He was terrified. In fact, he was “ready-to-wet-his-pants” terrified. He wanted to be lowered down, but Tom just had a sense that he needed to be left up there for a while. Crying and hysterics followed, but Tom kept his resolve. Recently, almost 20 years after the incident, Tom got a letter from that young man describing how that day changed the course of his life. That day he conquered fears that would have paralyzed him for his entire adult life.

He was terrified. In fact, he was “ready-to-wet-his-pants” terrified. He wanted to be lowered down, but Tom just had a sense that he needed to be left up there for a while. Crying and hysterics followed, but Tom kept his resolve. Recently, almost 20 years after the incident, Tom got a letter from that young man describing how that day changed the course of his life. That day he conquered fears that would have paralyzed him for his entire adult life.

By the way, the more fit you are, the more adventuring you will be able to do with your kids – even when they are adults. So stay in shape!

Kids need to know dad loves them AND they need to be challenged by dad from time to time. Dads have the unique ability to do this. It’s in your DNA as a dad to instill that growth mindset and that challenge in your kids. Sometimes it might seem a little unorthodox, but don’t forget to use this superpower.

Being a dad is not easy. It’s a journey filled with joy, challenges, and sorrows that will last as long as we do. We’re all doing our best, but sometimes we just need an “easy button” to push as dads. I hope I’ve given you a few today. You’ve got some very cool superpowers. Don’t forget to use them.