Finding Your Daddying Lodestar
By Allan Shedlin
Grampsy and Founder, DADvocacy Consulting Group and Daddying Film Festival & Forum
I begin every Daddying workshop I conduct by asking the dads, all of whom attend voluntarily, the same question: “Why did you decide to participate?” The answer is always a variation on the theme, “Because I want to be the best father I can be.”
And so I follow up by posing an often immobilizing question due to its quasi-existential nature, “Who is the father you want to be?” The magnitude of that question is almost always met with a deafening silence.
Whether the workshop has taken place at the World Bank, the Penitentiary of New Mexico, a Native American pueblo, a Head Start Center, or in any number of workshops with veterans, in schools, corporate offices, or during one of my 205 (and counting) individual daddying interviews with fathers from 20 countries, I’ve learned that very few fathers have ever really thought about the dad they want to be – more often they find themselves in “automatic pilot” mode.
To free fathers from the immobilization of the question, I have learned that we are more likely to get to the same important end by asking them, “How do you want your son/daughter to describe you as a dad five years from now?” By approaching it that way, it not only gets to the same fundamental daddying place as the more overwhelming question, but it also enables fathers to understand that for most of us, we actually have basic control of what we need to do to get the result we’re after.
We get to find a North Star – our daddying lodestar – to serve as our guide.
We then discuss with workshop participants the fact that each dad has three resources to help locate his lodestar:
Themselves: What were the things that comforted them or made them happy as children? What were the things that frightened them or made them sad?
Others: Who are the people in their lives who they admire/admired? Who embodied qualities they would like to claim as their own? These might include fictional characters from books, film, and TV shows.
Their children: Carefully observe your child’s assets and vulnerabilities. What makes them happy, what makes them uncomfortable?
I’ve learned that very few fathers have ever really thought about the dad they want to be – more often they find themselves in “automatic pilot” mode.
We end our sessions by reviewing the top-five most often cited desirable daddying qualities kids from 28 focus groups I conducted in three countries told me they want:
Be there – really BE there!
Take us as seriously as we take ourselves
Be a passionate advocate for us
Show us you love us and be affectionate
Provide us with security and protection.
We discover that these same qualities are also ones that dads most want to cultivate – the very same ones that all kids want and need in order for both child and dad to flourish. Of course, we acknowledge that there is no such thing as a “perfect” dad, but almost every father can become the dad he wants to be.
He can begin by identifying his daddying lodestar.
Allan Shedlin has devoted his life's work to improving the odds for children and families. He has three daughters, five grandchildren, as well as numerous "bonus" sons/daughters and grandchildren. Trained as an educator, Allan has alternated between classroom service, school leadership, parenting coaching, policy development, and advising at the local, state, and national levels. After eight years as an elementary school principal, Allan founded and headed the National Elementary School Center for 10 years. In the 1980s, he began writing about education and parenting for major news outlets and education trade publications, as well as appearing on radio and TV. In 2008, he was honored as a "Living Treasure" by Mothering Magazine and founded REEL Fathers in Santa Fe, NM, where he now serves as president emeritus. In 2017, he founded the DADvocacy Consulting Group. In 2018, he launched the DADDY Wishes Fund and Daddy Appleseed Fund. In 2019, he co-created and began co-facilitating the Armor Down/Daddy Up! and Mommy Up! programs. He has conducted daddying workshops in such diverse settings as Native American pueblos, veterans groups, nursery schools, penitentiaries, Head Start centers, corporate boardrooms, and various elementary schools, signifying the widespread interest in men in becoming the best possible dad. In 2022, Allan founded and co-directed the Daddying Film Festival & Forum to enable students, dads, and other indie filmmakers to use film as a vehicle to communicate the importance of fathers or father figures in each others' lives. Allan earned his elementary and high school diplomas from NYC’s Ethical Culture Schools, BA at Colgate University, MA at Columbia University’s Teachers College, and an ABD at Fordham University. But he considers his D-A-D and GRAND D-A-D the most important “degrees” of all.