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  • Writer's pictureAllan Shedlin

Was 2020 Real or Just Virtual?

Updated: Jan 7, 2021

by Allan Shedlin, Founder, DADvocacy Consulting Group

As we greet a new year, I’m still trying to figure out whether 2020 counts as a real year or just a virtual one. Is it January or still March? Is it Thursday or Monday or…Saturtuesday?

Do the answers even matter anymore?

Whether real or virtual, this has been a year during which a civil war of sorts has been waged within me. I fought to have my usual positive outlook ascendant when around every corner, facts challenged hope.

20/20 hindsight doesn’t help make 2020 any clearer. It's a truism that every year is “like no other,” but this past year, it absolutely was in spades! I kept thinking of reviving the 1961 musical “Stop the World – I Want to Get Off.”

Allan, grandson, and son-in-law social distancing outside
Trying to practice a little "social distancing"

I’m trying mightily to embrace the optimism that usually marks a new year and the traditional hopefulness it entails. Challenges are omnipresent as 2020 leeches into 2021 with numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths increasing daily. And those “grim numbers” are becoming grimmer as variant strains of the virus put ever more strain on us all.

While challenges to the fundamental stanchions of our democratic way of life are literally under siege, I'm working so much harder to remain optimistic as one type of fatigue bleeds into another, creating a type of fatigue fatigue:

  • Mask fatigue

  • Homeschooling fatigue

  • Anxiety fatigue

  • Uncertainty fatigue

  • Dread fatigue

  • Empathy fatigue

  • Hug deprivation fatigue

  • Bad news fatigue

  • Fake news fatigue

  • Lying fatigue

  • Grim number fatigue

  • Sadness fatigue

  • Sense of dread fatigue

  • “Abundance of caution” fatigue

  • Food insecurity fatigue

  • Bureaucratic incompetence, conspiracy, and “governing-by-tweet" fatigue

  • Unkept promises fatigue

  • Add your own…

I ask myself if the annual ritual of New Year Resolutions might help – especially given all the confusion and sadness that has ensued during the previous year of relentless angst. The resistance to making resolutions is fed by the knowledge that they rarely stick beyond a few weeks for most of us. But what if we took it up a notch and turned a resolution into a vow? And what if that vow was based upon something of great importance we learned about ourselves during a legitimately unprecedented year?

Many of us learned a lot in 2020 due to the additional time we had for introspection, increased time spent alone, routines scrambled, and assumptions called into question. Many of us learned what was truly important to us and what was not as important as we may have thought.

Celebrating Mickey Mouse's 50th birthday with family, 1978

My children, grandchildren, and others I consider family have always been the most important thing in my life – my lifeblood, really. They became even more treasured during this covidious year. Virtual contact became more intense almost in direct proportion to hug deprivation. Social-media connecting was often an inadequate substitute compelled by physically distancing.

During my work with fathers and families, I was reminded that when things around us are beyond our control, those things we can control take on even greater importance. And there was more attention, interest, and intensity to my work helping fathers become the dads they want to be. The axioms of that work seemed to be more eagerly embraced and valued. So I share them here as each of us considers making our 2021 vows:

  • Being a dad/granddad is more than just who you are, it's something you do.

  • There is no such thing as a “perfect” dad/parent.

  • Dads are important to children AND children are important to dads – in their presence and their absence.

  • You have the power to become the kind of dad your children want and need you to be; it is often not as daunting as you may think.

  • The qualities kids most want in their dad are the ones most dads want to cultivate AND that child development experts agree are needed to lead a fulfilled and fulfilling life.

  • Families and communities are better off when dads and children are positively involved in each other's lives.

Allan Shedlin on the couch with family
With my youngest daughter Christina, her husband Matt, and their kids, Ellie, Sam, and Ben (pre-pandemic 2020)

As each of us considers the kind of parent we want to be, it helps to be mindful of how we want our child (no matter what their age) to describe us as a dad (or mom) and to engage that child in discussing our 2021 parental vows.

As we embrace the hopefulness of a new year, while the heavy fog of worry begins to lighten as more shoulders receive protective vaccines and a new Administration takes the lead, it’s helpful to remember C.S. Lewis’ observation:

“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending."

DADvocacy Consulting Group founder Allan Shedlin

Allan Shedlin has devoted his life’s work to improving the odds for children and families. He has three daughters, a “bonus” son, five grandchildren, and three “bonus” grandchildren. Trained as an educator, Allan has alternated between classroom service, policy development, and advising. 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 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 the most important “degree” of all.


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