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The Daddy Guilt

I have often heard my mother say that women have a near-infinite capacity for guilt and that husbands and children intuitively know this and are adept at exploiting it. Not surprisingly, a common theme in books and blogs is the mommy guilt, the weight of unrealistic expectations. So many women, and mothers especially, believe they are meant to be so much more than they actually are. It can prove a life-long burden.

Of course guilt is not the exclusive domain of women. Men can and do carry it as well. I have a practical bent and, while not quite immune to guilt, it tends to be a minimal struggle in my life. Yet there is one area where I feel that weight, that daddy guilt. I struggle with guilt in times of rest, and especially times of vacation.

Over the years, from reading books and listening to conference talks and talking to men I admire, I have picked up this idea that the best dad is the dad who dedicates his times of rest to entertaining his children, to providing them with the ultimate vacation. The dad who loves his family best is the dad who puts full effort into a vacation, who does not prioritize his own rest, but who instead spends that week finding fun things for his children to do, and who allows his wife to be the one who relaxes. That guilt can tell me at times that unless dad comes away from vacation exhausted, he has been selfish and unloving.

Last week was my first week of vacation in some time. I did not leave home utterly spent and burned out. Not at all. I was feeling strong and energized, and I had plans for the time. We would set up in a cottage on a small lake an hour north of Montreal. One day we would go into Montreal and tour the sites. Another day we would head to Mont Tremblant and find fun things to do there. There was more—water parks and hikes and interesting restaurants. It was going to be awesome for the whole family.

Then I got to that cottage. I got to that cottage and settled into a comfortable chair by a giant window overlooking a lake. And as I sat there I was suddenly experiencing rest of a unique kind. The world slowed down. I forgot all about the stack of books I brought along and instead dug up a collection of poetry and spent hours reading poems and even memorizing a bunch of them.

I did not abandon my family. I had told Aileen I would do all the cooking and tidying while we were there and I found it therapeutic; I also loved being able to serve her that way, since those are usually her responsibilities. I took the kids out in the canoe and played their games and watched some movies with them. But more than anything, I sat and pondered “Ozymandias” and “Death, Be Not Proud” and some of the best of Wordsworth and a long succession of Shakespearean sonnets. I got up long before everyone else to read and meditate on Philippians and to pray as I walked the circumference of the lake. The first five days of that vacation were easily the most restful days of my adult life. They were life-giving, life-restoring. And then, by day six, I felt rejuvenated. Something clicked inside, and I was ready to go back to real life.

We never did get to Montreal or to Mont Tremblant; but for one trip to a nearby town to stock up on games and food, we were at the cottage or the nearby beach the entire time. We had fun, but it was very normal fun. We all got a little bored at times as well. The kids enjoyed their vacation, but I think I enjoyed it more than they did.

I don’t think I failed the family. The simple fact is that I need rest. With the march of age and the weight of responsibility, Aileen and I need it more than the children do. I believe I served them better by taking a few days to not rush around, to not expend a lot of effort and energy, but instead to enjoy deep rest. I believe I can serve my family better now that I have experienced this rest.

Or maybe that is what I tell myself to relieve just a bit of that daddy guilt that still creeps up within.