Why Dads Should Be “On Or Gone”

One of the hardest things about fatherhood is the pressure to be “on” all the time.

Often, on a family road trip or while running errands with the kids, I’ll feel my emotional energy glug glug glugging down the drain, and before I know it, my tank is empty.

I’ve got nothing left to give and I know it’s just a matter of time before I “go zombie”… before I become physically present but emotionally absent to my family.

Maybe you can relate.

There’s no shame in having a dry well.

It says nothing about your character or your love for your family. All it means is you have a logistical problem: your tank is empty and you need to fill it up.

The way you do that is by leaving the scene to go do the things that replenish you.

Things like…

* taking a nap
* hitting the gym
* playing some music
* reading a book
* shooting hoops

WHATEVER it is that tops you up and gives you back your mojo.

You know all this.

BUT if you’re like me, you often fight the obvious and try to “gut it out.”

You soldier through… until you hit the breaking point, go into “drill sergeant” mode, start yelling at your kids, and basically become absolutely miserable to be around.

You know what works MUCH better?

Adopting a personal “on or gone” policy.

In other words, resolve to be either emotionally present or physically absent to your family. ON or GONE. Those are your two modes. That’s it.

When you feel your well going dry, turn to your wife and say:

“Babe, I’m on edge. I’m tapped out. You and the kids deserve my best… so I’m gonna go [INSERT ACTIVITY HERE] and come back recharged, okay?”

That’s you taking care of yourself, so you can take better care of your family.

And who could argue with that?


Bryan Ward is the founder of Third Way Man and author of the LIT Black Paper


  1. I like this. When “on” be 100 percent. Quit faking it and doing the minimum. What are you saving strength for? Old age?

  2. Charlie Bingham says

    I guess I do take issue with this. I prefer honesty. I honestly tell my daughter when I’m tired (scared, angry, confused, lonely, insert foible) and I narrate to her how I’m dealing with it…what works and what doesn’t.

    Our kids need to know that it is more important to be self aware, than it is to be “ON” all the time.

    Maybe try a different definition of responsible parent?

  3. Jim Jones says

    “who could argue with that?”

    .. Besides your wife? Who may also be emotionally drained from handling small toddlers all day? I feel like you’re glossing over the logistics here or coordinating when you can and cannot be present. If only it were as easy as holding your hand up and saying “I need a break”.

    • Bryan Ward says

      The key is extend this same gift to her. If you both make it a priority… it is absolutely possible to live and parent this way.

      • Isn’t it funny, where there are reasons why this couldn’t work or reasons why it’s too difficult then if we are totally self aware we would know that this is the exact reason why we need to stop and take note. This isn’t about specifically following the suggestion to the letter, it is about waking up and using the suggestion as a guide to take self responsibility for ourselves and turning up in our best way possible. Wake up everyone and stop needing to be spoon fed every step of the way and then complain because you don’t think it will work…use your inner knowing, we all have it, some are just being too lazy.

  4. This excludes an entire population of dads that, for one reason or another, don’t have the option of turning to their wife for a break. Sage advice and great ideas indeed, however what would you recommend for those of us who are in the lone wolf category?

    • Bryan Ward says

      In that situation, it will be harder to execute the idea, but the principle remains the same: look for ways to tap into whatever support network you have to free up that essential renewal time.

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