A Helpful Way to Think About Fatherhood

I would like to share a metaphor that I have been working on to help myself understand my role as a full-time, stay-at-home dad: A good father is a compass.

Invitation to Exploration

A compass is a symbol of movement. Can you even think of a compass without also conjuring thoughts of exploration and adventure? Imagine a compass on a table. It wants to be picked up, doesn’t it? As soon as it is in your hand, the needle is in motion.

“Let’s go” it seems to say.

“Where to next?”

“This way!”

A compass doesn’t even have to call you to move forward. It is, after all, a circle. Rotation is in its nature. Perhaps all it wants you to do is to pivot in place, yet in doing so, it reminds you that you are taking in the world from a new perspective.

I want to kindle my children’s curiosity. I want to stir in them a concentrated quest for clarity.

Tool for Navigation

However lost you may feel, with a compass in hand, you need never be wholly ignorant about where you are. If you check it, you will know something about the next step that you take.

And the one after that.

And the one after that.

Add enough steps and enough knowledge and you are on your way to competence. You can speak of your path with confidence and authority. You can see the arc from novice to journeyman to master.

I want my children to see me as someone they can consult to get information that will be both relevant and useful for the situations they encounter along their journeys through life.

Choose Your Own Adventure

There are points on a compass. You may step toward them or away from them, but to get anywhere, you must take a step. The compass reminds you that progress is voluntary.

If you “follow” a compass, it is because it happens to be in alignment with your goals. If it isn’t pointing in your direction, you put it in our pocket and take it along with you.

I want my children to see me as a willing leader, as someone that will step forward and point the way, but I also want them to know that I will be happy to follow them when they head off course. I want to be a guide that will join them in the call to find out what is over there.

Sense of Security

A compass is a reminder that the world is not perfectly inscrutable. Uncertainty is everywhere, but that doesn’t mean that we must endlessly grope our way through a featureless void. We can find familiar contours wherever we go.

I want my children to see me as a stable point of reference that they can return to when they feel lost. I want them to associate me with a framework that may not always provide answers but that can be used to form questions so that doubt may be channeled into curiosity rather than fear.

Which Way is North

There are many ways to describe a place. There are even many ways to define directions: up, down, left, right, above, below. A compass is powerful because of its broad applicability. It is in direct contact with the Earth’s magnetic field which means you can go anywhere on Earth and talk about the same thing. You can reverse left and right just by looking in a mirror.

Still, it is remarkably easy to lose track of your bearings; hence, the compass.

I want my children to trust me to provide an accurate orientation toward well-being and flourishing.


To sum it all up, I want my children to see me as someone who will help get them where they want to go, and also someone they will want to have with them when they get there.

So what about you? Do you find this analogy compelling? Do you have your own metaphor that helps you make sense of what it means to be a parent? Let us know in the comments.

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