Fatherhood forces many men to KonMari their lives. We look at how we’ve constructed our personal world and prepare to trim the fat, slicing away so that life is lean enough to handle the task of raising children. It’s hard but necessary. We cut down on activities that took us away from our families too much; we stop seeing that friend who was a blast, but whose particular breed of decision making didn’t mesh with our life anymore. We trim and tuck.
Bad habits constantly need to be interrogated, too. Those that have been retained as well as those that have been built. Playing video games occasionally? Totally fine! Playing video games so much that you’re ignoring your family? Not great at all. Much can be said about other habits, too, both big and small. Right now, especially since the stress of life during COVID has certainly created an uptick of bad habits, it’s a good time to reassess. Because, with every bad habit comes room for growth and self-improvement.
Hearing from those who have seen positive results is always a kick in the ass. So we asked a dozen dads: What is the bad habit you gave up that’s made you a better father? Answers ranged from dialing down screen time and news watching to cutting out the porn watching and procrastination. Changing their habits, these fathers said, strengthened their relationships with their families, and reminded them they have the power to resist temptation. Here’s what they gave up to gain back.
1. Screen Time
“It’s something we all struggle with, but I’ve become particularly addicted to my phone since last year. It started with actual necessity – checking work emails and stuff like that. Then I got a few games. Then I fell down some Reddit holes. And before I knew it, I was glued to my phone. The turning point was when my daughter told me I could actually see how much screen time I log each day, and each week. I don’t even want to share the numbers, but they were enough to shock me back to reality. You just don’t realize what you’re doing when you’re swiping and tapping. Luckily, my daughter also showed me how I can set limits on all of the apps I use, so I’m much more present these days.” – Rudy, 38, California
2. The News
“Leading up to the election, I was neck deep in the news all the time. It became an obsession, and all it did was stress me out. But I felt like I had to keep learning as much as I could, as fast as I could. I felt like if I knew so much about X, Y, and Z, it would change the outcome of the election. It was completely irrational, and kind of pathetic. I’m embarrassed to say that I really only snapped out of it on Election Day, after it was mostly over. I don’t want to say it wouldn’t have mattered who won, but just the thought of it being over was a huge weight off of my shoulders. My wife and son were incredibly patient with me and my anxiety during the whole thing, and I’m so glad I’m not that person anymore. I feel closer to them, instead of CNN and Fox News.” – Tom, 39, Ohio
“I didn’t give up smoking completely, but I’ve cut way, way back on how much I smoke. I never smoked in front of the kids, but my hits usually seep into the next day. So, I found myself extra groggy during our morning routines, during breakfast, and just in general for the early part of the day. I don’t know if I missed any ‘milestones’, but I finally realized I needed to cut back when my daughter referenced something from a previous night that I genuinely couldn’t remember. Like, no recollection at all. It felt a little scary, to be honest. My wife smokes, too. It’s a great stress reliever for both of us. But I’ve definitely enjoyed waking up refreshed and attentive instead of half asleep.” – John, 37, New York
4. Stress Eating
“Once COVID hit, and we were on lockdown, I gave myself permission to stress eat. I’m sure everyone justified it their own way, and we all know people who’ve put on weight during the pandemic for that reason. My vices were Chinese food, microwave soft pretzels, and Skittles. Since last May-ish, I’d gained about 25 lbs before I realized I was essentially eating myself to death. I had no energy. I couldn’t concentrate. I couldn’t pay attention to the kids, or my wife. So, my New Year’s Resolution has been to cut back on eating shit, and try to recapture some of that lost energy. So far, I’m doing good, and my family has been very supportive. Fingers crossed.” – Ken, 41, New Jersey
“I think the general pace of life sort of screeched to a halt over this past year. I still had responsibilities, but it was almost like there were an abundance of free passes for not going places, or checking off stuff from the To Do list. There was always this excuse safety net of, ‘…but we’re in a pandemic!’I wasted a lot of time saying I’d ‘do it tomorrow’. Or the next day. Or the next week. Our family dynamic didn’t change a ton, but I really regret setting that type of an example for my kids. I didn’t have a specific epiphany, but I saw how so many of my friends were doing stuff like home renovations, picking up new hobbies, and even going back to school. Finally it was time to stop being lazy, and start living again.” – Justin, 35, Connecticut
6. Being a Martyr
“I’ve always been a people pleaser. It’s a combination of depression, anxiety, and PTSD. So, I always end up sacrificing my time, energy, and mental health to make sure other people are happy. It’s been a source of struggle between my wife and I since we got married, but it really amplified over the course of the pandemic. Honestly, I had a series of legitimate panic attacks that showed me how much I was hurting my family by not taking care of myself. So I had to dig deep, reset, and learn how to ask for help instead of assuming people only wanted me around because I helped them. My relationship with my wife has improved dramatically, and I think my kids have seen the strength it took to break such a self-destructive habit.” – Aaron, 38, Illinois
7. Hanging Out with My Brother
“Simply put, he’s a bad influence. He shit-talks my job. He makes fun of my wife. He’s not especially nice to our kids. But, you know…he’s my brother. It took me a long time to realize that my blood isn’t necessarily my family anymore, and to acknowledge that he was doing more harm than good by being a part of my story. It wasn’t like a breakup or anything. At least, not at first. I just started being ‘unavailable’ when he would text or want to hang out. He’s not dumb, so he knew something was up. Eventually, he asked me to come clean. I did, and we’ve barely spoken since. My priorities weren’t right for a while, and my family suffered. I’m happy to say that, while I don’t wish ill upon him, we’re better off now that he’s out of my life.” – Jordan, 33, Maryland
8. Biting my nails
“It genuinely upsets my wife. I don’t just nibble on my nails here and there, once or twice. My fingers, at their worst, were basically bloody stumps. I’d done it since I was a kid, and it had almost become part of my identity. Our daughter is six now, so she started noticing how ‘gross’ daddy’s fingers were a while ago. I think her reaction and my wife’s pleas helped me break the habit. She says it’s made her so happy, and I don’t look like Freddy Krueger anymore. So, I’m proud.” – Derrick, 36, Florida
“Also Facebook Marketplace. OfferUp. eBay. Basically anywhere I can fall down a rabbit hole and buy something I don’t need. I make good money, and I have a weakness for kitsch. So, it wasn’t uncommon for me to come home at least once a week with, like, a neon Slush Puppy sign, or a taxidermied beaver. I guess I’m a compulsive shopper. Or, I was a compulsive shopper. I just didn’t go to stores. My wife really got sick of it, and rightly so. It was just nonsense, clutter, and more for us to clean. My kids actually loved most of the stuff, but they were cool when I told them I was going to stop bringing home ‘treasures’ because they’re my treasures.” – Mathew, 34, North Carolina
10. Responding to work emails all the time
“I’ve always had this habit, and the pandemic only made it worse. Being at home normalized the fact that there wasn’t really a workday anymore. So, it became even harder to separate my work self from my self self. I justified it by saying I wasn’t working that much. And I wasn’t. Five or ten minutes here and there really doesn’t add up to a lot of calculated time. But, of course, it was quality over quantity. Maybe I wasn’t physically spending a lot of time distracted, but it definitely seemed that way. My wife and kids never said anything, specifically, but I could tell they were upset. And, honestly, I missed them. Even if we’re just sitting there, chilling out and doing nothing, that’s more important than answering an email at 7pm.” – Chris, 42, California
“I stopped looking at porn because it negatively affected my sex life. It’s a very ‘gateway drug’ type of thing. First it’s nudes. Then videos. Then fetishes. It’s a slippery slope. And, just like all the studies and experts say, it creates unrealistic and unhealthy sexual expectations. Sex with my wife has always been great, but suddenly great wasn’t good enough. And porn is just such a ridiculous measuring stick of how sex is supposed to be. It’s like expecting a real-life fistfight to look like a Jackie Chan movie. We both felt unsatisfied, which was my fault. Not because we didn’t love each other, or weren’t attracted to each other, but because my brain had been warped by all of these unreal projections. It wasn’t fair to me or my wife, and I’m glad I’ve curbed it.” – Pete, 37, South Carolina
“I’m almost embarrassed at how much time I used to spend gaming. It was Animal Crossing, which ended up being both a blessing and a curse and then another blessing. At the start of the pandemic, we got it, and all started having fun with it. That was the first blessing. Then, for whatever reason, I got hooked. I would play for hours every day, and just completely waste time whenever I could. That was the curse. The ‘come to Jesus’ moment happened when my son, who also has an account and a character and everything, started talking to me through the game from a friends house. Remember that episode of Saved By The Bell where Zack has to call his dad on his giant cell phone just to get through to him? It wasn’t that dramatic, but it was the same idea. I realized that I’d been spending more time in my Animal Crossing world than my real world. So I’ve decided to take an indefinite hiatus and try to reconnect with civilization.” – Julian, 38, Pennsylvania