Transcript #59 – Solo Dad Podcast
Today we interview Matthew Bradley from the Solo Dad Podcast. Matt’s wife passed away when his kids were young, so he’s been solo since then. Matt walks us through his unique approach to parenting and some insights he’s gained through his particular journey.
Different types of self-care
How to deal with the disappointment of not showing up with your best dad self to your kids
How (and why) to avoid comparing yourself to other dads.
Piano Lessons vs. Ballet vs. Baseball. How do you prioritize when your children want to learn something different than you want
Why you need to make the first move in opening up to your dad friends
Like this episode? You can check out more of our Dad Podcasts.
Will Braunstein, A Dad’s Path: Hello, and welcome to another episode of A Dads Path Podcast. I’m Will Braunstein. Today, we’re here with Matthew Bradley from the solo dad podcast, this is going to be a really fun conversation. Matt’s been a single dad for a little bit now more than a little bit and there’s a lot of lessons we’re going to be able to learn both on being a single dad but also that any dad can hopefully learn. Matt, welcome.
Matthew Bradley, Solo Dad Podcast: Will man, it is a pleasure to be here. I really like what you’re doing on A Dad’s Path. I think dads of any walks of life, we can all learn from each other and I think comparison is probably a great downfall of ours, “Oh, they’re doing better or I’m not doing as good or I should do more of this or less of that.” I think that one of the things I’ve learned over time, is that we can always borrow and learn and try to be one of my wife’s favorite phrases is to be better.
Will: I like that. Absolutely, focus on ourselves and that’s all we can do because you don’t know what really is going on in someone else’s world. “Oh, look at their big house and their six nannies and their pool,” and then, “Look at their deb t or look at the– you just don’t know. You don’t know where the priorities are or things like that. I think that’s a great place to start.
Matthew: One of the things I think that I’ve learned so being a single dad and a co-parent for basically 17 of my daughter, older daughter’s 18 years. One of the things I’ve learned too is you’re saying you just don’t know what someone has going on that outwardly may look one way or another. One of the other things too is there’s always a– I don’t know why the word consequences gets a negative connotation, but it shouldn’t.
There’s always consequences to our choices. There’s a guy that looks like he’s about ready to grace the cover of GQ magazine, drives a really cool car, and has way more money in the bank he knows to do with but doesn’t know his daughter’s favorite Rainbow Ruby character, picking some random Netflix show that my daughter watches or Bluey even better, who doesn’t love Bluey? There’s a consequence to that.
It doesn’t make him a better dad or worse that during if you use that as the checklist of who’s your favorite Bluey character, then maybe but the fact that he’s able to retire at 50 and spend all this time with his kids later, maybe that’s it. That’s definitely one of the things that I’ve learned is the comparison is it’s also a thief of joy. I remember hearing that from somewhere too or it just takes all the joy out of it and happiness out of something you may have. Maybe you’re not working 60 hours a week so that you can coach your kids little league game, that’s all right, if you don’t have the newest car on the block, enjoy the game with the kid.
Will: That’s right, it’s prioritization, where you have your values and deathbed test. If you’re sitting in your rocking chair, or you’re on your deathbed and you’re old and you look back and you don’t have time, you might have money, you might have everything else hopefully you have the love of your family, right?
Will: That’s something you prioritize.
Matthew: Maybe not maybe that’s not what’s important to you. There’s a great thing that’s been bouncing around where it’s like, “If I give you a million dollars, but say you’re going to die tomorrow, do you want the million dollars?” I’ve seen this done a couple of different ways and the answer is absolutely not, no, I don’t want the– “Okay, fine. I’m just going to give you a million dollars, but you won’t die tomorrow but you’ll have no friends.” “No, I can’t– What?” “You won’t have your health.” And basically, it gets down to list where all of sudden you realize time, family, friends, experiences, maybe seventh, eighth, ninth on the list starts to become money and it’s more of that where we prioritize.
Now, money does allow access to things. If you have no money, you can’t feed your kids, you can’t put a roof over their head that’s different but I think that it helps when you start comparing because there’s a cost and consequence to a lot of the things that we try to achieve, and that the deathbed one’s a good one. It’s hard to do when you’re looking at that really nice new car. [laughs]
Will: It’s hard to do that in the moment too, but that’s a lot of what I found parenting is or the challenge is trying to live in that moment. Live in the parenting moment, not let your mind wander and not try and have too many expectations or comparisons like you’re saying. Same thing on the parenting front, not just getting away from the money side, just, “Why is their kids so well behaved? Why is their kid X, Y or Z, they’re playing six sports and they’re doing music lessons and my child watches TV an hour every day.” All of it. I had that conversation last night with a friend and they were like, “Will, I didn’t know you played a little bit of music. Are you having your son do piano lessons?”
My wife and I were just like, “Not really.” Felt a little guilty, I should speak for myself that was my feeling. Then our friend who asked that said, “There is no greater way to eliminate the love of my child than to force him to go to piano lessons every week.”
It sounds like there is a trade-off there.
Matthew: It is. You know, what’s interesting is too is as a parent and I like I say trying to be in the moment, I was just talking to someone earlier today is raising a kid is the world’s longest, and I said con but that’s not the right word, longest project plan ever because you won’t see those results, 18, 20, 24 years now you get little snippets, when your kids little, and someone says like, “They’re so well behaved, or they’re so polite.”
You get little feedback but it isn’t until they get out in the real world like my 18-year-old is now being a freshman that you start hearing other adults talk about your young adult on how pleasant they are, or how considerate they are, or– insert whatever mannerism or behavior that you want to espouse into your children. Some people are like, “Your kid is so motivated. He’s just crushing it.” Obviously, that came from somewhere inside their family unit, you’re like, “That’s what we’re looking for. We want someone that kicks butt and takes names. That’s great. Nothing wrong with that.”
Or if you have someone that you like, “Your kid is so empathetic and is always willing to listen to people.” That’s what we’re trying but you don’t get to see that. You have to stay the course and ask yourself if this what you want and then kids always like to make an interesting by going like, if you force your kid piano lessons or like, “You know what I’m really good at dad that I enjoy throwing a ball.” You’re like, “Yes but we want you to play music.” “But I’m me.”
We can mold them but at some point, they start to go like, “But this is my thing.” I really hoped my older child wanted to play golf because I’m a golfer, that never happened. [laughs] She did all the things I didn’t want to do. She ran cross country, swam distance and run distance track and I’m like, “I run to the refrigerator. I’m not really built for running.” I think also, like you said, staying present and all those different things that we want for our kids to give them exposure sometimes the motivation comes from what we didn’t have, like, “Oh I really want my kid to be well-read because I did a really bad job of reading or I want my kid to have all those sports opportunities that I didn’t have for whatever reason I wasn’t good. My parents didn’t have the money, whatever we didn’t have available where I lived,” whatever it is.
What’s funny is sometimes we forget that at certain point, we can ask our child and say, “Hey, is this what you’re getting out of it?” My late wife and I, little teaser there, we had a conversation one time, it’s like, “When do you press the accelerator on the kid? If your kids throwing 92 miles an hour in second grade, you might not want them to quit baseball or softball.” You might be like, “You have a talent and we need to see how far you’re going to take this talent.” You also don’t want them to burn out and never do it again.
How many times has it happen where you have the best piano player, they’re just killing it playing different musical instruments up until 18 and then they get out of their parents’ house and they never want to play again? There’s that delicate balancing act and I think that as a parent– that goes to being present, and then knowing your kid too. I think that’s another one.
Will: I love that a lot. It’s an art, it’s not a science at all. For me, there are a couple things that are non-negotiables in terms of learning I’ve talked about swimming, my kids needs to learn how to swim. That’s a life need– learn to ride a bike. Those sorts of things.
Matthew: Yes, the other one I find is too is, if you don’t have either the patience or proficiency, whichever you want to put first to teach your kid to thing, then find a way to outsource it. I knew, because where we live there’s a lot of pools and they also don’t have to have gates, they can have hard tops, but they’re not required to have gates. Our neighbors are very open and friendly with using their pools. Honestly, since the only way I could teach a person how to swim is to say don’t drown, maybe I need to [chuckles] get my daughters swimming lessons. “Float.” I don’t what’s wrong because I know how to swim I just– and so she’s been getting swimming lessons.
I think if you’re somebody that could teach your kid to swim, and you have the patience to do so and have the right expectations that this is my child and maybe I need to teach a little differently than I would somebody else and that’s great but I agree that there are definite– One of the big ones for us in our house is manners. I don’t want to go too far down the rabbit hole of today’s society versus yesteryear or whatever but I can’t come into your house and just grab a soda in the refrigerator, slam it down and leave it on the counter.
There’s rudimentary manners and a lot of people are like, “Well, that’s just common knowledge or it’s common sense or it’s common courtesy.” It’s only common because someone taught it to you when you’re young. We say, please, we say thank you, we say– not in a– you need to be respectful to dad, which we would like but it’s more of a because when you go into the world, you will be able to get a little more out of life if you’re a little more pleasant. If you have this baseline of, “Hey, you’ve noticed when I say please and thank you, things seem to be easier for me.”
That’s another one where it’s that staying the course and then the hard one is when the kids get old enough to talk back to you they go, “Well you didn’t say please when you asked for it.”I’m like, “Oh man.”
Will: That’s where I was going to go. What role do you find modeling has in some of those because kids don’t listen, they watch.
Matthew: Again, I’ll tease a little bit my late wife, one thing that I’ve repeated as a mantra, and she only got to be a mom for a little bit was the say-do ratio, especially in parenting. If you say it, you need to do it because especially when they’re younger, those little nuggets remember everything.
If you’re a new dad, it’s going to happen, if you’re a current dad, it’s already happened to you. You say you’re going to take them to McDonald’s on a Tuesday, guess what happens on Wednesday? [laughs] They wake up, “You said we’re going to McDonald’s yesterday, you lied,” and you’re like, “Oh man, I got to be–” I think modeling one of the things around modeling is you want to show them. Post-pandemic I do a little more working at home than I used to, I want my child to have a healthy body that they can do the things they like to do in.
I don’t ask her to work out next to me, but I want her to see me doing it. Like, “Hey, I’m going to hop on the treadmill, you can play or whatever, but just stay down–” because that modeling is one sideof modeling. They see you doing the thing, the work that it takes to be able to run fast or pick up something heavy or whatever the goal is. Then the other modeling is showing it in the world, so not interrupting, which every kid I think struggles with at some point and we’re dealing with that right now in our house.
A little trick if someone wants to borrow this rather than putting your hand up or your finger and you can’t see me because it’s a do like a hook and horns and my friend called it, they got it from their daycare, quiet coyote, and then you kiss with the little head when it’s time for them to talk. It’s not like it doesn’t feel as quite as hard as the finger in the hand because I didn’t like that– and I don’t ever want to tell my daughter to shush either because you be as loud and proud as you want kiddo, it’s a hard world, but anyway.
A little coyote, the interrupting is like we do as adults, active listening. I’ve told her before, I said, you notice how I let grandma talk or you notice how I let them finish their story, and then I had something funny to say, I didn’t interrupt. It’s not that my point’s not important, but we want other people to have a chance to say what they’re going to say.
Now she’s only five and there’s times I’ve quiet coyote eaters, I’m showing you it again and she’s forgotten what she’s going to say. She’s a very smart five-year-old and she gets real mad. [laughs] “You made me wait too long again, I can’t remember what I was going to say.” I’m like, “Well, you’re doing the pee pee dance so maybe it’s got to go potty,” but anyway. I think modeling, there’s two different ways to model it. You can actually have them physically watch you do it and then when you do it, you tell them that is being patient and being courteous and being kind.
Then the other thing I need to do a better job of is when you see your kid model the behavior you want, you tell them that’s the sort of behavior I like and choose your words carefully. We love them unconditionally behavior or not the behavior is separate from our love for them. I like that behavior, I don’t like that behavior, but I still love you. I’ve actually changed my words like she’s sharing the other day and I was like, don’t say I love the behavior because I love you. I really like how you shared that toy with your friend earlier. That was a really nice thing to do, and by the way, I still love you. That’s something I just picked up.
Will: That’s a great distinction.
Matthew: It’s really good.
Will: No, I like that a lot. Maybe this would be a good opportunity you’ve alluded to your wife, your ex-wife, and I think our listeners would appreciate hearing that story a little bit and how you ended up being a solo dad.
Matthew: I’m in this interesting subcategory of people, I don’t know how many of us are out there. Actually, my dad passed away when I was 11 from a heart attack. I was raised just by my mom. She never remarried, never dated, so me and my younger brother, since age 11, I am very blessed to have a very good co-parenting relationship as I mentioned with the mother of my older child, she’s now 18.
Then I met my late wife Marcy and we had one daughter unfortunately my wife was diagnosed with stage four colorectal cancer and passed away September 22nd, 2018. I’m a widower or widow. Since I’ve done this single dad thing, which I find very different and nuanced than being a solo dad, I make it my life’s mission to make the distinction between the two because there are some very big differences between whether you’re divorced or you were fortunate enough and blessed enough to have a kid and it didn’t work out or whatever.
They’re very different in the path and how you parent and the stresses and anxieties that come along with being a solo parent versus a single parent. Again, not comparing, no one wins when we compare. I think we mentioned on my own podcast, which I’ll say with that for a second.
Becoming a solo dad, I realized there wasn’t a lot of male voices talking about being widowed unless they were age-inappropriate for me. The joke I would tell is I’d find this great podcast about being a widow or widower and it’d be like, “On today’s episode we’re going to talk to Bob who learns how to heat up soup after his wife died of 65 years.” I’m like, “You’re not helping me, I don’t know– I appreciate Bob, but I need something else.”
Will: That’s not where you were.
Matthew: I’ll listen to that in 30 years from now, but right now I need some like how do you raise a kid and grieve and mourn the loss and all of that. We are very fortunate, you’ve bumped a bunch of us together and we created the Solo Dad Podcast, which is dads who have lost a partner spouse or if there’s a reason why their partner or spouse is just no longer in the picture at all, whether it’s their–
I’m hoping to get someone on who’s incarcerated or the mom, unfortunately, struggles with addiction or anything else where the other parent as a solo dad isn’t in the picture because it just shares a little bit what we go through as you’re doing with the dad’s path and letting people know that you’re not crazy or here’s a tip that works for me, or this is what it feels like at night alone on the couch and Game of Thrones come on. I’m like, no, I can’t watch that because it’s going to make me cry or whatever.
I’ve done both and I was raised by one. I became a solo dad and I believe you and I connected because I was looking for dad information. I have two daughters, gosh, bless or whatever your deity is that if you have a son, I don’t know what that’s like and I’m not sure I ever want to know. We have a lot of princess bubble parties and things don’t break and listen, I have plenty of friends who have sons, but I’m like, “Oh that’s a whole different animal than I’m not aware of.” As a guy, I’m like, “Shouldn’t I? No, it’s fine.”
I’m always looking for other dads that are active in trying to find ways to be, you’re talking about more present or tricks or tips or even just hearing the struggle like you just mentioned that you play a musical instrument, you played piano, I think you said, and just that little twins that I’m sure you wrestle with are like, “Gosh, it sure would be nice if my kid played the instrument,” or my example, like, “Gosh, it sure would be nice if my kid wanted to play golf,” but sometimes that doesn’t work itself out, and then you look at these dads that I’ll just be way over the top in general, have this amazing relationship playing baseball with their son and you’re like, “Oh, I want me to be that one day, but unfortunately my son knows how to play the violin. I guess that’s what we’re going to do.”
Again, there’s that comparison where it doesn’t always work out and shouldn’t work out, our projection of our future is, and as I’ve learned, none of us are promised tomorrow life can be really interesting and fleeting. Being more, such a buzzy word, mindful of like you’re saying the present and here and now with a little idea of where you want to point the ship, I think is really important as a dad in today’s society, regardless of where you land on whatever spectrum you believe in, I think it’s still important to be present.
I’m not a hunter, but man, I got some friends that are, and I see the pictures they post and their son gets their first hunt, or they go fishing, and I’m like, “How cool is that that you and your kiddo are bonded in this experience?” Just because it’s not for me doesn’t mean that someone else can’t find that connection with their kid and stuff, and vice versa, the kid finds something with their parent.
Will: That’s totally right on. It’s the expectation, unfair expectation in projection like you’re saying, “Hey, my kids should do X, Y, or Z,” and it’s easy to look at others, but before I forget, thank you for sharing about what you went through and being a solo dad. One thing that I think that we all feel is a lack of community sometimes, and moms I would generalize, I’ve seen do a better job of that than dads. You said as you went through this, you immediately found two other guys and you started your podcast and you have this, I don’t know if that’s your community, but I’d love you to talk about the role of community how you found some community, not for your kids necessarily for you, to help you.
Matthew: That’s actually– I’m going to butcher this and I need to wordsmith it better, but I tend to agree with what you just said, that women tend to create community and then go do a thing. “Hey, do you all want to go shopping on Saturday?” “Yes,” and then they form their shopping group or, “Hey, do you–?” Guys do the thing, “Hey, let’s rebuild this engine together, and then we have the community.”
It’s almost like women can start with community and do a thing. I feel like guys have to do a thing in order– like, “Let’s be fans of the same football team,” and then we have the community. I’m sure women will maybe debate, discuss, dissect that if they want. That’s just my own viewpoint. What happened was, like I said, I didn’t hear my type of voice talking about, there’s plenty of things about divorce dads and single dads, but that’s very different. Not to take it away because there’s information in there that’s good and useful, but it’s just very different.
You have this grief aspect of loss and death and whether your kids are 18 or 8 or 8 weeks or whatever the story is, there’s a nuance in there. I really wanted to be able to find guys that if you’re having a rough day and there are plenty of widow and widow groups, I encourage anybody, if you are widow or widower, there’s plenty of groups on Facebook or wherever you want to find them, they do an amazing job, they’re co-ed.
As we all know, there are times based on your gender that you want a safe space to be able to say something, and you want them to get it on a baseline level. We also have a Facebook group, it’s the Solo Dad Podcast Facebook group, and find us on all the other social places. If you want to post something like you’re having a really hard time or whatever just like the dad’s path, someone that will get it, someone that is like-minded, that understands there’s a nuance of loss there. Whether it’s, “I just went on my first date and I feel like I’m cheating on my dead wife,” or, “I don’t know how to change a diaper,” and it’s like, “That’s all right, neither did I.”
We formed it. Women typically outlive men. It’s not the norm, statistically speaking, to be under the age of 50 with kids and widowed, and so being such a small group, I akin it to very much like anyone who served in the military, in the sense of there’s an instant we have a commonality. If two old army guys get together, even though they didn’t serve in the same time, same place, they get it. They went to the same boot camp, they traveled the Pacific Rim, they ate the same food. They get it. There’s just this immediate relatability. Since there was nothing out there like it, I decided to create it. [laughs] So here I am.
Will: Good for you.
Mathew: Guys, we don’t share our emotions that much. We’re wanting to do better about being open with that stuff in general, I think, and if it’s right for you, that’s good. What I’ve seen is a guy can just jump on that group and post, whether, again, I mentioned first date, or it’s like, “Oh, man, I dropped my–” This actually happen to me. I dropped one of my wife’s coffee cups early on, it shattered, you can’t go buy it again, it’s from a place that doesn’t exist. It’s just this whole moment, and it brings everything back to the front.
If I were to post this on my normal Facebook feed, people would be like– they’d understand but they’d be like, “What? It’s a coffee cup.” They get it. They truly get it on a baseline level, and so it’s like, “Yes, it sucks.” With grief, and you can earmark this one, is sometimes guys are– Well, a lot of times guys, we are fixers. There are times in life, and grief and loss is one of them, there’s nothing to be fixed and you just have to sit in it. It helps to have guys just be like, “Yes, man, I’m right there with you.”
It’s really important, in general, not just with grief, that you find community that supports you emotionally with your goals and aspirations, wherever you can find it. Because I think one of the things that I’m recognizing is, in this day and age, technology is fantastic, and you can find a community. I wish the 200-plus guys that are in the Facebook group and all the people that listen to podcasts lived on my block, but that would be one sad block, so we’re connected virtually. [laughter]
Will: Virtually works, yes. No, you hit the nail on the head, though. You’re talking about a very specific community that’s serving you that didn’t exist before but it’s serving what you need. That’s a huge part of it. You had to create yours, which is a big challenge. For a lot of us, on a day-to-day basis dad’s, speaking for myself, I’ll just talk about myself for a second here, I had a really challenging two weeks, as in my wife. My wife immediately got her support group. She immediately reached out to a friend, she had friends coming over, duh, duh, duh, talking.
I was a little jealous, but it was immediately an irrational jealousy. I knew, because I have friends, and it’s just like, “Well, she’s choosing to talk, and I’m not.” I did. I reached out to a bunch of my friends who I hadn’t reached out to in that way before a couple of new ones, saying, “Hey, this is challenging for me right now.” Everyone responded in the same way, different words, but like, “You want to call right now? How can I support you? Let’s jump on something so we can just chat.”
Mathew: That’s awesome.
Will: That’s what so much is where guys, I think, a lot of guys are like, “Hey, my friends don’t open up to me,” my friends don’t duh, duh, duh, or my friends don’t ask me to do this, but it’s the opposite. You have to make that move. When you start making that move, you’re the active one, then you’ll see people respond.
Mathew: That’s fantastic that you did that. I think help is a four-letter word that guys struggle with, especially in the, I’ll call it the softer area of life, like, “I have no problem.” Well, actually, no, maybe even the physical part too. How many times have we lifted something by ourselves that we shouldn’t? “I can pick up this couch?”
Will: Yes, I can do it.
Mathew: You could when you’re 20, but I don’t know if you should be doing that lift with the knees. You’re going to pay for that later. On the softer skills of life, I don’t know if it’s because it’s some vulnerability or opening up about something we don’t know how to do. I think you’re 100% right because I had one of my really– I’m very blessed to have about, say about 10 guys that have been friends of mine for over 20-plus years. I’ve moved around and stuff and it’s just this core group of guys and they’re my guys, not all related necessarily.
One of those 10 guys, I was probably about a year-plus out after my wife passed away. We used to commute dial each other and talk about once a week or whatever. We had for, I don’t know, a month-and-a-half or whatever because we’re in different states and time zones. He called me up and he’s like, “Hey, what’s going on?” I was like, “Oh, what’s up?” General guy conversation. He goes, “I haven’t heard from you in a while,” vice versa. “You hadn’t picked up my call,” I’m like, “Oh, you know, I got stuff,” and I really didn’t want to go into it.
He finally pestered me enough and I said, “Hey, bud, I don’t want to just get on a call and woe is me and my wife’s dead, and my kids crying, I’m sad, I’m crying on my pillow, I don’t know what to do, it’s hard. I don’t know what I’m doing, and you’re not going to understand.” He goes, “I won’t understand, but I can listen.” I was like, “Damn.” That was a big miss on my part. Those guys, they now do get the call of me going, “Let me tell you what it’s like to have a dead wife.” [laughs]
Will: No, that’s awesome. Good for them and good for you for hearing that.
Mathew: Well, right? It was like, “Wow.” That was his, like you were saying, “No one ever reaches out to me.” I’ve actually said that before in my situation with grief, where I go, “Check your phone the last time you reach out to me,” and then we go back and go, “Check your phone.” I’m like, “Oh, yes, it’s true I haven’t reached out.” Sometimes we forget, yes, it would be nice if we had people reaching out to us right in the minute we needed them to, but like you said, if you were struggling for a couple of weeks or you’re having a tough time, and then how great is it that the majority of the people that you reach out to say, “Let’s talk it out. Let’s grab a beer. Let’s hop on a Zoom. Let’s– whatever we got to do.”
I’m pretty sure he’s probably going to hear this. My buddy, Ken, who lives up in Canada, who’s on the podcast, we are just going to set up an accountability thing. Even though he’s in Canada, I was like, “You know what, man? That’d be really helpful. I would really like you to just nudge me once a week and vice versa, and let’s do this thing.” Because I’m in my own little bubble from time to time and it’s good to have that. I think that’s fantastic.
I was going to say, the vulnerability side of asking for help or finding that community, it’s hard, guy or girl, if you open yourself up and someone– We’ll just, say, makes fun of you. I don’t know, or any other word you use right now. Well, then, they’re not part of your community. If they belittle you. Now, we can all make fun of each other in different ways, but if you’re really in a moment of really need and they’re like, “You want to talk about your feelings?” You’re like, “Okay.” You’re going to move down the dial list of, “Now, you’re just my friend, not part of my circle of trust,” if you want to quote the Meet the Parents.
It’s hard, though, because as guys, and I’ll find the link for you, there’s a great article about how many hours it takes to make friends. The problem is, in women, as we get obligated to our spouses, and our kids, and our homes, and our jobs, and then after-school activities for kids, it’s hard time-wise to make new friends. We have to lean back on the older friends, which is experienced here, but trusting somebody new and going like, “Man, I had a rough week,” and you just met them a week ago on the golf course or something. That’s awesome you did that, man. That’s fantastic.
Will: You think I would have learned it by now, right? It’s the old like, “Well, I wish I would have, but now I know.” Now I’ve learned it.
Mathew: That’s fantastic.
Will: I’m just going along those lines, we’re talking to people who you care about to help you, what else do you do in terms of your self-care? Then, how do you balance or prioritize your wants, versus your kids, versus your needs, that sort of thing?
Mathew: I don’t. No. Wow. Self-care is another really great one. We’re actually working on something inside the group about that. To steal whoever coined it because I think it’s great, self-care is not selfish. What’s the other one I love? An empty cup can’t pour out. If you don’t have anything inside of you, you just not. There’s a great book, The Five Languages of Love, regardless of your religious beliefs, it’s a great little book to read. It takes you probably less than two nights. You can take a quiz. We all express and fill our love back up, and our joy, and our energy, a little bit different ways.
You have to find what works for you and then you have to just not have as much guilt around– There’s a video of a guy’s wife turning off his PlayStation, and you literally can hear him breaking. He’s like, “It’s all I have.” He looks like he’s a fit guy. His house looks nice. I’m like, “Well, you’re doing all right, but if this is your release, then explain to your spouse and your partner what it means to you.” I did when my wife was alive. I do to my support people now, like my mom and the babysitter.
I’m like, “I need to go do this,” because I won’t show up for my daughter, who’s number one in my life right now, and other people in my life if I don’t– If you have things to hunt, or shoot firearms, or hit golf balls, or hike, or climb, or playing the piano, or try craft beer, if it’s not hurting anyone else and it’s not doing you harm, and it makes you feel good and you show up better for the next thing that happens in your life, then you need to clearly communicate what that does for you.
Because sometimes, I’ll just use one that may have a negative connotation, going to microbrews to drink beers with the guys looks like you’re just avoiding your responsibility. Then you say, “Well, the only way I can get these three other guys together to talk about everything from taxes, to raising kids, to how bad the–” insert your football team is wherever you are location-wise because The Bears are terrible.
Will: Broncos. Broncos are too.
Mathew: Denver, whoever, college whatever it is, that’s what happens for us guys. Actually, Ben on the podcast one time was talking about, he has a really good group of friends. He’s out there in one of the suburbs of Denver and they had sat and there’s two other guys all have kids. They were sitting and talking for about 25 minutes and finally one of them goes like, “That’s great. How are you doing?” They were talking about all their kids’ stuff and they’re like, “No, let’s talk about what’s going on with you man.”
I think sometimes we get– I don’t want to say superficial, but talking about kids is important but we forget that sometimes when the kids are running around or we’re doing the sport obligation or we’re at piano lessons recital, we’re not talking. You and I will– If we go to our kids’ piano recital, I’m not asking how you’re doing, we’re talking about our kid or whatever so if you have that thing that’s self-care. I think the biggest important thing is to clearly communicate what that thing does for you and why to your partner and then come to an understanding of how often is enough, how much is too much, and how little is too little.
Will: I love that. The balance and– Understanding yourself, that’s what you were saying, how it affects you and that’s where we could go into things like working out. My wife notices when I don’t work out, not because I’m flabbier than usual but because I’m wound up. She’s like, “What’s going on? Have you worked–” or sleep. If you don’t get enough sleep or if you drink too much– for me personally, if I drink too much and then the next morning I’m not as good of a dad and it’s not– For me, it’s not judging it as much, but just noticing and saying, “Okay, I made that decision. How do I feel about it? What’s the next decision I want to make as I move forward?”
Matthew: I think that self-care can have so many different levels to it. You also still have to care for your relationship with your person who’s your partner, but that partner’s also your spouse, so they’re also your friend, they’re also the person you’re co-parenting with and you have to feed all of those as well. Just dating your wife if you will, isn’t enough to also be like, “Hey, we need to sit down and talk about how we parent.” Those are two different self-caring that relationship.
Matthew: I really feel that also sometimes our self-care looks really lonely. Again, I’ll just use this because it seems to be a nice example. If a guy spends two hours every weekend rebuilding a car and she doesn’t understand like, “Well, you’re just out in the garage.” It’s like, “No, I’m alone with my thoughts. It’s my quiet time. It’s a bonding experience I remember with my dad.”
If he can clearly articulate all of a sudden this thing that looks like– I know someone one time was saying like, “Oh, he mows the lawn just to get away from the kids.” Maybe, but is that the worst thing in the world? If that’s his 90 minutes a week, that’s a two for oner and he’s like, I like to mow the lawn because it’s a sense of accomplishment, but it also just gives me 90 minutes to just listen to the Dad’s Path podcast and drink a cold beer afterwards.
Will: That’s right.
Matthew: I believe a lot of it also has to do. You have to know it. You have to know your truth around it and be able to share it and then when you talk about balance, so balance for me in the solo dad world, because as a single dad, my balance was every other weekend I was by myself, I could do whatever I wanted. I played mountains all day and do laundry all night. It was great and then the next weekend I was all attendative to my daughter.
Now, as a solo parent or as a 24-hour parent as yourself, as we are parents all the time, with no breaks ever forever and ever, I now found the balance of, and I will repeat what you said, sleep is so important. I’m 45, soon to be 46 and I’ve realized I can’t just power through multiple days with bad sleep. That ship is sailed for me. I’m going to show up in bad ways. It’s not going to be good so sleep’s important, but the balance part for me comes more in the– and I just talked to somebody about this.
The balance comes from when I do my thing to not allow guilt to rob me of refilling of my joy and my love and my energy. I mentioned a couple of times, I’m a golfer. I don’t feel guilty about working out, so maybe it’s inside of an hour. I don’t feel bad. I’m a golfer. Golf takes like four and a half hours and I find a lot of zen in it and whatever. I’ve now gotten to the point where I’m like, it’s not so much I’ve deserved this, so I’ve earned it.
It’s more of I need to do this so that when I come back home, I’m in the state of mind that I want to be in and I show up the way because I’m four years out for my wife’s death. The first few years I couldn’t give any time to myself because I just felt like I need to be around my kid. I have to be around my kid. If I take any time away from her, it’s selfish and I can’t do that. If you’re married in a healthy relationship or if you’re a single dad, you have to do those things because–
And like you said, whether it’s drinking too much, I’m not getting enough sleep or too much golf or whatever, you’re going to show up not the way you want to. You’re going to either bark at your kid or you’re going to be on your phone trying to find a funny cat video to make you smile or whatever it is. That’s the balance is you. You have to, again, like you’re saying owning and being authentic with knowing what it really means to you because if that then you’re like, “Oh, it’s okay for me to go do this thing. A little bit I’ve earned it. I’ve done all these things. I’m supposed to do my obligations, but if I don’t do it, I can’t finish this marathon that is parenting and is being a dad and is being a spouse.”
I think guys– Because I think other people, hopefully not your spouse, but maybe so but I think if you explain to them what it meant, like my wife, even when she was alive, I remember one time I went golfing and I’m like, :Are you sure? We have a lot of things going on.” She goes, “Yes, you don’t do anything for yourself. I understand why playing in this fun little scramble event is important. You’re with some friends, you’re with some neighbors, you have a couple of beers, it’s a warm summer afternoon, yes, we’ll see you tonight for dinner,” because I expressed to her early on what golf meant to me so I think that that’s one of the things, again guys, classically, sometimes we don’t do a great job of talking about our emotions or just clearly communicating.
Even if it’s going back to playing a video game, you’re like, “Hey babe, I really just want to level up this lineman so my Bears team doesn’t suck anymore. Do you give me one hour on Xbox or whatever because it just makes me feel good?” and they also forget that sometimes we play online and we’re actually chatting to friends. Maybe you never–
Will: That’s the other side, right?
Matthew: Yes, and so another community you can find. I think when you say balance, it’s more about knowing why you need to go do the thing because you’re not out of balance. It’s what I found and I’m doing a much better job of doing that in year four of being a solo dad than I did in the first because there was– I took my first trip away from my kid and it was again, St Golf Central, sorry, everybody and the guy who organized the trip– I had to leave a day early. Ironically I popped into Denver on the way out but anyway, I had to leave a day early and I happened to be with the guy organized this trip. It’s a big trip that turned into a thing years ago and I got invited.
Anyway, we get done and as you do within an environment of golf, take your hat off and shake your hand. I’m at nearly tears, Will, because I didn’t realize how bad I needed some days away just with a bunch of guys who doing a thing, a lot of fun, beautiful scenery and some of these guys are older, so some of them have widowed or they have widowed friends and he totally understood.
I was like– his name’s Bill actually. I go, “Bill, I had no idea how bad I needed this.” So I would encourage people, don’t get to that point to where you’re nearly tears, playing Maddens on a Friday night with your friends. Maybe do a little rough.
Will: That’s probably a great note for us to end on, Matt. We could be chatting for another hour or two or I could. Just I love what you’re saying and your message and again, it’s not just about being a solo dad. A lot of your lessons you’ve had to learn, which probably a lot more challenging being a solo dad but for those of us who are not in that world, and again, you can’t compare but your message is right on. I think for any dad, I’ve been listening to your podcast, it’s not just for solo dads, but if you want to hear more, you can hear Matt on the Solo Dad podcast or if you want to join the community, as he said, he is on Facebook and all the social areas and I hope you guys enjoyed this was great. Thanks for coming Matt.
Matthew: Will, thanks for having me, and again, love what you’re doing on the dad’s path and look forward to– here we go– crossing paths at some point.
Will: Hey, there we go. I like it. Take care, Matt. I’ll see you.