Digital Dads Exposed is a monthly interview series that highlights the unique perspectives on manhood and fatherhood held by those we at Digital Dads have come across in our travels.
This month we have the multi-talented Jonathan Fields who I have yet to meet in person, but have a lot of respect for based on what I’ve read and heard. His newest book, Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt Into Fuel for Brilliance, comes out in September and I can’t wait to read it. Based in New York, he is a serial entrepreneur and speaker. His latest venture TribalAuthor.com just launched and is filled with tons of helpful information for authors.
What is your perspective on what it means to be a man living in todays world?
Wow, big question! Honest answer – I can speak to my own experience, but I don’t feel qualified to say what it means to be a man living in today’s word. My challenges, aspirations, circumstances and experiences are so unique to the way I live my life. What I can share is what it means for me to be a man in my own life. And, for me, it’s a bit of a whacky blend of deep convention and deep unconvention.
On the traditional side, I feel like I need to be a champion for my wife and daughter, honest, hard-working, loving, compassionate and lead by example. On the unconventional side, I’ve chosen to earn my living as an entrepreneur and author, which means constantly embracing the unknown and taking risks, trusting in my drive, competence and sense of mission to provide for my family.
I’ve also made a very conscious choice to build my living around my ability to be unusually present in my family’s life, and that’s meant leaving serious money and opportunity on the table more than once. But it’s also allowed me to be there far more than a conventional path allows most husbands and dads. That’s everything to me. I can always find a way to make more money, can’t do that with time
Growing up, what has influenced you the most and shaped the man that you are today?
My dad is a professor who’s been researching human cognition going on 50 years. He could retire anytime…but why? He loves what he does, why would he stop. My mom has been an artisan most of her life, dancing, potting, jewelry-making, beading. So I was raised in a household that valued education and knowledge, but also had a healthy dose of hippy freak to it.
There’s no doubt these experiences have led me to look at the world a bit differently, then exploit that unusual viewpoint to create art, business, solutions and experiences. That’s pretty cool. Though it did take a bunch of years for me to begin to see how me being different was an asset. Truth is, I’m still working on that shift.
While I had plenty of friends, I also spent a lot of time alone. Either painting under a single light bulb in a corner of our basement, building things or just walking around on the beach, which was at the end of my road. Probably also explains why I love being around water, even if I don’t have a huge pull to be in it. The coast is where I feel a sense of homecoming.
In the moments you are able to pause and reflect, what activity do you normally gravitate towards?
For many years, painting, playing guitar, and outdoor activities like mountain biking, hiking, yoga and trail-running. Unfortunately, a series of injuries have made some of the more aggressive approaches to exercise more of a challenge over the last 5 years, so I’ve been exploring gentler approaches to movement. And while I’ve practiced meditation on and off and even taught it for years, over the last year, it’s become a central part of my daily practice, too, along with writing.
What is your parental philosophy?
Old school when it comes to respect and work ethic, but not overly protective…and downright mushy when it comes to being close with my daughter. Manners are important. Kindness is key. Compassion is the seat of connection.
I also don’t expect my daughter to do as I say, not as I do. So I do my best to walk the walk and let her learn more by example, than by instruction. And I believe in giving my daughter the room to challenge herself, to work hard, sometimes really hard, to make decisions and either enjoy the rewards of good ones or endure the consequences of bad ones. And also to appreciate the fact that the quest itself can be the real reward.
I often wonder if we do a disservice to kids when we try to constantly protect them from trying and failing. When we step in and keep saving them from a project or choice going bad. Because when we do that, they never get a real understanding of the relationship between choice, action and consequence.
And, maybe more importantly, we take from them the amazing experience of having to work hard to figure something out, trying, failing, trying again, coming closer, trying yet again, then finally figuring out a way to succeed…of their own accord.
That experience, while tough, is so incredibly empowering. There’s an amazing sense of accomplishment and confidence that comes from challenging and rising above adversity, especially when it doesn’t come easily. It cultivates creativity, problem-solving, persistence, self-reliance and confidence in a way that can never happen when we stop the train the moment we see it going off the rails and set if gently back in the station for them.
Sometimes our desire to keep our kids from laboring and making mistakes takes from them some of the greatest gifts we could give then, had we just allowed them the leeway to work it out themselves.
What do you appreciate the most about being a father?
Hugs, kisses, sharing in my daughter’s life, insights, experiences. Unconditional love. The way it’s created opportunities for my wife and I to deepen our own connection. Honestly, everything.
What is your favorite activity (or activities) to do with your children?
We like to build stuff. My daughter’s always been really dexterous and had an unusual ability to operate and see things in 3-dimensions from the time she was itty-bitty. My wife would kill me for revealing this, but when she was 4 or 5 years old, her favorite show was Pimp My Ride.
She loves building stuff and seeing stuff built. We also like to paint side-by-side on easels, too. Last summer, we all spent a month in Hong Kong, Bali, Australia and California, so now we all pretty much all have the bug to travel, too. Oh, and then there’s another favorite activity…nothing. Just hanging out, lying on the couch and meandering our way through conversation.
What is the best way for a man and father to impart wisdom to his children?
Live the wisdom you want your child to adopt. Talk alone doesn’t cut it. Be present. Treasure your spouse or partner, too, and let your kids experience that.
What piece of technology impacts you most during the day (and is that impact positive or negative)?
As a writer, blogger and digital entrepreneur, I’m pretty connected to my laptop, though my iPhone has been making a serious run at it lately. The impact can swing from very positive to very negative, so I try to keep a practice of checking in on myself regularly and asking if having my technology around is limiting my ability to be present.
I’ve also turned off all push notifications on everything, nothing comes to me until I go looking for it. And, to the chagrin of most people who know me, I rarely answer my phone either until I’m ready, because I often work in strategic bursts and dont’ want to interrupt my creative flow (at least that’s what I tell them, lol).
How does technology shape the way you raise and influence your children?
Technology influences her in two ways. She sees me using it, so it’s a regular part of her life. And I am around all the time to have conversations about how to use technology in a way that lets her do what she wants to do, but also keeps her life relatively private. She’s also become a daily user and is amazing at figuring out how to accomplish what she wants.
My daughter also sees me interacting with people all over the world all the time via twitter, Skype, Facebook and my blog. She’s come to expect that I’ll know a bunch of people pretty much anywhere we travel in the world, and she’s usually right. So, she sees it as a tool not just to get information, but to create connections. Skype, in particular, has also been great because it lets her stay in touch with friends on the other side of the world and with me when I travel solo.
How do you think men’s roles will change in the future?
I have no idea. But, at least in the circles I tend to play in these days (which are admittedly unconventional), I see more men placing a higher value on spending time with people they can’t get enough of (especially family and friends) and working to find ways to do things that not only pay the bills, but make them come alive. Not too long along, that was considered folly, something to be gotten over as you move into the role of grown-up. Especially for men.
Interesting enough, I see more and more dads struggling with what for decades many considered the classic working-mother’s dilemma — we want the best of both worlds, to have a great career and be a great, involved parent and spouse — and as dads, we don’t really know how the hell to deal with it. Especially because society still largely wants to keep us in the “do your job, you get to live when you retire” box.
Some great insights here! I really can’t wait to meet Jonathan in person and if you haven’t checked out any of his stuff yet you really should. Stay tuned for a book review for sure as I know as soon as I get a copy I’m going to read it!! Thanks for your time Jonathan.
/// Digital Dads Exposed returns next month with more unique and interesting perspectives on manhood and fatherhood. Is there someone you would like to see featured? send us an email.