The kids were out of control and so were the bills, my relationship with my wife felt strained, and I honestly didn’t think I could handle the stress at work anymore. I’ll never forget the day it all seemed to come crashing together. It looked like an ugly self-portrait, an American Gothic with me holding a pitchfork next to an unhappy spouse, the family farm up in flames. For a moment, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to engage or run away.
I wasn’t literally going to pack a suitcase or anything. But I was tempted to “check out.” Maybe retreat into my phone or suddenly start a new project that would give me an excuse to be away more. There have been days where I’ve been tempted to disengage or give in.
On the other hand, there are days when the father in me is a roaring bear. I’m ready to fight for my family, to guard the culture in our home, to provide, to lead, to bring the joy. And I think this sense of “fight” is more natural to a father; maybe it’s the male version of the “maternal instinct.” Every challenge is a choice, to fight or to flee, and the fathers I admire choose to stay and engage, to be a force for good.
Fight or flight?
Maybe all dads experience, at one point or another, fight-or-flight mode. There are countless stressful situations—a baby’s looming due date, the moment you realize that your old life is over, seeing your wife struggle with post-partum depression, hearing that your son is being bullied at school, worrying about losing your job, not being able to pay the mortgage—that ignite a man either to fight the threat or to flee to safety.
We’ve all heard the famous saying, “life is 10% what happens and 90% how you react to it.” Fight-or-flight mode evolved as a survival mechanism, enabling dads to react quickly to life- threatening situations: “If you so much as touch my kid, I will kill you!” Over time, the bear killer became a breadwinner, but the old instincts are still there. Men still love politics, hunting, building things, fixing things, finding things, and generally fighting a good fight.
Yet our culture faces a crisis of fatherhood. The divorce rates, the number of children born out of wedlock, the stories of abuse or neglect or the rise of inner-city gangs, Hollywood and higher education’s scorn of all things male—none of this is news to you. Where have all the bear-hunters-turned-father and breadwinners gone?
The good news is, they’re everywhere, they’re just working behind the scenes—working to provide for their families, to guard the culture of their homes, to have a positive impact in the world. And I want to find those men and learn from them. Don’t you? I want to learn from them because as challenging as fatherhood can be I don’t ever want to tap out. This is the vocation to which God has called me—and it’s beautiful and challenging and profoundly rewarding.
There is always a choice
That day in the garage I realized that not fighting for my family was actually a form of flight. It’s throwing in the towel—retreating into your phone, getting lost in hobbies, fleeing to the office or to the bar, not asking your wife for forgiveness, tolerating your children’s bad behavior, not listening and not speaking up, choosing the easy path. You’re not fighting for your family or bringing them to higher ground; you’re just looking out for Number One. No matter what the battle is, the story of a dad in flight always ends with, “And the bugle sounded a retreat.”
Many dads feel, at one point or another, the primal instinct to run away from the demands of family life. They might not literally pack the suitcase, but they’re tempted to “check out,” these days usually into their cell phones. Can you blame them?
When it comes to dadness, the game never ends—there’s no neutral ground on the field, no breather, no room on the bench. But there is always a choice. You can choose to retreat or you can choose to run into the fray, to engage. It’s fight or flight, and the best of us show up—ideally, prepared and with a plan.
But that day I realized that, ultimately, it’s up to me. I knew I wanted to choose engagement—and engagement is always choice.
A decision: the most powerful force on the planet
The most unstoppable force on the planet is a decision. If you’re a father, you already made the decision to get married and have children. But when’s the last time you decided to be great? One of the many things I’ve learned from CEO and Relevant Radio’s success coach Dave Durand is that every decision is actually two decisions:
- Decide to do it
- Decide to be great at it
How many people want an eye doctor who decided to be a doctor but didn’t decide to be great at it? Who wants to drop their car off with a mechanic who decided to be a mechanic but was only so-so? Whatever it is you know you’re meant to do, don’t just decide to do it—decide to be great. Because you’re reading this, I’m assuming you’ve already decided to marry a beautiful woman and have children. But now it’s time to decide to be great.
“People need me now; they’re counting on me.”
“I can’t miss this opportunity.”
“If I don’t act now, I’ll regret it forever.”
This is the way fathers talk. They are on a path of purpose, and men like that don’t have
time for excuses. They don’t even consider bailing on their responsibilities, “cutting people out” of their lives, or divorce. They’ve decided to leave a legacy, and so they get out of their own way and go for it.
I think the best fathers keep “fighting for milk” because they know that fatherhood is more than just a biological fact; it’s a skill that can be developed with effort. It’s a vocation. The goal isn’t a mistake-free dad. The goal is a dad who doesn’t tap out. The goal is a dad who decides to be great. Apply yourself each and every day to becoming a little better. Over a period of time, you will become a lot better.
That’s why the Fight for Milk Apostolate has been formed. No one became an awesome dad by proclamation. He moved toward it by taking a journey. No matter where you are in your journey, anyone can become an even better husband, father, breadwinner, or leader. But in all likelihood, no one has poured into you and blessed you in a very long time…even though it’s your job to pour into others and to bless them!
So Fight for Milk brings men together who are serious about their faith and their vocation to fatherhood to never stop learning and growing. Imagine men who have energy, who believe, who listen, who stay—dads who get it done, and love what they do. Imagine the ways they could impact their families, their parishes, the world.
Will you engage, or will you settle for the status quo? Will you reach for a better life, or will you retreat into your phone? Will you do the bare minimum or will you decide to be great? It’s fight or flight.
I can get overwhelmed by the sheer size of the project—fatherhood includes everything from growing professionally to mastering basic home maintenance to what St. Paul calls “pleasing your wife” (1 Cor. 7:34). But I know that, in the path of holiness, I have what it takes. You have what it takes. The fight for milk is, after all, you’re your vocation.
So let me ask you, what will choosing to be great make possible for you? You could transform your marriage. Make a career pivot. Launch a renewed relationship with your kids. Live an ordinary and yet unforgettable story.
Someday, I’d love to hear the tale.
Learn more at www.fightformilk.com
Tyler Blanski is a Catholic father, the author of An Immovable Feast, and the founder of the Fight for Milk apostolate. He lives in Minnesota with his wife and three children. Learn more at www.fightformilk.com