Ryan Holiday with his two sons, enjoying more of less. (Photo courtesy of the author)

Dads Can’t Have It All Either

You have to choose between doing more for yourself—or being more for your kids.

Parenting is all about discipline. It’s about being strict and firm and unrelenting.

Not with your kids, to be clear. That’s being a disciplinarian.

When I say parenting is all about discipline, I’m talking about the only form that matters: self-discipline. 

There is a story about one of those legendary Beat parties in the early 1960s. Allen Ginsberg was hosting. Jack Kerouac was there holding court. There were drugs and ideas and romance. There was effortless cool and artistic genius on display. The kind of thing a young artist would dream of being invited to, and once in attendance, never wanted to leave. 

Then all of a sudden a twentysomething poet named Diane di Prima got up to do just that, heading out right as things were getting started. The babysitter was waiting, she explained sheepishly.

“Unless you forget about your babysitter,” Keroauc said to her in front of everyone, echoing the famous belief that the stroller in the hallway was the death knell of creativity, “you’re never going to be a writer.” Yet di Prima, not interested in being lectured to by a deadbeat father in the midst of drinking himself to death, left anyway. 

“She believed she wouldn’t have been a writer if she’d stayed. To write and come home on time, she argued, required ‘the same discipline throughout’: a practice of keeping her word,” Julie Phillips writes about di Prima in her fascinating book on creatives and parenting, The Baby on the Fire Escape

Before my two boys, now 4 and 6, were born, a writer gave me similar advice, much more succinctly. “Work, family, scene,” he said. “Pick two.” 

You cannot have it all. You have to choose. 

These choices take discipline. . . constantly. 

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