The question came quietly from the back seat of the car as I drove my oldest daughter home from her first day at school: “Daddy, when I grow up, what should I become?” That was a long time ago, when I realised I had to be a futurist Dad: Amy is now a young adult graduate home owner who’s found a life partner. But I can remember it like it happened yesterday.
The reason it is so clear is that it was a moment of clarity for me. I live in the future. As a futurist, strategy consultant and scenario planner, I spend most of my days trying to anticipate what tomorrow’s world will look like and how to prepare for it today. I had just never thought to apply that lens – and the toolkit of skills that come along with it – to my parenting. And yet, that’s exactly what parents need to be: futurists.
Looking into the future with your child
When your child starts school, they’re embarking on an education journey that needs to prepare them for the world two decades in the future. When 5-year old Amy asked what careers might be available for her in the mid 2020s, I am not sure I’d have been able to predict “social media campaign manager”, website developer” or “diversity consultant” would even be paid jobs, let alone things she’s already done.
But that’s what her question was asking. And that’s what you have to do all the time as a parent, as you navigate choices for school, options for activities and curate your child’s interests, observations and experiences.
I am sure you know that futurists can’t predict the future. No-one can. What we do is to build the capacity to see and understand the meaning and implications of change (that’s an actual definition from leading futurist academic, Prof. Jim Dator). To put it more plainly, we help people to rethink and unlearn how they see the world, and re-imagine what’s possible in the future.
Parents need to be futurists. As fathers, we need to rethink, unlearn and re-imagine.
How the world is evolving
This is not the world of our fathers anymore, is it? Let me explain with an example: I remember my grandfather showing off a watch he had been given at work after many decades of long service. “Get a good job in a big company and stay there” was sage advice for his generation. But that world ended a long time ago.
Maybe your father told you that before you followed your passions you should get a university degree, “so you have something to fall back on”. I don’t think that was great advice for my generation of futurist dads, and certainly isn’t valid for our children’s world. It’s even less useful to push your children into professional university degrees if that’s not where their heart lies.
Rethink, Unlearn and Re-Imagine to become a Futurist Dad
As we contemplate this Father’s Day, coming at the tail end of Covid – the most disruptive period of our lifetimes – and looking ahead into the rest of the turbulent 2020s with all the change the next decade or so will bring to our lives and work, let me suggest three specific things you can rethink, unlearn and re-imagine:
- What success looks like
I know that some Moms are very competitive, but let’s be honest, children are more likely to feel pressure to succeed from the Dads. It’s the way most men are built. But what does “success” actually mean? When the school our daughters attended decided to stop giving marks for certain subjects in Grades 8 and 9, I remember an English teacher gently asking me what criteria I thought she should use to tell a child that her original poem was worth 65% rather than 80%. She had a point.
There are some times that the metrics of test results and sports team honours are useful, but mainly we can do better than that as fathers. Success should be about our children – and ourselves – becoming better people, judged by our character and actions, not by outdated metrics.
- There’s no such thing as “normal”
We are desperate for our children to be “normal”. The first thing most fathers do at the birth of a child is count fingers and toes – ten of each equals “normal”. But the more your children grow up, the more it should be obvious that there is no such thing. We should go as far as banishing the word from our vocabulary. Your child is your child – there’s no-one quite like them in the whole world. Instead of wishing they could conform to “normal”, why not look for everything that makes them unique, and celebrate that?
- What it means to be a Dad
We need to rethink, unlearn and re-imagine what fathers look like. Real Dads can cry, and hug their kids, and show emotion. Real Dads can play rugby and netball, and support football and synchronised swimming. Real Dads start as captains, turn into coaches, develop into team mates and end up as friends with their kids. Real Dads are teachers and learners. Real Dads are unlearners and futurist dads.
How do you answer your children’s questions about the future? Is it advice from our future world, or do you rely on echoes and memories of the past? Happy Father’s Day to you as you imagine a bright, bold and brave new world for yourself and your family. Happy Futurist Dad Day!
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