Lessons on Fatherhood

Welcome to the positive corner of the internet. Today is a special edition of The Pump Club in honor of Father’s Day....

Welcome to the positive corner of the internet. Today is a special edition of The Pump Club in honor of Father’s Day. If you were forwarded this message, you can get the free daily email here.

In July, my father passed away after a 3-year battle with brain cancer. Today is my first Father’s Day without him, and I wanted to celebrate him the best way I know how.

My dad was one of the most genuine people I ever met. After he passed, Arnold gave me the honor of sharing my dad’s story with all of you. “Sentenced to life” is my favorite thing I’ve written in more than 20 years as an author and journalist.

My dad is gone, but he continues to live on in his lessons, love, and the things I saw that I wanted to copy — and change. Arnold says that the people you lose are never gone; they stay with you. And this grows more true with every passing day.

The first time I worked out after my dad’s passing, the sound of Tom Petty — one of my dad’s favorite artists — broke me. The lyrics “You wreck me, baby” have never been more accurate. When my dad was going through his cancer treatment, I would write different messages in chalk on the concrete floor of my home gym. I trained hard for him. I can still see the outlines of “for dad” — although the chalk has long faded. It still leaves me in tears.

Crying is easy for me, but it hasn’t always been welcomed.

Growing up, kids called me every name in the book and mocked me for my “softer side.” I won’t pretend it was easy, but it was also the most genuine version of myself, and over time, that reality brought me peace.

Some guys resolve conflict by asking others to step outside to settle their differences. I’m the guy who will offer a hug. 

Some guys need to assert dominance by demeaning those who appear less. But putting others down is not the way to lift yourself up.

Some guys need to boast about their successes, but I prefer to prove myself over and over again. 

These are all lessons I learned from my dad. He worked his ass off and did so quietly. He succeeded in the shadows.

Masculinity doesn’t necessitate making noise or tearing people down. It’s about leaving a positive impact that can be felt, and not being afraid to challenge boundaries that hold back progress.

Even if that means doing things your hero wouldn’t do.

My dad was my hero, but he was not a crier. Until his final week, I saw my dad cry three times in my forty-plus years on earth. The first time was more than ten years ago after my dad woke from a coma resulting from a ski accident. I didn’t see him cry again until I gave him a copy of my most recent book, which included a special dedication to him. And then again when his father passed a few months before he did. 

My dad’s rivalry with emotion left me conflicted. Rather than seeing what would happen if I challenged my dad’s boundaries, I complied with them. And that resulted in a relationship where he only experienced a modified version of myself. As an adult, I was OK showing emotion and vulnerability, but when I was around him, I tended to lean into stubbornness and toughness — traits I certainly possess and ones I saw my dad display easily. But that was just a part of me. I often wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t let my dad dictate the emotional side of our relationship.

Over the years, my dad and I had differences. Despite those differences, I respected my dad and was proud he was my father. I loved him so much. I told him that all the time. But I also spent many years wondering how we could be closer. Looking back, I never gave him much chance to connect with the most authentic version of myself. Maybe it was fear. Maybe it was stubbornness. But, eventually, I saw what I was missing. 

About two weeks before he passed away, I kissed my dad on the forehead for the first time. I was so nervous to display that type of affection for him my whole life. And when it happened, I remember looking into my father’s graying eyes and seeing compassion and love. 

I left hospice that day, sat in my car, and cried. I knew his end was near. But my tears were about a beginning that came far too late.

My dad was a great man. My favorite characteristics came from him — loyalty, honor, integrity, commitment, passion, and intensity. But there’s one more — being genuine — that I’ve always tried to embody. And yet, that seemingly disappeared in the presence of the man who instilled it in me. 

For my dad’s generation, being a man meant holding your emotions inside, and I respect that. But like Arnold said when he accepted the LA Holocaust Museum Award: Each new generation offers the opportunity for change.

I’ve chosen to wear my heart on my sleeve to honor my dad because, as stubborn as he was, he loved disruptors. My sons will never see me bottle up my love, my grief, or my joy.

The sadness of death is that there’s a finality. The beauty of death is that it makes every day valuable, and those we love can live on if we choose to honor them. 

Many think masculinity is about dominance, strength, and success. However, those are characteristics and outcomes that are a byproduct of behaviors. It’s not innate or owned by a gender. 

Being a good man and father isn’t about living up to some preconceived notion of masculinity. Instead, it’s about living with purpose. And that means giving your all, challenging the boundaries of discomfort, celebrating your wins, embracing vulnerability, accepting your weakness, and owning your losses.

And to be clear, this isn’t even about being a man. These are all human qualities that can benefit us all.

I lost my dad. And when I had the time, I missed the opportunity to make the most of our relationship. That’s my failure to live with. 

But it also makes it my responsibility to share that lesson with all of you.

If my mistakes can help you live with more intention, that can help you become the most genuine version of yourself. And I can’t think of many things that would make my dad more proud. 

To all the dads out there, Happy Father’s Day. May you find a way to be your most genuine self, love your family, and lift up those around you. -AB

Adam Bornstein is editor-in-chief of Arnold’s Pump Club, proud father and husband, and the author of You Can’t Screw This Up.

Publisher: Arnold Schwarzenegger

Editors-in-chief: Adam Bornstein and Daniel Ketchell