3 Things a Former Navy SEAL Says Fathers Are Missing

February 15, 2019 Updated: February 15, 2019


This was the third shot my sniper student had missed. One more missed shot and he was done. Failed out of sniper school and sent back to his SEAL platoon.

I noticed that his body position was slightly off despite my earlier coaching to correct it. The final round cracked off, nothing else was heard—no sound of lead impacting steel at a distance and no “HIT” uttered by the spotter; nothing but the sound of what was now a former sniper student’s head landing on the shooting mat below him.

“Man, I think there’s something wrong with my gun,” he said as he lifted his head back up.  

“Here, let me see,” I said as I grabbed his gun and settled into a shooting position next to him.

Bang. Tink.

Bang. Tink.

I used his gun to hit the targets, no problem.

“Body position, dude.” I stood back up. “I told you that yesterday.”

“You gotta be kidding me,” he exhaled as he stood up, frustrated in anger and ready to fight.  

It’s not a stretch to see how this wannabe sniper is much like many of the wannabe men out there. His failure didn’t occur when his bullet whizzed past the target, but months before, when he allowed the subtleties of the desired skill to become his blind spots.  

Without awareness, his failure quickly turned into frustration. And without understanding, his frustration converted into anger, as he realized that what was supposed to work, the obvious and simple approach to things, no longer could.

Our fathers before us lived in a much less dynamic and competitive time than we do. In today’s world, using the simplistic and common sense strategies that were handed down to us is like trying to bring a sword and shield to the modern battlefield. It just isn’t going to work anymore.

Today we’re watching persistent failure cause an epidemic of frustration and anger in an entire generation of men. They’re becoming fearful and starting to play “I think there’s something wrong with my gun” on repeat in their heads, when in reality, there is nothing wrong with them. They’ve just yet to become aware of all of the new and persistent subtleties of manhood in today’s world.

We’re just like the sniper that allowed his blind spots to cause him to miss his target. Reflecting as a parent, I can see the same happening to fathers nowadays.

Here are some of the most impactful blind spots that I’ve been watching take men out, and lessons you can take from it:

1. Lead From the Front

“I’m just going to put my head down and sacrifice everything to make money for my family” is the anthem of today’s man. He forfeited both the game of life as well as his ability to move or inspire his son.

Too many guys are miserable nowadays. They’ve slid into the rabbit hole and now actually believe their job is to sacrifice rather than live. Their health, fun, friends, fitness, and more have been burned at the altar in the name of their children. They tell themselves that sacrifice is a noble pursuit when, in reality, they are no longer living, or never have lived, a life worth following.  

As a teenager, all I ever wanted to be was a SEAL. By the time I got to BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL), I was a young parent with two children. While in training, I allowed someone to convince me that being a father was merely about providing money for my family and being home every day. Doped up with an antiquated notion of fatherhood and a dash of guilt, I woke up the next day and quit SEAL training.

A year later, I found myself working in insurance and transitioning from one agency to another. I, too, was now living a life focused on sacrifice, rather than intention.  

In pursuit of my new definition of success, I landed myself in a place called Foster City, a very unique place that also happens to be my hometown. It sits on the shores of the San Francisco Bay and is filled with lagoons and marked by street signs that attest to its nautical nature.  

Walking in one of the parks where I grew up playing, I caught the scent of the salt air blowing off the bay. In a flash, I was reminded of SEAL training. A thought entered my head that would alter my trajectory and redefine who I would become and what I would do for the rest of my life.

“Man, one of the first things I’m showing my children how to do is to give up on their dreams”. Right then, I determined that was an unacceptable example, so I re-joined the Navy, reapplied for SEAL training, graduated, and served as a Navy SEAL for 10 years.  

Since then, it’s been my mission to break the dangerous notion that fatherhood is about running yourself into the ground to provide for your family. Does your family need money? Yes, they do, but that’s just half of the job. They also need us to get out in front and figure out how to live a good life in this new dynamic and competitive world so that we can show them how to do the same.  

Men are turning out frustrated, angry, and confused because they’re suffering and don’t know how to stop it. They need leaders to redefine manhood and show them how to get it all done. They need their fathers to lead from the front.  

2. The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday

The only easy day was yesterday” is a famous and timeless saying that guides a SEAL through his day. It reminds a SEAL that you must earn your trident every day and never rest on your past accomplishments—to wake up every day and do it all again. It’s a calling to always choose challenge over comfort. It’s how a man lives when he takes seriously his role in the life of others.  

For whatever reason, I’ve found that the mission of most men is comfort. They do what they do not to impact the world, but to accomplish the weakest mission possible, called “retirement.” The purpose of their work is to not have to work. I mean, really think about that. Your son is watching you work for the sole purpose of not working anymore; we wonder why we have an entire generation of boys getting lost.  

Guess what happens when I take men out of their comfort zone, having them lock arms with one another, march into the ocean, and lie down in the cold water until they enter a collective state of uncontrollable shivering? They come alive.

Men are not meant to reside in comfort. We’re built to accomplish big missions, go on quests, maintain the hunt, and be in a constant state of challenge. Challenge is both the purpose and source of life. Without it, we rot. Living means going after something that brings us out of our comfort zone.

3. Adventure

Perhaps one of the most important and most commonly sacrificed things in a man’s life is fun and adventure. “Play” is a critical component to performance, and it’s the blind spot that’s thwarting the intentions of the hard-working man.

Fun and adventure have a very pragmatic purpose. They allow you to access a state of “flow.” You know, that thing you used to regularly dip into as a child. The feeling of complete immersion in something, where you lose time and don’t care about eating or even sleeping. It not only allows our brains to reset, but it puts us in a state of creativity that allows us to better formulate the thinking, strategies, and tactics that we need to design and execute to complete our missions. Without it, we fail to compete, and if we fail to compete, we lose.

It’s extremely counterintuitive, but to go forward faster requires us to regularly slow down. It’s kind of like if you were on a very long hike with a large pack on your back—you’d have to stop more frequently and take better care of yourself than if you were on a short hike without any weight. So, if you have a lot of responsibilities (weight) in life and are after something big (climbing a tall mountain), you’d better be stopping and resetting more often. If you don’t, you’re simply never going to get anything big accomplished.

Former U.S. Navy SEAL Eric Davis is one of the premier sniper instructors in the U.S. military. He is the author of “Raising Men: Lessons Navy SEALs Learned From Their Training and Taught to Their Sons.” His work can be found on his website EricDavis215.com