Our 251st Dad in the Limelight is author Lt. Col. Eric Strumpf. I want to thank Eric for being a part of this series. It has been great getting connected with him and now sharing him with all of you.
1) Tell me about yourself, (as well as how you are in the limelight for my readers knowledge)
I am married to a wonderful woman, with whom I have a daughter (3 ½) and two stepsons (17/23). Professionally, I am primarily an officer in the Air Force and have deployed four times for combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq as a navigator on a special operations C-130. I recently authored “For My Daughter: Lessons for Life’s Journey” after being inspired by the birth of my baby girl. I wanted to pass on any lessons I could in a way that guaranteed they would be available to her when she’s ready. Although I have never considered myself “In the limelight,” my book has brought a lot more attention than I’m used to, including a recent interview for the “Daily Press,” consideration for the “Mom’s Choice Award,” and the review by “Dad of Divas”.
2) Tell me about your family
Whoops, see above.
3) What has been the largest challenge you have had in being a father?
Without a doubt it has been what I’d call “bratty behavior management.” Lily is a wonderful and strong-willed child who wants to do almost everything by herself. When things don’t go exactly her way, she often reveals serious “Diva” qualities (whining, tears, tantrums). I believe that I’ve settled upon an approach worth sharing. When these outbursts take place in the home, I simply let her know that she has a choice to make, to either express herself with words or I’ll take her to her room because that kind of behavior should happen in private. I give her a minute to compose herself and carry her, sometimes kicking and screaming, to her room if required. The key is that it’s not a punishment per se, it’s a relocation of bad behavior. She’s free to leave her room the moment she’s ready to behave appropriately in public. This puts her in total control and I’ve found that tantrums are very brief once she’s left to collect herself in private.
Getting my daughter to eat something nutritious is an easy runner up but I have very little to offer with this except SMOOTHIES!
? 4) What advice would you give to other fathers?
Come up with activities that will be remembered as “your things.” In other words, cultivate memories. For example, my daughter and I make either pancakes or waffles together each weekend. We’ve done this since she was about two. I gather up everything we need, then sit her on the counter. She’s learned about recipes, measurements, math, and having a good time with her daddy. There’s a lot of satisfaction for both of us because we’ve made something mommy and the boys can enjoy. I also play fun music in the background, like Michael Jackson and 80’s hits. I do this because it’s fun and I recognize the memory triggering effect that music can have; I want her to remember these moments as good times someday. We also have “Lily/daddy days” or “expeditions,” which is a way of building excitement around going and doing little things together, like grabbing some ice cream or going to a museum.
? 5) Seeing that you (or your position) are in the limelight, how have you come to balance parenthood and outside life? If you are currently not in the limelight per se, please still answer this in regards to how you balance parenthood and outside life.
Finding balance is obviously hard…it could easily have been the largest challenge I’ve faced. Frankly, spending time with my wife on something resembling a “date” has been extremely limited. I have the greatest room for improvement there. The only answer, I believe, is the one every father already knows: You just have to make time. As for writing my book, having a full time job while working on a masters and raising a family made it beyond difficult. It really wasn’t until I put my masters on hold that I was able to carve out the time to write by using my vacation days in blocks of two to four days at a time. Fortunately, I have a job that gives me 30 vacation days per year, and you can carry 60, so I was uniquely positioned to make this happen. My wife was also supportive and freed me up to leave the home and work out of a coffee shop. That’s the one tip I’d offer, removing yourself from the home to work on something personal helps to protect that effort from the distractions of family needs, home repairs, etc.
6) What have you learned from the fathers that you have interacted with?
That I’m not alone…we all struggle to find the right balance so we can do our best for our families without losing ourselves, which would be no good for anyone. Also, on a solemn note, I’ve lost too many friends and colleagues over the past ten years and those losses have impressed upon me a profound sense of life’s fragility. I don’t take time for granted. I don’t assume that my daughter and I will have the perfect opportunity to have important conversations, the ones that I owe her. From that sense of urgency, along with the inspiration behind the words of course, you get “For My Daughter.”
7) What else would you share regarding your experiences as a father thus far?
I often feel like I could be doing better, like I’m falling short of giving my daughter my best. But, I also realize that the best any father can do is commit to continuously improving because we can all do better. The greatest thing I think I can give my daughter is my time. It doesn’t always work out the way I’d like – she falls asleep just as we’re about to do something I’ve planned or bad behavior gets in the way – but time spent together is money in the bank. Similar to banking, I believe it’s very difficult to make up for not making deposits along the way. So, I’m committed to not letting other ambitions, professional or otherwise, keep me from the relationship I want my daughter and I to share.
8) What have been the most memorable experiences that you have had thus far as a parent??
It’s the little things, like making pancakes. Also, I love the memories of taking a day off just to spend with my daughter. We lived in the UK for most of her life and would hop on a train with her stroller to spend a day seeing and experiencing things in nearby Cambridge.
If you have any questions for Eric, please leave a comment here and I will make sure that he gets them so that he may be able to respond!