Good thinking enables us to transform something we don’t know into something we do. To use a spatial metaphor, the challenge is to bring something in the distance a little closer to us without collapsing the distance completely. Performing the miracle of cogitation is likely to leave us feeling a little smug about ourselves, the self-ruling princes of the intellectual realm. But dads know such autonomy is illusory.

My kids—if I can even use the possessive—are a part of me, but I cannot see them if I reduce them to my own reflection. Parenthood entails limitless closeness; all parents see more of their very young children than their kids can see of themselves. Being a dad, though, means perceiving this intimacy from a distance and working to make it outwardly manifest through awkward, conscious effort. This dialectical relationship resembles good thinking, which brings us to the first moment of Dad Theory. Dads guard against losing themselves in particularity, on one hand, and losing themselves in abstraction, on the other. Being a dad means being neither too attached to one’s own concerns to see things clearly, nor too impressed by speculation to see the messiness of real life. To practice Dad Theory is to negotiate with the known unknowns—and to trust that love is a stable point you can use to navigate through ambiguity to reach something solid and sure.

Matt Dinan, “It’s Time for Some Dad Theory”