This Is The Most Impressive Form of Greatness

It would be wonderful if these quotes didn’t exist, but they do. They come from the children of great men. From Albert Einstein’s son. From Nelson Mandela’s daughter. From kids whose dads were presidents or kings or rockstars or CEOs. They go something like this: “You were there for so many people as part of your job, but you were never there for me” or “You were the best in the world at everything you did…except for fatherhood.”

It’s heartbreaking. Obviously the world needed Nelson Mandela. It needed Winston Churchill. It needed Albert Einstein. What they did was hard. It required sacrifice. It came at the expense of their families—it had to. But did it have to come at such a high cost?

Churchill had plenty of time to paint and gamble, but not to be a more present father? John F. Kennedy didn’t choose to be assassinated—that time was stolen from him and his family—but he did choose to sneak off and have those affairs. He stole that from them. There is no excuse. 

Especially when you consider the counter examples. We’ve talked before about how De Gaulle, at the height of his power, was often unreachable even by his closest aides because he knew that the presidency was temporary, and family was permanent. We’ve talked about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, despite all the demands on her time, blocking out non-negotiable time for her daughter. We’ve talked about the line from Theodore Roosevelt about how the many kinds of success in life lose their impressiveness when compared to doing a good job of raising a household of children. He also gave this advice to his son Teddy Jr. when Teddy was expecting his own first child: “Home, wife, children—they are what really count in life. I have heartily enjoyed many things; the Presidency, my success as a soldier, a writer, a big game hunter and explorer; but all of them put together are not for one moment to be weighed in the balance when compared with the joy I have known with your mother and all of you.”

Being important, having a calling, achieving success, liberating France as De Gaulle did, being the first female Jewish justice on the Supreme Court as Ginsburg was, being the President or a decorated soldier or a celebrated writer—these things are impressive. But there’s lots of great artists and generals and lawyers and presidents and CEOs. There’s only two people, however, who have brought your kid into the world. You can’t let yourself forget that. That as important as you might be to some people out there in the world, there are one or two or three or four to whom you are the entire world. And being there for them, being the best at being Dad—there is nothing more impressive. 

P.S. You may have already heard but over at Daily Stoic on Monday, we announced what is the longest and most in depth course we’ve ever built, The Daily Stoic Leadership Challenge: Ancient Wisdom For Modern Leaders. We want to invite you to check it out because what is a parent but a leader? This challenge features more than 60 emails, packed with the best wisdom from the Stoics on what it takes to become a great leader. We also assembled some of today’s great men and women—military generals and pioneering businesswomen and CEOs of professional sports teams and moms and dads—for a weekly Leadership Deep Dive. Ryan Holiday will interview a guest he selected specifically for their expertise on a core aspect of leadership, and then they will take questions from course participants. As someone who sees being a father as his most important leadership job, you can be sure that Ryan will be extracting insights from his guests on how they’ve all managed to be impressive in the world but more impressive in their households. You can learn more at


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