The Bad-Ass Dad Manifesto

When were your peak years? 

When you think about your best times, what age are you? Maybe you’re 18 and killing it on the race track. Maybe you’re 22 and able to stay out doing *fun* things all night. Maybe you’re 29 and able to work a super-productive day, come home and energetically play with some young ‘uns, then pay some amorous attention to your significant other well into the night.

How many of us think that our peak years are today? Who thinks that right now, whatever age we are, we are at our best?

The usual assumption is that our peak years are bygone–especially once we roll “over the hill”, as I have. 

But… You could be at your best now. And it doesn’t matter what age you are.

I’m in my mid-40s. I’m physically the strongest I’ve ever been. I’m accomplishing more with each day than I ever have before. I’m energized. And I’m feeling closer to my spouse of 20 years and 12-year old child than I have at any point previous.

I decided this was going to be my peak. And next year is going to peak on top of it. And then the following… you get the idea.

I feel I’m at my peak–and I’m 44. The following principles are what inspire my ability to keep peaking.

Stagnation is decline

A refusal to move towards anything is equivalent to going backwards. If relationships feel stuck, or if your fitness isn’t what once was…or if you mourn the loss of free time you felt you had before kids… each day we passively sit by and say “it is what is” we are taking steps backward. 

Everything can incrementally improve: our relationships, our fitnesses, our finances… everything. And I’ve found that as long as I’m working towards improvement in those areas, I feel content. It’s only when I say “it is what it is” and remain stagnant and stuck in an unsatisfactory situation that I feel discontent.

Improvement is always possible

“It is what it is” is never how it should be, nor how it could be. You have the agency and authority to alter how “it is.” You can change your fitness habits: you can get up and move and eat a little less. You can change your relationships: you can invest a little more attention into those you hold most dear.

It’s not too late now. Your body, your loved ones and your bank account are all waiting for you to make positive improvements. They all will respond to your attention. You’re not too old to improve. You’re not too lost to improve. You’re not too stuck to improve.

Take one step and see what happens. You’ll likely feel really good for having taken that step–then you’ll look forward to taking another.

Relationships are most important

Even severe introverts are still, at heart, social creatures. We don’t exist well without relationships. We need them to thrive. Most of us feel some kind of strong pull to take care of our important relationships–spouse to spouse, parent to child, child to parent.

In order to love others well, we must practice love on ourselves. Like it or not, we generally treat others how we treat ourselves. Practice grace and generosity with yourself, you’re more likely to do the same to others. Treat yourself critically and doubtfully, you’re likely to project those doubts and criticisms onto others as well.

Overcoming self-doubt and criticism is like a weight-lifting routine. One does not achieve a 300-pound squat the first day of training. We need to build muscle first. In the same way, one does not defeat self-doubt and criticism on day one. We defeat it one day at a time by constantly strengthening our resolve and noting our achievements. By doing so, you will become a self-encourager–and self-encouragers become encouragers of others.

Whether it’s your lack of energy, your shame in holding too much debt, or your weakening longing for nostalgia: deal with the things that keep you locked up in self-loathing or despair and you’ll enrich your most important relationships.

Make it fun

Life is a game. That may sound frivolous. But games are endeavors in which individuals or teams work towards goals using skill while participating in certain structures and rules. I think those same principles apply to life: there are rules; we work cooperatively; skills help; and we’re seeking rewards. Therefore, we can take the aspects we find so engaging in games of play and apply them to the game of life.

What makes games of play so engaging? Three things: an ability to achieve, rewards, and advancement. Give yourself goals you can achieve. Reward yourself for achieving them. Then advance on to new goals and rewards… You will find yourself having fun and feeling accomplished while winning at life.

I use a simple points and levels system. I set my goals: like getting out of debt. Then I identify the steps necessary for achieving that goal: balancing my budget, paying off extra on a credit card, putting money in savings, etc… When I participate in one of those steps, I award myself points. When I get enough points, I level up and earn a reward that helps me towards my goal–like a budget tracking app or some budgeted spending money.

Related post

Stay open

This manifesto is ever-evolving. The point is that we are always works in progress–we’re never done! Remember, stagnation is decline. Keep moving and you’ll keep growing. Now, let’s make this our best year yet!

Fitness for middle-aged men

Tired of not being able to do the physical stuff you used to be able to do? Wanting to ditch the muffin top? Tired of being tired?

Published by RyanDunn

Ryan Dunn has a bunch of certificates on his desk. A few are awards for content production and marketing. Another marks his ordination as a minister. One says he’s earned a BA in English from the University of Iowa. The certificate next to that says he earned an MA in Christian Practice from Duke (with honors!). Ryan is most proud, though, of the things he’s created: The Compass Podcast, some deep content on, a series of practical spiritual advice videos, a long-lasting marriage, and fantastic little boy. (He enjoyed A LOT of help on all of those projects, especially the last two.)

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