How to look good on the Internet.

Last Wednesday, my wife and I took our daughters to the new American Girl Doll store in Nashville.

My kids had gift cards from a friend and were eager to snatch a doll from the cold hands of the grave. That sentence took a dark turn but American Girl Doll will “archive” dolls, taking them off the market for years if not forever. My kids have decided this marketing method is akin to killing the doll. Occasionally they will say chilling sentences like this to me: “They killed Samantha but now they brought her back, so she’s like zombie Samantha.”


While we were in the store, I took a photo of my daughters and was going to post it on Instagram. I was planning to caption it with this:

“How do you balance business travel and home life? You take your kids to the American Girl Doll store at 10:45AM on a Wednesday.”

That’s a true idea. I’ve learned in the last two years that part of the key to travel is that when you’re home you need to really be home. I need to take time during the week to be present with my family. Morning daddy/daughter dates, early afternoon adventures and summer Fridays when I stop working early help offset the days I travel. It helps with parenting and it helps with marriage, too.

Right before I posted the photo, I asked myself in the middle of the mall, “Why am I really doing this?”

I wasn’t posting the photo to help other business travelers with an idea that worked for me.

I wasn’t posting the photo to share a fun family moment.

I wasn’t posting the photo so that years later I could dig back through digital archives and remember that time at the store.

I was posting that photo because I wanted strangers to think I was a good dad.

I was posting that photo because I was worried that strangers thought I traveled all the time and was a bad dad.

I might not have vocalized it, but what was really going on in my head was this:

“I bet some people think I’m never home. I post photos of my travels, but not a lot of my home life so it probably feels out of balance. If I share this photo of the American Girl Doll store, maybe people will think I’m a good dad.”

That thought in itself is ridiculous, but here’s where it gets super stupid.

I was ignoring my kids to write a caption for a photo I was sharing in order to convince people I was a good dad.

In summary, I was being a bad dad in real life in order to look like a good dad on social media.

Hitting pause before I hit publish gave me a second to realize a few things.

1. No one online has ever said I’m a bad dad.
2. Even if strangers online said I was a bad dad, who cares? They don’t really know me.
3. Sometimes I miss moments in my attempt to document them.

That third one is a bit of an epidemic right now and the reason is that a significant shift happened in social media a few years ago.

We used to use social media to document moments we experienced. Now we use it to create moments so that we can document them.

We stage our lives because the whole world is a stage.

Instead of being present to a moment with my kids, I tried to use the moment to create a message about who I was as a dad.

Don’t do that.

It’s dumb.

Post lots of photos. Share lots of updates. Have a ton of fun on social media. I love it and will continue to use it in healthy ways. I am going to wear out the Acuff family hashtag, #WickedAwesomeAcuffSummer but only when my motives are honest.

Hit pause before you publish.

Don’t perform for strangers you’ll never meet. Be present to the people you’re actually with.

About Author

Jon Acuff
Jon Acuff


  1. Another important consideration is that people online aren’t actually thinking about you at all–and I don’t mean this in a mean way–but most people are just not going to waste energy to cast a thought or opinion about you or you being a dad. They are generally looking to what’s in it for them. How can they benefit? I always err on the side of “No one is looking anyway” and it’s usually correct!

  2. Amy W

    When I start to worry what other people might think of me I remind myself of a saying I saw recently….”Stop worrying about what other people think of you because they are thinking about themselves and what they are going to have for lunch’.

  3. This is such a good reminder. We need to do life not do social media. We can share that life on social media, but only if it enhances life rather than eclipse it. Love this post.

  4. Thanks for the reminder Jon! I see this all the time at my son’s soccer games. Parents that miss an epic goal because they are updating social media. Many times I have seen the look of disapoinent on a childs face when they look up to say did you see that and all they see thier mom or dads face buried in thier phone.

  5. My daughter’s choir teacher tells the parents to put down the phone, put away the cameras, and just enjoy the music live. The bright screen of even a digital camera is really distracting and the parents aren’t really experiencing the music when they do that. Live in the moment.

  6. This will go down in history as one of my favorite posts of all times by Daddy Acuff! Thanks for keeping it 100 {100%… a,k.a, honest}. That integrity ushers you into hero dad status… without even really shooting for that target. “Keeping it real”… what a great way to live each day! Thanks for the reminder. 😉

  7. Oh my goodness, so much truth here. Thanks for your honesty, Jon. It helps point out something we all need to guard against. And by the way, I bet you’re a terrific dad! 🙂

  8. Chad Kellett

    That post is str8 #Aloe

    Strong work being real

  9. David

    I hear the sentiment, but I feel like it’s become a bit cliche. “Look how present I am because I didn’t take a picture.” I like taking pictures of our family moments because we like to look at them and share them with our remote family, but I don’t watch my kids teeball game through my iPhone, either, so there is a balance. If you took them to American Girl so that you could take a picture to share on social media to prove you were a good dad, to me that’s creating a moment so you can document it. If a moment happens naturally and you want to share that glimpse of your life to folks that see you as a great example of a writer and a family man, I think that’s ok, too. But I’d say the majority of the people that follow you do so because of the example you set and aren’t following you waiting to see you fail as a father. If there are any, then as you said, who cares? Because they won’t.

  10. Jon,
    When you talked about this at Launch Out, my heart nearly exploded in agreement. My word this year is ‘Presence’ and I’m genuinely trying to embrace the moments that are in front of me rather than longing for the ones that aren’t.
    My speech at LO consisted of a confessiin that I wear capes to disguise myself so that people will approve of me in the different arenas in my life. My closing words were, “What God is doing in us is far more important than what He’s doing through us.”
    Thanks for writing this, brother. Great seeing you this weekend as well.

  11. Wow, I totally did this to my son last time we went to the library 😮
    Thanks for this reminder Jon.
    New life goal = be way more awesome in real life than on the internet!

  12. True! So many times we tend to create business out of our family events. Admire that someone had guts to accept it 🙂

  13. Ant

    Hi Jon, thank you for sharing your realisations. I think ‘doing social media’ has become very much about the social proof people try to accrue through it, and less about the validity of the message. We see this in all the shares and likes of something that has no significance or value to most.

    I’m very sure a great parent, as you take time to think about your actions. Being present in each moment is key to our sense of eventual life satisfaction, I believe, as parents or in any other role. And if we’re living our values authentically, then every conversation will be powerful and leave ripples, whether we take time to tweet about them or not.

  14. Anitha Abraham

    So honest…so true. Thank you for sharing this.

  15. Great post!

    I think just having moments with your kids and talking about makes you a good parent, because it shows a) you’re fully present with them (like you said) and b) you’re proud to have them. Kids need both. 🙂

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  17. Jan

    I just closed down almost all of my social media accounts (kept Linkedin). For me, I’ve realized that reading “updates” about “friends” on what I refer to as Fakebook, chasing tweets, following new pins on Pinterest, and spending time on Instagram equals ground zero in relationships. I wonder if we will end up with relationship “scurvy”…missing the physical and mind connection that social media relationship(s) /friend(s) won’t ever be able to supply?
    Thanks for putting yourself “out there.”