A mental can of worms spewing out.
A reader offers a little advice to any new fathers.
The New Fatherhood is a newsletter from Kevin Maguire exploring the evolving nature of being a father today, with tools, tips and hacks to help you be better dad, and a community of modern dads who are looking for something more. My aim is to make this one of the best emails that you get each week. You are one of the almost 750 dads (and curious mums) who have already signed up. If you've been forwarded this by someone else, get your own one here.
Last Friday I asked you "What's a great piece of advice for new fathers?" And wow, did you ever deliver. 38 comments, full of insight, humour, vulnerability and pathos. I had a whole post lined up for this week, but there was a comment from Anthony that resonated so strongly with everyone who read it that I wanted to hand the microphone over to him. It’s a warts and all look into the highs and lows of modern fatherhood. Here's a lightly edited version of his comment from Friday.
I'm not going to lie - it's tough. Brilliant. But tough.
Everyone tells you about the sleep and the tiredness. And you think "Yeah, mate, I'm used to going out till dawn, then partying more—then going to work—I know tired".
You know nothing.
But you still won't believe me. You have to live it to understand. You'll realise when you're awake at 3am, warming up milk bottles like the way they reassemble guns blindfolded in the movies. Except you're not blindfolded, you just don't want to open your eyes to the horror all around you.
Then you have to deal with not being your partner's sole object of devotion. You go from being the centre of their world to being an extra set of hands. You're an extra set of hands that—for lots of social and biological reasons—doesn't have the same full blown connection to this mad, screaming, helpless bundle. So you're probably going to be an extra pair of hands that "just doesn't get it". And you won't—you won't get the guilt, or the millions of concurrent threads that mothers cope with and compute. You'll be resented for going to work. And you'll resent that work is seen as an escape.
So you need to talk about these things. I didn't, and you've got to watch for that stuff festering. But you can work it out. It's a test for any relationship. Your relationship will never be the same again. Adapt and grow. If you can get time away together? TAKE IT. Those glimpses of why you got together in the first place are things to cherish.
I've just realised there's a mental can of worms open here and they're spewing out. Soz.
Don't expect to be suddenly endowed with "The Power of Fatherhood." You will be winging it forever. So did your dad. So did his dad. When you think back to all the dads you knew when you were a kid—they were all winging it. The cool ones, the crap ones? Winging it, all of them. Try to remember how you saw them back them, and remember that's how your kids see you. If you think you're just winging it, that's fine. Because you are. And that's OK.
You will probably get to spend more time with your kids than your father, and every father before him, ever did. Try to enjoy it, even though you sometimes you'll be craving time alone, with your friends, or with your partner.
I always thought I would be a laid back dad. I always thought I was a laid-back person. It turns out that I'm really not. Kids test you in ways you never thought imaginable. They find your buttons very early, learn what they do, and then keep pressing them. Try to pick your battles. Get used to being ignored. But how you react to situations matters. During lockdown my kids have managed to smash not one, but two expensive TVs. I managed not to lose my shit. They are just things.
I could go on.
I don't think I've painted a very positive picture. But honestly—I've got two great bright, funny, lovely little kids that give me thousands of little moments of joy. Like when my daughter chose to not listen to Little Mix like her friends, and I just wanted to give her a big hug. Or finding myself sobbing, because of the little gasp my 8 year old son gave when R2D2 woke up in the Force Awakens.
If I was transported back in time, I would do it all over again.
Thanks Anthony! Alright, onto the fun stuff.
3 things to read this week
Feeling the strain of parenting at the moment? You're not on your own. The Telegraph is asking "Are you suffering from parental burnout?" Parents feel like they're failing with homeschooling. A beautiful view through the window of family life in lockdown. And finally, 6 strategies to deal with work-from-home interruptions.
Emma Beddington in The Guardian is discussing "The Life Changing Brilliance of Teenagers." An interesting point of view, especially as we're so used to reading about how terrible it is to be a parent to teens (any fathers of older kids reading this, please let us know in the comments what we've all got coming): “Nothing is as life-affirming as a half-hour audience with teenagers. Teenagers – not mine specifically – are creative, compassionate and careful of others; they are stoic about their constrained lives. Mine make me laugh and think constantly: this week alone about my attitude to other people’s success (wrong), my upper body strength (abysmal) and Japanese abstract expressionism (unexpected).”
A twofer this week on teenagers. Does having teenager daughters lead to a higher rate of divorce? Looks like this study of Dutch and US data says "Maybe?", with a higher chance if the father and mother have very misaligned attitudes towards gender roles.
Vids for the kids
This is well worth 75 seconds of your time.
Hey! Listen to this!
Sick of your kids listening to Little Baby Bum, Dance Monkey and Disney? Same here. We've found some respite in our house thanks to Caspar Babypants, who you should check out on Spotify. Expect uptempo jams that are surprisingly musical and enjoyable for adults too ... and in a strange example of "you never know what you might end up doing", Caspar is the kid-friendly pseudonym of Christopher Ballew, who used to be the lead singer of 90s alt-rock trio The Presidents of the United States of America. Yes, the “Peaches” band.
Previously on The New Fatherhood
"For my 4.5yo son, I’ve found that kindness far outweighs a momentary need for discipline and rules. It takes longer and there will definitely be tantrums that cause you to be late for school or work sometimes, or for you to lose your cool, but as the positive bond grows with your child through kindness, you’re more likely to have leverage with reason, discussion, deal-making, etc. He will trust you to not create the fear that traditional disciple can sometimes foster and he will come to you." Rico
"I don't know who said it, but "raise your first child like it's your second" has been a rule of thumb for us. We're trying really hard not to freak out over every little thing, and trying to channel a "what would a parent who's already had a kid probably do?" vibe. It's helped us ride out a weird poop here and a slip-and-fall there — kids are so resilient! But don't make this decision unilaterally." Jesse
"The #1 piece of unsolicited fatherhood advice I give new fathers: if you're able, take some parental leave solo. It's a tiny incremental change that has long-lasting changes in everything from the physical and emotional health of the parents to more-egalitarian division of domestic labor." Eric
"So do everything you can to spend as much time together as possible. If you can put off that email and play trains instead, do it. If you can leave work early to make it home for dinner, bath, and story time, do it. If you can take the day off, do it. And if you can move to a smaller, more affordable city, so you don’t have to have a high-paying-12-hr-work-day type of job to pay for a big house that’s still an hour commute each way, do it. All of that time adds up. And who knows what amazing, cute, or hilarious thing you’ll be around to catch. When the time’s up, you’ll be glad to have those memories in your highlight reel." Justin
Amen Justin. I couldn't have put it any better myself.
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