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. Here's a bit more information if you're new here. My aim is to make this one of the best emails that you get each week. You are one of the 800 dads (and curious mums) who have already signed up. If you've been forwarded this by someone else, get your own one here.
From the very early stages of thinking about this thing *somehow gestures at a newsletter*, I wanted one The New Fatherhood to be an inclusive place. I said from the start, this isn't about me, but it’s about all of us: a generation of men changing the meaning of fatherhood, and being changed by it. Fatherhood today looks very different than it did for the previous generation, and even though I’m working on raising two biracial children I’m aware—as a straight white cis man in a heterosexual relationship—that I don't encompass the multidimensionality of modern fatherhood.
So over the last week I reached out to a group of friends and asked them: what does fatherhood mean to you? These fathers are from different backgrounds, they’re different ages, and they live in all kinds of places, with a varying number of children. Some work full-time, others are stay-at-home dads. Some of their children had different routes to conception that we did with ours: surrogacy, adoption or IVF.
The one thing that unites them is that they’ve all got something interesting to say about fatherhood.
What does fatherhood mean to me? More empathy. Less certainty. Epic change as a constant. Being ready to learn again and again. Stopping projecting yourself on to others. Thinking about the crew as a whole not just what you or the adults want to do. Being there, truly present, as much as is possible. Realizing there isn’t one way of doing anything. Trying to let your actions speak as much as your words. Holding on softly to some principles you believe in. Working out not just what matters and feels right but how to make it attractive to others. Realizing it’s the environment that’s the most important thing of all. Feeling lost (a lot). Loving unconditionally. Failing at all of this way too often. And being prepared to fail and to try again. Because at the end of the day, this crew is what makes my world go round.
I was born in South-East London with roots in Guyana, Grenada and Jamaica. I grew up with my Mum playing both the role of Mum and Dad to me and my younger brother. She also split the responsibility with my Grandma, Flo. I had a lucky childhood, rarely went without anything I really wanted, and quickly turned to various Sunday league football managers as father figures to look up to.
In the photo with me are my wife Lisa, and Ada: my 19 month old daughter.
Being a father for me today is being present: not just in the vicinity, actually present. It's not smothering her if she falls over, or stepping in when she's struggling to something herself. But just knowing what process she takes when she's frustrated, or reading the tea leaves to understand how her eyebrows wiggle when she's hell bent on manipulating us into giving her another yoghurt. Identifying and understanding where I can best support her without directly interfering—a 24/7/365 management program she has no idea she's signed up for, until the end of time. That's fatherhood!
Yesterday I tried to get my guy out of the house for about 17 hours. He’s exactly like me. He doesn’t like changing up what he’s doing. I eventually got him out by telling him we’d find Mr. Bull from Peppa Pig doing bits in a building site somewhere. I can do a really good Mr Bull impression.
This worked in the short term, but then led to turmoil down the line as I couldn’t deliver Mr. Bull. I knew this was an example of parenthood as a metaphor for life, and pondered on my flawed robbing Peter to pay Paul technique.
As the day wore in he obviously forgot about Mr. Bull. That night as I was reading him “Where the Wild Things Are”, both of us really loving it, I realised one of the wild things looks like a bull. ‘Look! It’s Mr. Bull!’ The universe had given me redemption and a lesson in not judging myself, but finding flexibility.
‘That’s not Mr. Bull. It’s a Monster. Where’s Mr. Bull?’
Bedtime extended by 30 minutes as I had to again placate the lack of said bull.
I always knew the father I didn’t want to be. I always thought I’ll break the chain.
So I left my job and became the main carer of my 4 children. But once the bread-winner becomes the bread-maker, what kind of father will he be?
These questions still keep bouncing in my head like our bodies on the family trampoline. Never at the same time. Always one child up and the other down. Sharing a high moment in mid-air with one child and a low fall with another.
Is it fulfilling? On one level, of course. On many others, it is soul destroying. Then why is the desire to be a father so strong? Because in an infinite universe, every little act of kindness is replicated infinite times. A god-like conviction which seduces the heart of this bouncing dad.
Fatherhood has been a way for me to connect with unconditional love. And to understand and also receive, as an adult, the love of my parents and all my ancestors! A way to understand that there is a very powerful force in common that holds us all and everything together. It means an opportunity to accompany a new being at the beginning of his life and see our reality with new eyes. An opportunity to ask ourselves new questions, to imagine new answers, to appreciate the details more consciously. An opportunity to give and receive love (as I have said before, I think it is the same).
And I cannot deny that being a parent also connects me with other emotions. Fear of time passing by so fast, fear of the future of my son and of all children. Sadness—when I feel the sadness of my son or of any girl or boy. Occasionally with anger … and more often with calm. But when I manage to put unconditional love first, I can connect and navigate all those other emotions in a more harmonious way with myself and with the whole family.
Also just sneaking in late last night before the deadline was Steve, who sent me a fantastic story about he and his husband’s journey to becoming fathers through surrogacy. It was well over my 100-200 suggested word count, but it’s so great I wanted to share it in it's entirety. So maybe we'll do that next week ...
I hope you enjoyed reading their stories as much as I did. I'd love to do this again sometime, so if you’ve got an interesting point of view on how fatherhood is changing, and you'd be happy sharing it with this community, send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or just reply to this email.
3 things to read this week
A piece of research from 2019 resurfaced this week on how two hours spent outside is the new 10,000 steps—a simple daily goal that will help your physical and mental wellbeing. With cold snaps hitting Europe and the US right now, it's tougher than ever to drum up the momentum to get outside, but this research is a reminder that it'll do you, and your family, the world of good. And if you need a more lofty way to get inspired to go outside, follow the Japanese: they practice shinrin-yoku—literally "forest bathing"—as a way to find peace and tranquility.
I really enjoyed this article on rewatching Lost with your children, 11 years later. Padme is almost 7, but we love watching shows together—and she’s growing up in a golden age of kids TV. Shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender, Steven Universe, Gravity Falls, Adventure Time and Over the Garden Wall rank up there in the pantheon of all-time greats. Our friends spent lockdown in 2020 watching The West Wing with their teenage daughters, and I'm excited to introduce Padme and Bodhi to some of our old favourites when they get older.
Yes, OK I am aware how ridiculous it is to be sharing a Buzzfeed quiz in the year 2021, but this checklist of very specific things that mean you're a middle-aged dad was a little too close for comfort. I scored 15/31. I mean come on, who doesn't have a preferred mug?
The one thing you need to watch with the kids this week
"Crazy Rube Goldberg Machine IRL" is one of my favourite genres of YouTube video. This one, with 70 steps and 3 completed baskets does not disappoint.
Quote of the week
“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.” Mark Twain
Previously on The New Fatherhood
Last week I wanted to know “what’s your favourite book to read with your kids?” There’s loads of excellent ones in the comments, here’s a few that made me smile.
“Brown bear brown bear is real special for us because the grandparents join in on FaceTime. Her little face lights up when they read the first part of each sequence. It’s the version with the sliding panels and Cleo makes a point to reset each panel at the end! Melts everyone’s heart.” Kam
“My 6 year old daughter still loves BJ Novak's 'Book with No Pictures' (which if youre like me, I kick myself wishing I had written it!). But lately she's getting into comics/graphic novels and the Tea Dragon Society and anything by their authot Katie O'Neil have been great. Lots of good messages in them too.” Dan
“Donaldson is canon in our house. We've litereally worn away the pages of The Graffalo. For interactvity, Going On A Bear Hunt was always always fun for everyone too. Alas, my two kids have grown out of those now so those gems are tucked away in the memorabilia box.” Nilesh
Bodhi is going through some sort of sleep regression at the moment, and I’m reminded just how tough everything is (including writing a newsletter) after not enough sleep. So excuse any typos, non-sequiturs and sentences that go nowhere (“How is that any different from normal then?” Ayyyyyyyyy.) And sending love to all those parents whose kids aren’t sleeping either. Shout out to Jack, Ed, Jeff and Marky: whilst this awesome foursome sound like a hip new boyband about to storm the charts, it is in fact just the name of a quartet of wonderful readers who last week shared The New Fatherhood with people they know. Thank you! Your referrals are the main way we bring more people into the world of The New Fatherhood.