Dig in 👷
Dads, we need to talk.
The New Fatherhood explores the existential questions facing modern fathers, bringing together the diverse community of forward-thinking dads who are asking them. We're all breathing a collective sigh of relief as the kids go back to school this week. Don't miss the perfect "first day at school" photo down near the bottom of this issue.
I'm going to handover to Adam Stones for this week's essay. Adam is a comms consultant who works with people and brands committed to positive social and environmental change. He also wrote "Influence", a playbook for social entrepreneurs and changemakers. Originally from the UK, he now lives in Amsterdam. You can find him on on Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.
There is nothing more beautiful than a digger. All construction vehicles are outstandingly wonderful, of course. Bulldozers, cranes, cement mixers. They’re all in the list of earth's principal pleasures. But the digger is the best of the best. This is according to my three-year-old son, Noah. And he should know. He spends most of his waking hours (of which my bleary eyes can assure you there is a surplus…) contemplating, pointing at or chatting about the pantheon of magical earth-moving machines.
And for two days of the working week, when he’s not at nursery, I join him on this quest. We build Lego construction sites and then set out to stare at real ones—waving at confused, burley construction workers—before heading back to draw up our findings. For these two days, this is my job, whilst my wife wins the bread. I consider these two days to be the greatest job in the world. But, I didn’t always see it this way.
I was reluctant at first. What would stepping back from full time work mean to my career prospects? I’d built my profile as a communications consultant. Could I keep both a business and a child alive, let alone thriving? Would people still employ me if I was less available? And what would me and my son actually do all day together? What if I am a massive disappointment AND everything goes wrong AND I am the worst dad in the history of terrible, terrible dads? Deep breaths. Yes, I had my doubts.
But a mantra from my online yoga guru (yes, that one) got stuck in my head: "Where attention goes, energy flows." I decided that if I was going to do this dad thing, then I might as well bloody do it. After I armed myself with a first aid course and a pack of plasters, I leant in. Treasure maps, vegetable planting, bike rides… daddy days soon became my best days. At his first swimming lesson, there was a moment when he looked me square in the eyes as if to ask, “Have you got me, daddy?” And I realised, “Yeah. I got this.”
As anyone reading this will know, sharing an intimate connection with your child and seeing their mind joyfully respond to the world you reveal to them is the most wonderful feeling. But I think you’ll also agree, the process of getting there can also be tough, really tough.
There are days when his toddler emotions are too much for him, and I wonder if I’m supporting them correctly. And there are times when my dad emotions are almost too much for me: when I feel exhausted from not enough sleep and too much laundry, or when I beat myself up for not packing his day with enough possibilities. And there are also those moments when I start to wonder who the hell I am any more, and where my life is heading now (you know, the small things), all the while thinking, “What the hell am I stressing about, I’ve got the best job in the world, haven’t I?”
For a long time, I was unsure how to discuss my experiences. I worried about appropriating the ‘mum’ narrative, insensitively hitchhiking on something women have been experiencing for millennia: the cultural expectation that they’ll do the ‘heavy lifting’ of childcare (and homecare) and the professional expectation that they’ll step back from work to make it work. Or, doubly damned, the stigma they face should they choose to counter the tropes and work full-time. What right did I have then to say “Yeah, but can we talk about my white male problems now please?”
Well, perhaps not a right but maybe a responsibility. I've spent years telling companies about the power of opening up, and using it to make a positive change. I started to realise: why should it be any different for dads?
The more dads that talk of the joys of active parenthood, the more who will want to join the party. And the more we also share our weary woes, then the more ‘old style’ dads will see what all the women in their lives—whether that’s their partner or colleague—do everyday, often without sufficient recognition or support.
Silence perpetuates myths and reduces the opportunity for progress. Silence means struggling on and not being able to meet your potential as a superdad. And silence means that when things overwhelm you, they will eventually consume you. Guys, it’s time to talk. We have to share the full emotional kaleidoscope of modern parenthood.
But then the next challenge: where can dads go to discuss all this? When I started looking for answers, I found a cavernous chamber of societal silence. What help there was seemed based on caricature: dad books with ‘survival’ in the title, written by ex-SAS assassins, as if being a dad was a battle, and you’ll be lucky to make it out alive. They told me how to pack a nappy bag like it was special ops, but nothing on addressing the weight of responsibility for delivering engaged future citizens into the world, whilst managing existential identity enquiries...
I try to be honest about my experiences. And that signals to others they can talk to me too. And that’s how I found another voice in that cavern. I discovered a close friend from way back, Gareth, was in the same position and asking the same questions. We started to video chat every few weeks and lay everything labelled “dad life” on the table. It gave us the reassurance and confidence to keep improving, and to find energy, resilience and balance—personally and professionally. Just. By. Talking.
And then when we found out about TNF, we realised there must be many other curious and committed voices out there, and that together—if we break the silence—we can all be part of shifting the narrative.
Committing to being a great dad — and working on the things inside me that needed tweaking to get there—has led to many other, unexpected benefits. It’s strengthened my empathy, creativity and purpose. And I carry these things into a richer relationship with my wife, and into my work. I’m not stepping back, but stepping up. And that’s why on my LinkedIn and website I’m proud to say I work part-time and I dad full-time.
The Stoics had a handy phrase: ‘The obstacle becomes the way’. The challenge is not the end of the road, but the start of a new one. It is not something we overcome, but something that becomes part of us. We have to embrace every challenge and find the opportunity in every transition. Because that’s where life is.
I like to think my son sees the digger as the supreme construction vehicle because it digs down, not builds up. As Kevin masterfully conveyed in this essay, life is not about chasing phantom goals up mountains, and leaving everyone else behind — but digging down to the life-giving well of the shared, human experience. And there are few greater wells than parenthood.
Dads, it’s time to jump in your digger and share what you unearth.
Thanks Adam. Interested in sharing your perspective on fatherhood? Hit me up here. All writers get a free annual membership, access to the community, and you'll get your essay paired with one of Tony's incredible illustrations.
3 things to read this week
I continue to be fascinated with the "edge cases" of fatherhood—the lesser heard perspectives on what it means to be a dad when you don't fit inside the "traditional” mould. This TED talk on being a transgender dad was an insightful watch. "I knew the idea of being a female-born person being called “daddy” was going to be a harder road with a lot more uncomfortable moments. But, before I knew it, the time had come and Elliot came screaming into the world, like most babies do, and my new identity as a parent began. I decided on becoming a daddy, and our new family faced the world."
I'm always decluttering. It's a borderline obsession. But I never saw it as a way to teach your kids how to be more independent. Maybe I should start getting the kids involved? "Decluttering can shape a person’s character and quality. If introduced in adolescence, it can greatly benefit students."
Two weeks ago I wrote about the need for parents to take regular, guilt-free time away from their kids. A few of you sent across this article from the NYT as it dives into a very similar emotional space. "One of the best days of 2020 for me was in December when I got a root canal. I got to be horizontal in the dentist’s chair without the ability to doomscroll or anyone asking me for fruit snacks. Afterward, since I’d already told my family and colleagues I’d be gone a while, I wandered around downtown Manhattan, bought a $6 latte, browsed used books on the sidewalk and listened to a grown-up podcast as I drove home. It was glorious."
Check Out These INCREDIBLE "Back to School" Discounts!
OK, that's a slightly misleading headline. But it's not a million miles away from the truth. This month I'm asking for your support. And I’m offering a third off annual subscriptions to help seal the deal.
You might wonder why pay for something that’s already free? During the 9 months and 33 issues I've been writing this, I've been asking that question to myself. And every week it becomes clearer to me that a) this is something that's needed in the world, b) we need to bring more dads into this conversation and c) this is what I should personally be spending more of my time on.
As I said from the early days, I'm not raising money to pay myself a salary. I spend a good chunk of my time every week with a "real job", which I'm going to continue to keep myself busy with.
But The New Fatherhood isn't free to run, and even with the 45 of you (wonderful, beautiful, generous human beings) who already donate, I'm not yet breaking even on this endeavour. So I'm asking for more of you to support TNF and enable it to reach it's full potential. I've already seen how much richer and deeper this becomes as more dads get involved and we go spelunking into the well of feelings together. I want to bring more men into the conversation, and normalise these discussions around fatherhood. I also want to start paying guest writers (real money, not free subscriptions), arrange live in-person events, bring on more experts like Erin, start a “mentorship” program for new dads, and engage with politicians to help further the conversation around modern fatherhood (members can expect to see something around that later this week).
And that's just a taster of what's in my big old "want to do" list.
I've started thinking of this newsletter more like a non-profit. The plan isn't to make an income off it—I want to put all the money you donate back into the project, with every penny helping make more great things happen.
To that end, I’ve set a goal to hit 100 supporters before the end of this month. That'll help build a solid foundation, enable me to start paying the writers and illustrators a respectable fee, rather than relying on "mates rates" or those who kindly write for free, and make some of these other ideas into a reality.
It's worth reiterating: I'm committed to keeping this space ad-free. I’ve watched so many things get ruined when ads and sponsors gets involved, and writers and editors start chasing eyeballs instead of staying focused on what's important to the community they've created. Your donation will help keep this space clear for everyone.
So here’s the pitch. A special Back to School offer. You get 35% off an annual subscription, making it $39 / £28 a year. I'll send you one or two few more emails a month (which are very different from these ones: shorter, for a start, and a bit more “under the skin”), you can join a great community with some of the most wonderful dads you'd hope to meet, and you’ll get to bask in the nice warm glow of knowing you’re helping make the world a better place for other fathers.
(For those of you who already signed up with a previous "early bird" discount in May, I haven't forgotten about you! I'll be adding some extra time onto your subscriptions to take into account this new member discount. And, as always, if you’d to join the community but don’t have the cash, get in touch and I’ll give you a membership for free, no questions asked.)
OK, sales pitch over. For this week, at least ;)
Previously on The New Fatherhood
Last weekend I wanted to know your thoughts about the "big second kid question". A wonderful, open and honest discussion with different viewpoints represented. Thank you everyone who got involved.
"We decided to have our second 7+ years after the first, and now that we're 2.5 months in ... I can say that she's super cute! Also the process of raising her so far has uncovered all of these discussion questions with my partner around why the first time around was tough, and how we've grown since then." Jeffrey
"It was definitely easier second time around. It turns out they're not made of glass, they don't need every second of your attention. They are good for each other. Mostly. The bickering, oh God, the bickering. The ability to turn any conversation into a petty argument, especially on car journeys ... but it's all healthy, annoying, sibling love. I think we've struck a great balance and I'm glad they've got each other." Anthony
"Always a difficult subject for me although I don't know of many couples that survived a second kid. Hope you have a little word about us who wanted a few more (even just one more) but for various reasons (in my case: wife's health and her lack of interest) had to give up on that idea. Foster or adoption are possible avenues to explore in some cases." Paul
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