Don't dad me
The freedom of not fitting in
The New Fatherhood explores the existential questions facing modern fathers, bringing together the diverse community of forward-thinking dads who are asking them. 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 2,122 dads (and curious non-dads) who have already signed up. If you've been forwarded this by someone else, get your own one here.
The New Fatherhood is committed to exploring a diverse set of viewpoints from all who find themselves under the ever-evolving umbrella of fatherhood. I received this essay from a good friend last week who, after the birth of their daughter, began to see fatherhood through a lens very few of us will know, but one we can all learn from.
My wife and I had our first child in February. A healthy baby girl with a full head of hair and the cutest earlobes you've ever seen. We've been muddling our way through ever since.
Like all parents, we're making it up as we go. But unlike all parents, some experiences are uniquely ours to figure out. And that’s because we're a two-mum family.
The first time I realised how narrow our language around parenthood is was while filling out paperwork for our daughter's adoption petition (a queer-parent story for another time). Some forms referred to me as the 'non-birth parent'. Others as the 'non-biological parent'. It doesn't feel awesome to be identified as a 'non-something'. It feels a lot like you're... inherently lacking. But I figured that, while uncomfortable, it wasn't technically inaccurate. I shrugged it off as clumsy legalese.
Shortly after that, a close friend asked me "So how much paternity leave do you get?" I was totally caught off guard. The word "paternity" bounced around in my brain like a 90s screensaver for days afterwards—equal parts mesmerising and irritating.
Officially, my company's policy is called “baby-bonding leave.” My wife's company just calls it “parental leave.” But the majority of people in my life, whether colleagues, friends or family, still ask how my paternity leave is going. It just slips out. Like a gross wet fish.
The language we use everyday is still very much wrapped up in a rigid Mum/Dad binary. If you're not Mum then—by default—you must be Dad.
Fast-forward to February. We're in the hospital and both my wife and our brand new, tiny daughter have been given the all-clear to head home. I'm filling out our daughter's birth certificate, a monumental event for any first-time parent. The first box on the form reads "MOTHER/PARENT." Next to that? "FATHER/PARENT."
Of course. As if a child couldn't officially be accounted for without one of each.
Reluctantly, I once again wrote my name alongside an identity I didn't feel was mine. I told myself to move on, but I couldn't (shout out to my fellow stubborn-as-hell Tauruses ... what's up!?!) My eye kept darting back to the "FATHER/PARENT" label. I couldn't let it go. I went back through the birth certificate and crossed out the word "FATHER" everywhere it appeared, circling the word "PARENT" alongside it for good measure.
Our daughter's official birth certificate arrived in the mail recently. It still says "FATHER/PARENT" next to my name.
Here’s the thing. Language matters. It's how we tell our stories. And the stories we tell shape our realities, and how we see ourselves in the world.
Bumping up against language that doesn't work for us has been confusing, offensive, exhausting, and—occasionally—kind of funny. But more than anything else, it has been lonely. The kind of lonely you feel when the world misunderstands you in a fundamental way.
But I've come to realise that there's actually a hidden opportunity in all of this, a surprising upside. Existing outside of traditional roles means there actually aren't a ton of preset expectations to wrestle with. When it comes to things like childcare, careers, chores, or cooking—we get to decide who will do what, when, how, to what extent and for how long. No expectations. It's totally up to us. We also get to decide what we call ourselves and what we call each other. Mum and Mama? Mum and Other Mum? Non-birth Mum? (Rolls off the tongue). Entirely up to us. We’re also deciding how we will refer to the anonymous sperm donor who helped us create our daughter. Is he her Dad? (Not for us.) Her Donor? Her Donor-Dad? Something else entirely? Completely in our hands.
There's no road map. And that means we can go wherever the hell we want. Sure, that can feel lonely at times. But it's also liberating. We get to invent new and specific language that works for our family, that fits just right. And in-so-doing, we get to create a whole new way of being a family. One that's entirely ours. From scratch. And how cool is that?
Reimagining the words we use and the roles we inhabit is a necessity for "non-traditional" families like ours. But, in talking to friends, we’ve realised this possibility is open to all of us—if we choose to take advantage of it.
I'm writing this on June 20th from our home in Brooklyn, NY. Father's Day in the US, and our first one since becoming parents. The question of how we'd spend it once we had a child used to fill me with anxiety. I'd wonder and worry how we'd keep our kid from feeling a sense of absence when this day rolled around. Now I remind myself these moments are actually opportunities for reinvention.
My wife and I have decided to seize Father's Day as a chance to talk to our daughter about where she came from. Each year on this day we'll take special time to tell her origin story, using thoughtful language and fun little rituals she can look forward to. Hopefully our Father's Day celebrations will help her feel a sense of confidence and pride in how she came to be the kid of two Mums who love her more than anything in the world.
Hana's Book Recommendations
Books (and stories in general) are a great way to start conversations with kids about different kinds of families. This is a list of books my wife and I really like. They skew younger and the list is by nooo means exhaustive - in fact it is notably lacking in trans and non-binary parent stories. So if you have more recommendations, please do share them in the comments. Happy pride everyone! ❤️🧡💛💚💙💜
Love Makes a Family by Sophie Beer
Families Can by Dan Saks and Brooke Smart
And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson, Peter Parnell, and Henry Cole
The Family Book by Todd Parr
Yesterday, one week after Hana wrote this essay, Governor Tony Evers announced that all Wisconsin birth forms will gender-neutral options for identifying the parents of a child, so the options “parent-parent” and “parent giving birth” would be available in addition to the “mother-father” option.
“Families have told us that a birth certificate that doesn’t accurately reflect their growing family can take away a piece of the joy when welcoming a new baby. We are so pleased that Wisconsin created a more inclusive birth certificate form to reflect the families of our state and community.”
— Sue Erickson, CEO of UnityPoint Health-Meriter (Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin)
Thank you Hana for sharing your story. If you've got a perspective on fatherhood you think would be interesting to other subscribers please get in touch. Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.
3 things to read this week 🌈
Hana also shared this great article on 8 ways ally families can support LGBTQ+ families. One of the ways was to "Fix the school’s forms and paperwork: If your school forms say “Mother” and “Father” rather than “Parent/Caregiver,” advocate for them to be updated to include all families ... This is a concrete way to start conversations with your school about diverse families, and it should be a simple change to make."
There was lots to learn and love in this blogpost where Joanna Goddard talked with three transgender children, sharing their experiences and advice for other kids. 13 year old Violet explains: "Even if some people don’t get it, at the end of the day, it’s going to be okay. Everything that you’re feeling is totally normal. Don’t let anyone tell you that it’s not. Just live your life. Everyone cares about what others think of them, but once you stop caring as much, your life opens up." Damn good advice not just for young kids, but for all of us grown ups too.
This month Sesame Street introduced a new family to the neighbourhood: Mia, along with her two gay dads Frank and Dave. "It's not a stretch to say that Sesame Street has paved the way for making all kids with all different types of families feel seen, heard, and accurately represented." The status of Bert & Ernie's relationship remains, at this moment, unclear.
Join our "Meditation for Dads" Course
Yesterday we kicked off our 28 day "Meditation for Dads" course. This idea came after writing some musings on meditation this month and prompting many of you to ask where to start. If you've ever thought whether establishing a regular meditation practice can help you be a better parent (spoiler alert: it almost certainly will) you should join this cohort-based course and find out for yourself.
There's currently 18 of us, all finding 10 minutes a day to look inward, and then sharing our progress and experiences in the community. If you want to get involved (you've only missed a day, you’ll be able to catch up in less than 15 minutes), become a member of The New Fatherhood and get started right away.
One thing to watch with the kids this week
We've had the Tooth Fairy at our house twice this week, and we talked to Padme about how, as we’re not sure of their gender, we should be using "they" pronouns. This video is a gentle reminder of just how important it is to get kids thinking about these types of concepts when they're young. You can see how the only person who struggles with the concept is the older girl, while the younger kids understand it instantly.
You should listen to this
I've been digging further and further into the On Being archives. They're just filled with gold. Here's two I've enjoyed lately. The first is with Richard Rohr, who has spent his life helping men get more comfortable looking inward, taking perspective on their life and sharing their feelings.
"To be a contemplative is to learn to trust deep time and to learn how to rest there and not be wrapped up in chronological time. Because what you’ve learned, especially by my age, is that all of it passes away. The things that you’re so impassioned about when you’re 22 or 42 don’t even mean anything anymore, and yet you got so angry about it or so invested in it. So, this word contemplation — it’s a different form of consciousness. It’s a different form of time."
— Richard Rohr, On Being
The second is with the poet and philosopher David Whyte. I saw a lot of parallels in my own life here: a child of Irish immigrants, who grew up in the North of England (although he’s from wrong side of the Pennines), who started working in the world of sciences then later explored the power of the written word, finding "poetry, the language against which you have no defenses." He talked about the power of the "beautiful question" and finding belonging in aloneness.
Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.
— David Whyte, "Sweet Darkness"
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