LEGALIZE MARINARA 🍝
20,000 meals under the sea
The New Fatherhood is an open and honest conversation about modern fatherhood, with a bunch of dads figuring it out as we go. Here's a bit more information if you're new here. You are one of the 6,604 dads (and curious non-dads) signed up. If you've been forwarded this by someone else, why not get your own?
Recent research suggests the average adult makes 35,000 decisions a day. I wonder how many more are made by adults with children? You’re deciding for 1+x: an onslaught of options, never more pressing than first thing in the morning. Do I snooze for nine minutes—a ridiculous interval, thank you random Apple engineer—or leap from beneath the duvet, bravely seizing the day? Do I exercise now, or foolishly promise myself I’ll do it later? Do I eat before the school run, or after? What’s the weather like outside, and what do I need to wear? And more importantly—what do the kids need? Are they going to be warm enough? Are they going to be too warm? Will it rain, and do they need a jacket? What snacks will they eat? Will this route to school get us there on time, seeing as we’re already late, because these kids seem to think 7.30 am is an appropriate time to read a book or finish an Avengers puzzle? And when you return home, or arrive at the office, slightly dishevelled, already exhausted, what’s the first thing on the to-do list to tackle? How should I answer this email? What do I need to get done today, or potentially enrage my boss? Any brief respite from the choice machine would be welcomed with open arms.
When I was 10, I vividly recall a friend of the family calling our house with some news. He’d woken up early one December morning and his car was covered in a layer of frost. So he did what many would do—turned the keys in the ignition, let it warm up, and walked back into the house to escape the frigid temperatures. During the short window he was inside finishing his cuppa, someone walked onto the driveway, made himself comfortable in the newly warmed cabin, and drove the car away. One morning decision I’m sure he never forgot.
Yesterday I spoke with a friend who recently returned home after visiting family, half the world away. He shared his relief coming to the end of “three months with the intensity of decision-making required every weekend: where to go, how to keep the kids busy, and what to cook for three meals a day, seven days a week.” The relief in being freed from the need to choose was palpable.
Buddy, I feel you. Might we have thought longer about having children if we knew we were on the hook for three meals a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, for at least 18 revolutions around the sun? You’ll hopefully be supported by a partner in this endeavour—yet another “how on earth do single parents do it” moment—and some support from whatever educational establishment they end up in. But you’re looking at around 20,000 meals, and that’s a lowball estimate. My kids eat at least two—but often as many as four—breakfasts every Saturday morning. And if you’ve got more than one kid, and they don’t eat the same thing, for one of many reasons—allergies, habits, or wanting to cause their parent double the anguish of answering the Sisyphean question of “what to cook for dinner tonight—your number could be exponentially higher.
With so many decisions to be made, dinner can’t always be one. You need go-to staples, something your brain can easily throw together while still digesting the chaos of the day. Enter, stage right, pursued by a block of parmesan: pasta for dinner. The preferred gastronomic choice of the default mode network; the dietary equivalent of streaming The Office for the sixth time. Proof positive that your brain is on autopilot and incapable of making major decisions.
There are only so many times you can take the soul-crushing sadness of an hour at the stove for your offspring to decry your efforts as “yucky” on first glance. My youngest will require spoon-feeding of anything he doesn’t love. He’s learned to chew slowly, so he doesn’t have to eat so much; he shows us the contents of his cakehole after every bite, like a prison drama where inmates are required to open their mouths to prove they’ve taken the medication being forced into their bodies. Because anything your children adore eating is either destroying their body or costing you a small fortune:
But pasta is different. It’s dependable. Predictable. They love it. They will always eat it. You can sneak all kinds of vegetables into it, via the time-tested “boil & blend” method. You can pack it into Tupperware, perfect for toing-and-froing between after-school extracurriculars. It’s no wonder it becomes a cooking crutch we lean on with alarming regularity. It’s cheap. Versatile. The bang-to-buck ratio is off the scale. And, with a little research, you can build a decent stockpile of simple-enough recipes that will eliminate any dependency on pre-made sauces. One such recipe that has become a staple in our house is Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce. Hazan was born in 1924 in Cesenatico, a small port town on the Adriatic Coast of Italy. She moved to New York and was shocked at the lack of home cooking in the country she now called home. So she started lessons from her apartment before eventually opening a cooking school in 1969. A few years later, the food editor of The New York Times—hearing the buzz about this delicious, authentic Italian food being cooked right under his nose—asked her to start contributing recipes to the paper. This effortless red sauce is the one that has lasted longest, and travelled furthest.
Here’s how it goes. Peel an onion: red, white, any will do. Cut it in half. Place the halves, flat sides down, into a large pan. Open a large can of chopped tomatoes and decant them into the pan. Try your best to avoid pouring atop the onion. Add a few tablespoons of butter and a little salt. Bring to a medium heat, simmer, cover, and then cook for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. It’ll thicken up nicely, the butter will give the sauce a velvety richness, and the onion will provide the flavour. Then throw the onion away—or keep it, wash the tomato residue off, and use it for a salad—and you’re left with a sauce perfect for pasta, pizza, or anything Italian that requires a splash of rich, red tomatoes.
It’s one of three go-to pasta dishes in my repertoire. Another is Cacio e Pepe, which my children will only entertain sin Pepe, cruelly robbing it of its kick. The final is the viral feta and tomato pasta sauce that blew up on TikTok in 2021, which proved two things: any recipe containing the instructions “put all the things in a pan, set it, forget it” should be held with a loving embrace during your entire era of parenting; and all that time I spend on Tiktok is not entirely wasted.
I want to see peace in the Middle East; I’ll settle to see it at the dinner table. I pine for a future when mealtimes are drama-free events, where everything we make will be lovingly shovelled into the mouths of smiling faces, like Tiny Tim’s house on Christmas morning—children grateful for every bite, cognisant of the toil behind every element on the table, simply delighted to be enjoying food, as a family, together.
Hey, a dad can dream, right?
3 things to read this week
“The Shame of Shouting” by Matt Farquharson in Typical Man. Last weekend’s open thread was all about anger, so it’s been on my mind over the weekend. This essay popped up right in the middle of it. Matt’s recently launched Substack will delve into the changing nature of masculinity, and this initial essay on anger aligns with many of the recurring themes here. Looking forward to seeing more from your newsletter Matt! “Last Sunday, I made my daughter ashamed of me. She is still under 10, so this is not the teen shame that every child feels about their parents. This was a relatively new experience.”
“The Art of Arguing” by Yung Pueblo in Yung Pueblo's Notes. Carrying on the “Substack writers discuss negative emotions using alliterative headlines” theme is this winner from one of my favourite writers. The idea of “better arguments” may feel oxymoronic, but this essay comes with a helpful list of actionable practices to enable you and your partner to work through conflicts when they arise. “It is unreasonable to expect a relationship without conflict. Even so, when you both double down on living as the mature versions of yourselves, you can be intentional about holding your arguments within a loving container.”
“The Sinking Pleasure of a Bath” by Thao Thai in Wallflower Chats. Finally, if all that self-flagellation, internal analysis, and conscious conflict doesn’t do the trick, why not just escape to the bathroom and run yourself a nice bath? The most delightful thing I read this week, language that felt like lowering myself into a warm tub of bubbles. “Spending a few hours a week in the bath is certainly a privilege. I see friends with new babies, on the verge of sleepless collapse, and I think: I should draw you a bath. But in that phase of motherhood, I would have scoffed at a bath. Give me a nap! Give me childcare! Give me a lifetime’s supply of breakfast burritos in my freezer! My daughter is at an age where she doesn’t require my constant attention, and my husband will often shoo me into the tub, knowing that it offers me some kind of regulation. These are not small gifts.”
Introducing the TNF Referral Program.
Share this newsletter, get free things
One of my favourite things to hear is when dads sharing this newsletter with each other. I know each time a dad does this, they’re putting themselves out there a little—it’s hard to ask for help, and harder still to admit that we’ve found it.
I wanted to find a way to thank those of you who have been doing this in the two years I’ve been writing, as well as hopefully encouraging more of you to do the same. So I’m launching a referral scheme. This isn’t something Substack offer, so I’m kind of hacking it together. But I’ve tested it, and it seems to work. I’ll get to how it works in a minute. But, first up, here’s the swag.
Gimme the loot!
3 referrals: “The New Fatherhood Media Bible” PDF. All the best TV shows, movies, books and apps to enjoy with your kids, TNF-approved, broken down by age range, and with links to where to watch, buy or download to ensure your life is as easy as possible.
5 referrals: ”The Best of TNF” eBook, formatted for Kindle and iPad, which contains the best essays on fatherhood from the last two years. Those older essays are behind a paywall now, so this is your only chance of getting them (without becoming a paid subscriber, which is worth every penny)
10 referrals: Laptop Sticker Pack. I mean, I say laptop, but you can choose to use them on whatever you like.
15 referrals: TNF Heart Shaped Badge. One of my favourite things I’ve ever been involved in making. I wear mine all the time.
25 referrals: An annual Subscription to TNF, with access to the private community and the full archive of essays.
50 referrals: Something very good that I can’t tell you about yet, but will be revealed closer to summer. If you hit this level, I’ll let you know what it is over email. Sorry for the tease. But it is going to be fantastic and will bring a huge smile to your face, guaranteed.
100 referrals: a Free Lifetime Subscription to TNF. Uberdad level, comes with my eternal gratitude for bringing 100 new dads into the fold, and a drink of your choice, on me, next time I’m in somewhere near you.
One very important thing
You need to use the share link you get by clicking the Share button below, or using the share button at the top of the page only when you’re signed into Substack and on the website. The URL will include a code that is uniquely yours, so anyone who signs up using your link will count towards your total number of referrals. If you just share the link to the newsletter from Safari (and it doesn’t have something like ?r=g5a after it) it won’t work. Here’s the button:
A few suggested sharing locations:
A WhatsApp / iMessage / Telegram group with other dads in it. It might be connected to your school, the guys you play football with once a week, or the lads you grew up with who are now all dads themselves.
Post it on a social platform of your choice. You know the ones I’m talking about.
Share it at work. Got a Slack channel for #parents? Stick it in there. Loads of dads in your team on Teams? Drop your link, and get some swag.
Turn your link into a QR code, print it on a sticker, and plaster it all around the school gates. (OK, maybe I’m going a bit too far with this now.)
FYI: a small snag. There’s no way to check how many referrals you’ve had easily. I will be checking once a week, and getting stuff sent out to folks (as well as emailing them a short thank you), but if you’re desperate to know where you stand, you can send me a quick email. Although If this ends up with a hundred people emailing me once a week I might need to put a plug in it.
One last thing—you might have noticed when you signed up that I didn’t require you to click to verify your email address—what folks in the newsletter biz call a “double opt-in.” This means, in theory, you’re free to abuse this referral scheme and add 15 email@example.com email addresses. I’d caution against it though—I’ll be keeping an eye on it, and someone from Substack has kindly offered to help me weed out any clearly fraudulent cases. So, if you want to waste your time sticking a load of fake addresses in there, go nuts. But you might want to do something better with your time. Did you read Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow yet? Start there.
Hey! Listen to this!
Moving on. The National are back, and bringing tears to the eyes of dads across the world again with Weird Goodbyes (featuring one Bon Iver). I mean, check these lyrics:
Memorize the bathwater, memorize the air
There'll come a time I'll wanna know when I was here
Names on the doorframes, inches and ages
Handprints in concrete at the softest stages
After being tagged “sad dad music” by the hipsterati, they’re wearing it as a badge of pride, with a rather spiffing hoody that’s been a hit amongst the dads in our community, and this Spotify “Sad Dad Playlist” which might not get you out of your January funk, but will at least give those cold, dark school runs the appropriate soundtrack.
Previously on The New Fatherhood
We had a good old chinwag about losing our rag and it was good to get it off our collective chests. A load of insight in that thread for anyone trying to do a better job at controlling the red mist.
It sometimes feels like the goal as a dad is never to show your anger. Becoming better at handling it, knowing when and how to express it, has definitely been a challenge for me. It’s to helpful to know we don’t have to be perfect, and at the very least, that our missteps give us the chance to show them how to apologize. Trevor
I cannot stress enough how vital and life-changing it has been to sit regularly, in person, with a men's group--to have a place where my anger is welcome, encouraged even, and held in a good way. That way, in the big moments with kiddo's wildness, when you're at the knife edge of your capacity as a parent, you can learn to 'shelf' the anger, breathe and laugh and know that soon, very soon, you can have a similar moment of wild expression, release the pressure valve, and let the anger move through your body and out, dissipated and free. Sean
I’ve noticed that my ability to hold my anger in check is generally pretty good around my family, but I have noticed that it then comes out (erupts?) at random other times - in the car at people driving too slow, or people being inconsiderate in the street / shops. Definitely, something I need to get better at - expressing as it’s experienced - but when there’s a 3yo in their fifth meltdown of the hour, it’s always going to be a WIP. GCJ
I’ve found regular exercise, better sleep and better diet (those three horsemen of the dadpocalypse) have helped. I’m not a morning person, but making the decision to hit the hay earlier definitely makes me more patient in the morning when the two girls are staging a breakfast rave in our bedroom at 6am. It’s not easy writing and talking about this kind of thing, but knowing other dads out there are also trying to find the best way through this to a better then and a better family life is really comforting. NJ
How did you like this week’s issue? I’m sure there were folks reading rolling their eyes and thinking “Christ, he cooked a few plates of pasta, and winged about it for 1300 words.” Anyhow, your feedback helps me make this great.
This paragraph started as something else entirely, before slowly evolving into the answer for a Google-style interview question about “how many meals will the average American parent cook in their life.”
An entirely valid Trump-era social media content moderation policy.