The New Fatherhood is a newsletter from Kevin Maguire exploring the changing nature of being a father today. With tools, tips and hacks to help you become a better dad, and a community of forward-thinking parents who are looking to do the same. 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 1,050(!) dads (and curious mums) who have already signed up. If you've been forwarded this by someone else, get your own one here.
Walking down Via Laietana yesterday, watching an International Women's Day manifestació feminista making its way up the street, I was hit by a realisation. It was IWD last year when we’d started cancelling plans, telling friends: “I’m not sure we should go to this, people are saying we should be limiting large crowds, we're not really sure what's going on but it doesn’t seem good …”
Could that possibly be right? 12 months of all of this? A full lap around the sun? All the way around everyone's birthdays, a year of Zoom "Happy" Hours, missed family hugs, on-again-off-again homeschooling, banana bread, cancelled holidays, delayed life plans … a whole fucking year already?
A quick search confirmed it. Spain declared the State of Emergency on March 14th. We’d been self-isolating from a week earlier on the 8th. They initially told us it would be two weeks. But it was 49 days until we went back outside together.
A brutal lockdown. For 7 weeks, children were forbidden to leave the house. Police were everywhere, day and night, throwing fines around like confetti. Adults could only leave to do food shopping, pick up medicines, or to walk the dog, and no further than 100m from your house. Rumours had it you could rent your dog out for €5 an hour—such was the desperation to get outside with a reason.
I’ve spent the last few days thinking over the last year, and I wanted to share a few of the things I’ve learned about myself, and about fatherhood, since this all began.
Yes, things are bad, but you could have it much worse. OK I'll admit: I’m an eternal optimist. Not so much a "glass half full" but more of a “Hey I’m already halfway to another full glass” (yes, I may have developed a drinking problem in 2020.) We had a four month run without work, and the Spanish self-employed scheme paid €600 as a one-off, which didn’t last long. I was worried for a while. But no matter how bad you think you have it, someone else has it much worse. We’ve been healthy, all the grandparents are doing well (and have now had their first vaccine shots), we’re both working again, and have managed to keep sane. Just about. Actually, about that …
Self care and good mental health is essential. A positive side-effect of the pandemic is that it has completely normalised conversations around mental health, mindfulness and self-care. Of course these aren’t new topics—we’ve been talking about them for years. But the last 12 months have made if completely acceptable to tell your partner “right now it’s a bit much, and I just need 30 minutes”, to share your favourite meditation app in the group chat, or to tell your boss "I can't make that meeting because that’s when I have my yoga class." Remember: you can’t pour from an empty cup.
Garbage in, garbage out. Early on I got militant about my media intake, and began being careful about what I let into my home (and head). Dramatically reducing the amount of news I was consuming. Unfollowing lots of Twitter accounts. Muting the word “Trump”. I left Instagram for nine months. We cut out negative, traumatic TV shows and found comfort in those that would make us smile. A weekly Radiohead livestream got me through the early days. Inviting Annie Mac, Luke Unabomber and Danny Webb into our house via “the wireless”. Better books. Better kids shows. Better everything. Whatever you surround yourself with, that's how begin to think. You see the beauty in what you consume. And it helps to notice the beauty in everything around you.
Take it easy on yourself. And everyone else. Are you OK? Is anybody OK right now? “The answer is no.” This year I went easier on myself. I hope you did too. Did I drink too much? Did I order too much takeout? Did I exercise enough? It doesn’t matter. I don't think any of us were living our best lives this year. Whatever got you through the year. Don't worry. We gon' be alright.
Fewer, deeper relationships is the way forward. I’ve been feeling this for the while, and the last 12 months made it crystal clear: real connections, real friends, real talk. Over the last year I’ve cultivated deeper relationships with people in my life. New friends I've met since moving here. Older ones I’ve known forever. I’ve erred on the side of just picking up the phone now and calling then, impromptu, like the old days. And it’s wonderful. This particular practice was inspired by a phone call from Laila, a friend from Manchester, who called me one Thursday evening. It must have been five years since we spoke. But we carried on a conversation like we had just chatted yesterday. She said she’d been thinking of calling me, and just picked up the phone. After we spoke, I realised that by simply pressing a button on my phone, I could give other people the feeling she gave me. Tapping someone’s name, and actually talking to them, could be more beneficial for both of us than any possible Like or Follow button I could tap anywhere else.
Reach out for help. The other dads in your life? They’re probably struggling as much as you are. If not more. Talk to them. Share your worries. Your fears. And what you're hoping to do when all this is over.
Empathy is the GOAT. Developing your empathy muscle will help you become a better parent (and partner). As I’ve spent more time with my kids, I’ve started to notice the more minute aspects of their personality. Tiny changes in their behaviour, how they react to setbacks, how they control their temper (or don’t), what triggers a bad mood, and what can rescue them from one. But it all comes from empathy—understanding how they’re feeling, how they’re reacting to an overwhelming world of stimulus around them, and teaching them to manage their emotions and ride those waves without them becoming overwhelming.
You'll never get this opportunity again. Fucking hell am I really going to "carpe diem" all of this? Such a cliché. But I've told Padme at least twenty times over the last year: "In my whole life, I never had the chance to spend this much time with my parents." This year has been tough. It's been filled with struggle, with pain, with a perpetual march towards nothing. But there have been moments to be thankful for. Watching our baby turn into a little boy, and following it every step of the way. Stuck in the house, teaching my daughter to ride her bike without stabilisers, and then watching her teach herself to skateboard down the same hallway a month later. Moments of pleasure that can be found right under your nose, if you’re only attuned to them. Like Mary Karr said during a recent Tim Ferris interview: “it’s just getting curious about where the light comes from.”
What about you? What have you learned about yourself, and fatherhood, over the last year?
3 things to read this week
In praise of cold calling your friends. Just like Laila did to me, and I've been doing to some of you, picking up the phone and just calling someone is one of the greatest joys you can give right now: "In a time when it feels like the world is tightening around us, reaching out to people out of the blue can feel expansive. At the very least, it’s not boring. What more could you ask for?"
Parents are always talking about screen time, and often negatively. Even more since this all began. But I’m a firm believer in the idea that not all screen time is created equal, and I'm thankful for Nintendo and Animal Crossing for getting us through some rough moments in 2020. So I found it refreshing to hear how kids have used gaming to help them get through the year: "I had my birthday party in Among Us, so I wasn't playing with strangers, it was like 8 of my friends. It’s a portal so my friends who I can't physically see in real life, even the ones who live in LA where I used to live, I can be with them in an instant!"
Another McSweeney's parenting thing? Sorry, but this is another one that’s too good not to share. The UX on This Small Child is Terrible: "There are just so many pain points creating an unsatisfactory user journey. The child goes limp when you try to lift it. It goes stiff when you try to change the clothes. It poops after it gets into the bathtub, but before it reaches the toilet. The tone and voice lack consistency, jolting from jubilant to irate in just a few clicks. This Small Child won’t open its mouth for a toothbrush, but won’t close it during my cousin’s wedding ceremony. It’s as if this Small Child was not designed with accessibility in mind."
The one thing you need to watch with the kids this week
There's something quite soothing about watching colourful things get squished. Here's the best things that the Hydraulic Press Channel squeezed last year. YOU GUYS CRUSHED IT.
Previously on The New Fatherhood
Last Friday I wanted to know more about what you are all into. So I asked "What are you reading" and got a great response. Here's a few highlights.
"I’m reading James Clear’s “Atomic Habits” at the moment, with aspirations to improve my own habits. Before that if was Octavia Butler’s “Parable of the Sower”— which I loved, but was hard to read at times. There were scenes involving violence towards children, and I’ve found that stuff really hard to stomach since becoming a parent. I’m a little a trepidatious to start the second book in the series." Pat
"Reading is something that has fallen by the wayside in recent years. With phones and that. For the first time in a long time I started a book just this week. 'Unlocking the Universe' which is by Stepehen Hawking and his daughter Lucy. It's aimed at older children (it's actually my daughters!) but it's still a proper beefy book, tackling ridiculously big concepts."Anthony
"You have time to read?!"Neil
Seems like "habits" is a bit of a theme there. Something for a future newsletter perhaps.
Issue 10. And now over 1000 subscribers. Holy shitsocks. Thanks to everyone who continues to read, and to share this with others. As a little thank you to helping me get to this milestone I wanted to send out a few postcards. So if you've gotten this far, and would like me to send you and your kids a postcard from Barcelona, hit reply and send me your details. And stay tuned over the next few weeks—I'm working on something that will make sharing this newsletter good for both of us, and not just for me.