The New Fatherhood explores the existential questions facing modern fathers, bringing together a 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 1,250 dads (and curious mums) who have already signed up. If you've been forwarded this by someone else, get your own one here.
I'm going to make an assumption here: being a father isn’t the only important thing in your life. Maybe you've got a passion project, a side-hustle, a hobby, or something you like to do between juggling family, work, and everything else.
A core tenet of modern fatherhood is that we’re bigger than one thing. Being a father doesn’t define you, but it can influence and impact every aspect of your life, providing fuel for all your other endeavours. And maybe by understanding this we can make better “work” not in spite of our kids, but because of them.
Over the weekend, I was completely floored by "Look Mom I Can Fly”, Travis Scott’s Netflix documentary from 2019. I adored "Astroworld", and was keenly aware of his Hypebeast-bating partnerships with brands like McDonalds, Nike and Fortnite. But I hadn’t begun to understand just how powerful his story was: a true artist, creating a single-minded body of work, and one of the most compelling creative minds in the world today.
And he might have made the first great documentary about New Fatherhood.
You won't succeed tryna learn me. Stick to the roads in my journey.
Parental love forms the core of the entire film. Travis (or Jack, to give him his real name) has been surrounded by it from the start. The film is littered with cherished footage from his childhood: visiting Astroworld—their local theme park—and waiting in line in his mother's arms; his dad screaming with uncontrollable joy after seeing his son plays the drums: “That’s my boy here!” The unconditional love from his parents soaks through the whole film. Every moment is drenched in it.
His parents’ love makes him feel great, and he wants others to feel that too. So that's what he learns to do. Travis takes empathy and turns it into a fucking superpower. His entire modus operandi is to help his fans “get lit”, to become ecstatic through his music and live shows, where he feeds off their energy to enhance his own. It’s infectious. You see it at the gigs, the loyalty he creates in fans who credit him who tell the camera “YOU SAVED MY LIFE TRAVIS”, or other random ways that he jumps into the lives of his fans, just like they jump into the crowd from his stage. One wonderful moment that flies by over the credits is when Travis calls a random commenter on his Instagram: he tells this kid he's commenting his profile right now, making him an instant celebrity at his school the next day.
During a gig in Arkansas he's taken off stage and arrested for inciting a riot. Because Travis gives his fans permission to go crazy during his gigs, it riles up police and security guards. He's taken into custody, a scene that hits very different in 2021: a black man arrested for inciting a riot (that never happened) when a few years later a white president who actually did incite one got off scot-free.
Travis makes no secret of his love of psychedelic drugs. So it's inevitable he is able to connect with his fans on a deeper, more meaningful level. Tim Ferris once called psychedelics "performance-enhancing drugs for empathy” and Travis uses them to increase his already formidable ability to connect with others. He intimately understands how his friends and fans feel, and how small choices he makes can have an exothermic reaction to bring joy to their lives.
But it’s the scenes around the birth of Travis’ daughter elevate this from a great music documentary to a deeper exploration of the nature of fatherhood today.
When he finds out he's going to become a father (with his then-partner Kylie Jenner), he's ecstatic. He plays the audio of the sonogram to his close friend, proclaiming it "the livest thing of all time." He's present at the birth, and comes out afterwards overwhelmed with emotion:
“As soon as she got born, right, she was crying hard as fuck. As soon as I walked over there, stopped crying. As soon as I walked away, started crying. Shit is crazy.”
Travis has integrated being a father into the core of everything he does, influencing his creative output. On "Sicko Mode", Astroworld's breakout track that became the sound of 2018, he tells us "Pass this to my daughter. I'm gonna show her what it took". He takes Stormi on-stage before the gig, and fans start chanting her name. He goes from a post-gig creative review of the stage direction of his Madison Square Gardens show (which is 2 minutes of film that is worth a post on its own) to making sure his little girl is locked up securely in her car seat. And over the end credits, he can be seen vibing to Baby Shark with his little girl: a moment that any dad can relate to.
Ain't by the book. This how it look.
The documentary is a lesson in the power of parental love. His parents have shown him love his whole life. It’s enabled him to thrive. To become successful in every part of his life. And to be a loving, present, engaged father with his kid too.
It’s also a powerful counterpoint to the stereotypical American narrative around the “deadbeat dad”: Travis’ father is present throughout, and his support is a huge contribution to the eventual success of his son. Travis learns to be a better dad in turn—he’s deeply involved in the life of his daughter, and anyone who follows him online can see how much joy she brings to his life.
Immersing myself in Travis’ story, I see all these elements of The Virtuous Circle of Fatherhood coming together: he's now co-parenting happily with Stormi's mum; feeding the new experiences of fatherhood into his life; and inspiring a next generation of young men that see how seriously he takes fatherhood.
I was overwhelmed by how Travis the father brings to life so much of what I've been writing here over the last few months. He shares his truth, warts and all. He's not afraid of putting his heart out there for all to see. There's an incredibly vulnerable moment in the tunnel when (spoiler alert) he loses out on the Grammy for Best Rap Album. We immediately cut to footage of Travis as a child, learning to ride his bike with his dad. How no matter how many times he fell down, he kept getting up and getting back on the bike. Vulnerability is a core parts of his narrative.
"I want to leave the whole world inspired. I want to leave a trail of inspiration."
Reader, as you can tell from the last 1,200 words, it worked. As soon as the documentary finished, I wrote this. Then I woke up the next morning at 6am, still thinking about it. So I got dressed, grabbed a rental bike, and rode a bike to the beach to watch the sun come up. Open to the opportunities of what this new day might bring. Inspired to take the love I have for my kids and use it to power other parts of life. As I looked out over a stunning sunrise across the Mediterranean Sea, I listened to "Stop Trying to be God", Travis’ psilocybin-inspired ode to ego dissolution, inviting us all to let go of our need to control everything and simply enjoy the moment we're in right now:
“Just know what this about: Palm trees, oceans, fresh air that can break your heart. Stop trying to be God.”
3 things to read this week
I absolutely adored this essay from Austin Kleon on giving yourself what you needed then, and give your kids what they need now. So much to chew on, and a reminder to look at what might be driving the things you're pushing your kids towards: "Build the world you always wanted, but make sure there’s room in it for the world they want, too."
As a white father of two non-white children, I know there's a lot I have to learn about how I talk with my kids about race. If you're in the same boat, I can recommend this article helping multiracial children embrace their identify as a good intro ... and there's at least a dozen books to read after that.
Feeling burnt out? Here's a great article on how on self-care goes beyond buying things and bubble baths, to real action you can take to do the deeper work that will pay itself back in spades: "If I have one message, it’s this — everyone has access to self-care. It's not just about what you spend your money on, it's also about how you invest your time, your effort and your energy into meaningful work."
“This is the way.”
One thing to watch with the kids this week
Well of course you're going to be watching the Travis Scott documentary now. But there's another great empathy-laden documentary I watched this weekend that also gave me the feels: "Won't You Be My Neighbour", the story of Mr Rogers' Neighborhood, an iconic American kid's TV show. Warning: the pure, heartfelt kindness in this scene may emotionally destroy you. But it's totally worth it.
Previously on The New Fatherhood
Last weekend I just wanted to know “who are you?” It was great to get to know each other more and to hear about how you're balancing being a father with all the other things you love in life.
"Hi all. I'm Jon. By day I’m a Graphic Designer and have been lucky enough to be able to work from home for most of this last year - seeing more of my Son grow up has been a real silver lining!"
"I’m Patrick, 37 from Seattle, WA, USA. Father of two daughters, 3 and 1. I’m a video game designer and have been making tabletop games for my oldest recently. She’s wild about this collaborative map-drawing and storytelling game we’re working on though. That one I might actually start playtesting with other parents soon."
"Hi, I'm Neil very amateur parent to 3 teenage daughters. Living in the shadow of 4 amazing ladies. Expat Northern Irishman, 17 years living in Marin County California, via London and Edinburgh. Designer by trade, agency founder for my sins. Can be found dragging unwilling kids on hiking adventures, walking 2 goldens, BBQing, running to feel like I'm 30 again. Unofficial evangelist of 'The New Fatherhood'."
Thanks everyone who jumped in to say hello! What a wonderful bunch of humans you all are.
Thanks again to all of you who introduced yourselves this weekend. I loved reading all the comments, from friends old and new. Shout out to Jake, Sam, Jim and Will (again!) for doing the right thing and sharing this newsletter with more dads who might find it useful. If you enjoyed reading this week’s issue as much as I enjoyed writing it, hit the 💬 below and let me know. See y'all soon!