The New Fatherhood is an open and honest conversation about modern fatherhood, with 10,710 dads (and curious non-dads) figuring it out as we go. Here's a bit more information if you're new here.
Those early firsts are clear-cut. The first rollover. First crawl. First word. The first time standing up, closely followed by the first time falling flat on their face. First steps. First night sleeping through (oh, sweet relief). Then you reach the closing chapters of the books you’ve been holding dear: developmental stages you can set your watch to, frighteningly accurate predictions of what to expect, week by week, for six whole months; assurances you aren’t losing your mind, that everything is going as it should.
You’re suddenly in open waters. Out on your own. From a definite “this is what your baby will almost certainly do this week” to a world of “well, they should probably do this by the time they’re 3, but there’s no need to start worrying until they’re 5.” The milestones out here are sporadic. Unpredictable. They’re streetlamps, each one further away from the last, briefly illuminating the way ahead, confirming you remain on the right path. They’re buoys floating in the sea, scattered across an ever-widening ocean—you’ll meet one, every so often, but only if your course has been plotted before.
I’m often asked: do you have a bunch of essays finished off, ready to go, an editorial calendar, or anything like that? My mind wanders to Heath Ledger, all dolled up as a maniacal nurse: Do I really look like a guy with a plan? I have a system, for sure. This whole thing would crumble without it (thank you, Notion). But there ain’t no plan. The shitty first draft of this essay is being written from my phone, a little after 9 pm on Friday, lying in the bottom bunk of the kids’ bedroom. My son's eyes are slowly getting heavier, his head resting gently on my shoulder, his Spiderman teddy gripped tightly to his chest, as he eases into the world of slumber. He’ll be four, real soon. It came around fast; their birthdays always do. Whenever he asks for a new toy, I remind him of his upcoming jubilations. “Maybe you can get it for your birthday,” I suggest. His list grows ever longer: a Mace Windu purple lightsaber, a Titan Hero Series Miles Morales, a ridiculously large Batmobile I can only hope he’s forgotten about by now. If this were OnlyFans, and not Substack, I’d drop his Amazon wishlist, hoping a glorious benefactor might buy them all for him. But there’s no TNF OnlyFans. Not yet, at least.
There’s a moment when the escape velocity of their learning reaches a frightening pace. We have days where we wish for a less curious child—a few hours where he might not need to know the answers to all of life’s questions; where he might, maybe, sit and play for a while without having to re-enact a White House briefing every five minutes. But his brain is a hungry sponge, and his curiosity knows no bounds. It’s all about numbers and letters right now, incomprehensible configurations of the two inside the bathtub or magnetically attached to the fridge freezer. The letter B has been scribbled on various pieces of paper around the house, or those magic drawing tablets, a glorious innovation akin to a modern-day Etch-A-Sketch. He’s moved from being able to quickly rattle through the spelling of his name—a long series of sounds that comes out as “bee-ohdee-aitch-eye”—to understanding what each one of those sounds means on its own; the letter D looks like that, and yes, it sounds the same as when you say “dog”, and yes, it’s the one letter you share with your sister, placed at the same point, exactly midway between both of your names. There’s only one set of letters in the bath, so there’s no way both their names can be there simultaneously. The little sibling gets what he needs, whilst the elder one scrambles for scraps, even her name diminished by the presence of a younger brother.
One of the greatest joys of parenting small children is how easy it is to dupe them. A little white lie can pull the wool over their eyes, ensuring you get what you need, the opposite of what they want, without a complete meltdown and shift in the family DEFCON level. We all have our favourites—”the comic book shop you love closed at 5 pm today, sorry” was uttered out of my mouth just yesterday—although none are as cruel, and simultaneously iconic, as the apocryphal “If the ice cream truck is playing a song, it means he’s run out of ice cream.”
Enjoy these sneaky tricks while you can. Because they have a shelf life, and your little one(s) will be smart enough to figure them out soon. Tonight I came into the bedroom with his bottle of milk, a night-time habit we’re slowly weaning him off, as we attempt to make bedtime nappies a thing of the past. We’ve been slowly reducing the amount of milk in the bottle, its contents gradually approaching zero. I walked in, lay down next to him, and handed him the bottle. He held it in his hand, sized it up, and rocked it gently on its axis, letting the liquid flow into the teat, then back to the base. “That’s not enough,” he ordered, his face filled with disgust, outraged that I’d attempted to pull such a deception—a clear violation of his human rights, with multiple Geneva Conventions broken in the process.
Having a child is choosing to walk down a path littered with milestones. Some you’ll celebrate. Others you’ll worry about. There are milestones you’ll fear the arrival of, even knowing you’ll look back on them one day with a smile. But these ones? The ones where you get to watch how smart your kids are getting? They’ll never cease to amaze you. You can spend time wondering if you’ve made it to a milestone yet. Or you could sit down, take a beat, and admire the view.
3 things to read this week
“The Men Who Battled Post Natal Depression Without Knowing What It Was” by Elle Hunt in GQ. Encouraged to see this issue get more coverage in more prominent publications. But it would be nice to read more from dads who have been through it themselves. I’m available, in case you’re wondering. “Evidence shows that, if one parent is struggling with PND, it is likely that the other will be too. ‘If a father has depression, we know that it can affect the child’s emotional development, cognitive, social, behavioural – it has a huge impact,’ Baldwin says. ‘It can affect intimate relationships as well. Therefore I think it’s a huge public health issue, and it needs to be tackled at the same time as mothers – instead of just mothers.’”
“Why Are Fathers Suddenly Doing More Housework?” by Bruce Feiler in The Non-Linear Life. ”It’s a rare week when fatherhood rises to national prominence,” begins Feiler, New York Times bestselling author and TV personality. He then goes in on the abuse aimed toward Pete Buttigieg, a new dad who took extended paternity leave after his twins were born and placed in intensive care. “In May 2020, close to half of fathers said they took on the bulk of home schooling. And those numbers weren’t just reflected among American dads, but in all countries surveyed, from the Netherlands to Canada. In the United States, for example, the proportion of so-called traditional families where mothers did most of the housework decreased from 69% pre-pandemic to 53% during the pandemic, the highest of all the countries polled.”
“What Does it Mean to be a Boy Online in 2023” by Henry Mance in the Financial Times. Wrapping up this week with a biggie. Hit the button, pour yourself a cup of tea, and begin to wrap your head around just how hard it is to raise good boys today; in a world where misogynistic YouTube videos and Andrew Tate constantly bombard them, as Mance attempts to connect the dots back to Loaded and the “lad mag” generation we once found ourselves in. ”I felt embarrassed reading Loaded and FHM in a public place. But I also felt relieved. These were just magazines. It wouldn’t have been possible to take them too seriously. As a teenager, I read them for maybe a few hours a month, but they were not my whole life. As Laura Bates puts it: ‘If you read a lad mag, you didn’t have someone waiting for you to turn the last page, and thrusting something more extreme into your hands.’ YouTube and TikTok are different. The experience is immersive, hour after hour of content, every night.”
Donald Glover on raising good humans
“I’m a sensitive person. And it scares me because I see it in my son. Glovers have big hands. Glovers have big feet. Glovers are angry men. I say to my son, ‘I’m letting you know your history a little bit so you understand this is what you’re gonna have to deal with. Don’t react all the time because your anger swells up really fast.’”
Taken from this interview with British GQ as Glover wanders through his “orchard of ideas” in Ojai, California. It’s so good. Worth reading to find out about Liam Neeson’s cameo on Atlanta, and Jordan Peele’s role in bringing it into being.
Previously on The New Fatherhood
I wanted to know about the one book you read that helped you become a better dad. Dear reader, it went off. Seventy-seven comments strong (and counting), and enough killer parenting books to keep you going until your kids have kids of their own. Too many good ones to pick; I’ll rank them by your likes and give you the top four. Go eat the rest up, and be nourished.
"We worship at the altar of the first two Oster books. Bringing Up Bebe was another eye-opener for me as a parent. People do things differently in different countries? Aren't their children hurt as a result? What freedom to know that you can do something differently having thought it through and things will be alright. We also did the "le-pause" which has been a lifesaver this first 6 months. Jonathan
I’m a HUGE fan of Armin Brott’s series on parenting: The New Father and The Expectant Father. When my wife first got pregnant I freaked out and about like 30 books. I found many of them came in two flavors. The first was, “Listen up bro time to stop shotgunning beers with your friends for five seconds and ask your wife how she’s doing when she crying.” The second was, “here is a chronological list of everything that might go wrong with the baby and mother in clinical detail.” Armin Brott’s The Expectant Father was the exception. Charlie
Reading The Idle Parent by Tom Hodgkinson was a game-changer for us. Funny, irreverent, and filled with practical tips. Highly recommended. David
No-Drama Discipline—such a helpful book. Super practical but also explains the brain science behind the approach. It’s one I’ve gone back to time and time again. Trevor
Oooooooh that last one is a winner. I forgot how good it was, and Trevor’s comment made me dig it back out of the shelf “Say yes to the feelings, even as you say no to the behavior,” a sage piece of parenting advice that never fails to deliver.
Here’s where I usually share some Tweets. But earlier this month Space Karen threw a hissy fit in the direction of Substack, and for 72 hours, you couldn’t like, reply to, or retweet any Tweet containing a Substack link. They later rolled this back, but Musk and his roughly 500 engineers are still disabling Substack users from embedding Tweets. We’re now in the realm of screenshots—things might look a bit different. Hold onto your butts.
Last week was a rare one, where the newsletter just got away from me. I’m hoping you didn’t notice. Shouldn’t have even brought it up, eh?
How was this week’s issue? I read all of these, and you’re always so nice.
Loved | Great | OK | Meh | Bad
Branding and illustration by Selman Design. Illustration by Tony Johnson. Survey by Sprig.
This - 'You can spend time wondering if you’ve made it to a milestone yet. Or you could sit down, take a beat, and admire the view.' Yes.
Ahhh Kevin! Yet again you spearhead the observations spiralling in my mind. Like a matrix minded magician. Thank you.
As recent home educators, I have become incredibly adept and inept all at once in my relationship with our now 7 year old Frank.
Having been through what I now know as PTSD and Post Natal Depression from Franks birth to my fathers death. I pride myself on being finely tuned to his frequency, what emotional needs are behind the outbursts, what his intentions are, how each ‘obsession’ is him working out his place in the universe.
Referring to your ‘white lie’ approach to the younger years, I’ve never been comfortable with that, purely as a reaction my own parents inept coercion method that continued into adulthood.
Also our Frank has an incredibly low threshold for bullshit! Even pre-verbal, he would shoot us a look that conveyed ‘seriously? Thats just nonsense’
My own mother claiming after minding him overnight, when he was around 12 months, “oh you can’t pull the wool over his eyes”
Why would you try? I thought.
I digress, deep in reflective mode and marvelling at another expression of independence from Frank, it occurred to me I never got to say goodbye to the other younger versions of Frank.
I grieve them.
I miss 2 yr old, Octonauts Obsessive. 3 yr old scooting nut. 4 yr old naked dancer, 5 yr old monkey bar king, 6 yr old ninjago/Pokémon master and now the rainbow flicking football dynamo who deep dives info about gem stones.
Ever shifting, ever adapting. The way we talked, the places we visited. He becomes less willing to just do things now, much more independent and strong willed in advocating his needs.
We observe, celebrate, we congratulate, we commiserate.
If we regenerate our cells constantly, then by that definition a child is a new person constantly. And we should relate to them so, as though meeting a new entity every time. Don’t get lost in ‘should haves’ ‘usually does’ or even worse ‘normally’
Being a parent is an ever shifting Rolodex of storing old information and being welcoming of the new. As Frank begins the 7 yrs plus range I’m reminded more than ever, how I felt at his age, my memories solidifying at this point, what did I love, what did I struggle with?
and all I ever wanted was to have a fluid support system that trusted me when I needed it and challenged me when I was ready and set me free when I flexed those muscles. No judgment, criticism or shame.
“We are not the engineers of our children, we are their shepherds, they are fully functioning individuals who just need the right environment and landscape in which to thrive”
Every time you do something with them, might just be the last. Drink it up, breathe it in.