Warning: this email contains terrible parenting advice
Won't somebody PLEASE think of the fathers?
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 5,892 dads (and curious non-dads) signed up. If you've been forwarded this by someone else, why not get your own?
Imagine, for a moment, you are the father of a small child. This exercise might come easy for some—it may even be true. Others might need to wind their brains back to an altogether foggier time. A few might be peering into the future, gazing into the crystal ball at a day yet to arrive.
Let’s say you’re six months in. Still a baby, those Michelin Man arm rolls present and delicious. It’s been a year, all told, if you count the pregnancy—which your wife definitely can, but the jury’s still out on how tough that was for you. You’re doing fairly well, all things considered. Everyone is healthy, relatively happy, and spirits are fine, even with rough nights commonplace. Your brain is learning to cope with what is—by all recommended medical professionals—an altogether unhealthy amount of sleep. “How is the baby sleeping?” your friends will ask, sometimes other sympathetic parents, their own sleep-deprived days nothing more than a hazy memory. “We’re tired, but we’re making it work,” you’ll offer, or words to that effect.
And on your way to work one morning, running solely on a combination of fumes and caffeine, you open Twitter to check in on the live-streamed dump fire, the collapsing media empire cosplaying as a modern-day freak show. You’re hoping for a few minutes of distraction, and the warm feeling of schadenfreude in watching whatever was left of Elon’s reputation wash away, and then you see this:
You’ll notice two things here—the pixelated details, and a missing hyperlink. Because I don’t want to pour fuel on the fire. When I first saw this tweet I had stern words with myself, closed the laptop, and walked away to prevent the rage response. That’s giving these people the oxygen they clearly crave. It’s engagement through enragement, the primary currency of a platform inexorably working its way towards self-destruction, threadbois winding folks up while the ship goes down.
It’s a sentence so lacking in empathy, so devoid of understanding, wilfully ignorant to the plight of any fellow parent in the middle of it. I’ve got many friends who have children who aren’t sleeping, for all kinds of reasons—neurological conditions, ongoing chronic illness, night terrors. Is that their fault? I’ve had a few weeks of my own three-year-old up in the middle of the night, unable to settle. Is that my fault? I am hoping karma will do its work on this man (because, even through the pixelation, of course, it’s a man, can you imagine a mum ever tweeting this?) and he will soon learn the two most terrifying words in the life of a parent: SLEEP REGRESSION.
The sweet spot on the Venn diagram of "influential Twitter bro" and "new dad" is producing some truly horrific "content.” Parents who, like Bean Dad, continue to go to horrifying lengths in an attempt to instil grit and determination in their child; another suggests a fresh approach to pocket money and how you should instead offer them a loan they can repay in the future (I wish I were kidding).
Some of them aren’t all bad. The advice can be useful, but it’s always fed through a Valley-speak bullshit-o-meter, treating children like direct reports rather than human beings. Sometimes I struggle to understand whether they’re parody, or some seven-level deep humour that flies completely over my head.
Last year I wrote about “Garbage In, Garbage Out,” and the danger of putting bad “content” into your system. I spent a big part of that essay ragging on social platforms, and the “Allbird-wearing, Patagonia-fleeced, Mount-Tamalpais-weekend-hiking Product Managers” that treat our attention as a resource to be captured, held hostage and monetised ruthlessly. And whilst much remains the same, I’ve felt a few things shift in myself. We’ve made a few great friends that have come about through an Instagram DM. And I’ve learned how supportive someone like Tom from The Dad Vibes or Fun Dad Dean can become by holding a mirror up to the struggle of fatherhood. These dads put words into the world from a place of love, empathy and understanding—telling others “I know how you feel, and I feel it too,” rather than pointing a finger and questioning your parenting abilities.
One of the nicest side-effects of the community surrounding TNF is having a cabal of dads, active across various points of the internet, encountering this stuff in the wild and bringing it back—digital hunter-gathers, returning with a carcass for the whole tribe. These threads and videos get shared in the Geneva community where we tuck in together. Some are great and offer useful advice. Others aren’t and are shot down accordingly. Sam summed it up best a few months back:
“If I'd have seen [that post] in the wild, I'd have felt like I wasn't doing this right, fallen into feeling inadequate, and so on. This is a much nicer corner of the internet."
Be careful of whose advice you listen to. Surround yourself with dads who call bullshit when they see it and are there for you when you need it. Remember every kid is different; what works for them won’t always work for yours. Comparison is the thief of joy—themes become consistent. However you’re feeling—today, tomorrow, and the next day—you’re doing great, dad. You’re doing way better than you think you are. We’re always hardest on ourselves.
Remember to take every piece of advice with a pinch of salt. Including this one.
3 things to read this week
“Why Did We All Have the Same Childhood” by Julie Beck in The Atlantic. Come for the nostalgia-laden illustration; stay for the insightful essay. An exploration of the proto-memes that created our shared lore of childhood in a world before the internet. Julie Beck has been killing it lately: “Where childlore comes from is arguably less important than how it spreads and why it gains traction in the first place. The main way childlore spreads is, perhaps obviously, by children teaching it to one another. Older kids mentor younger ones both at school and at home, where siblings play a vital role in passing jokes and games down through generations.”
“Would Unschooling Actually Make My Kids Any Happier?” by Kathryn Jezer-Morton in The Cut. ”Unschooling” is where gentle parenting meets the education system. It promotes teaching the child, not the test; not to force the curriculum; whether being done at home or school. It’s yet another way we’re blurring lines between home and work, as quiet quitting and hybrid working become commonplace. “These days it seems like, if a kid enjoys school enough to be considered a “high achiever,” they’re doomed to circulate in a hothouse environment full of stress. What if there were good public schools that didn’t put a ton of pressure on the students? If that seems impossible, maybe we should ask ourselves why.”
“A Parent’s Typical Day, as Envisioned by my Child’s Preschool” by Ruyi Went in The New Yorker If you click one link this week, make it this one. Nothing made me laugh more. A universe away from the above “95% tweet”—a masterclass in building empathy, helping parents feel seen, and bringing people together through humour instead of setting them apart with a superiority complex. “Today is a regular Tuesday in the middle of a normal workweek, so of course, it’s early school dismissal. I chat with the room mom while we wait for our kids, and she persuades me to help with the school bake sale this weekend that I didn’t know was happening. (Shame on me for not reading the twelve-page weekly emails more carefully.) Luckily, my schedule is wide open at 3:00 a.m. on Saturday for some baking, so I agree to bring six dozen kale triceratops brownies.”
A podcast to ponder over
I’ve made no secret of my love for Krista Tippett, the OnBeing podcast, and its role in shifting my attitude towards spirituality. On the eve of a new series, the team have put together On Being Foundations, a four-part series intending to explore what has “emerged through 20 years of conversations […] tethering understandings towards our shared callings for inner life, presence to the world, and life together.”
Each episode is around 10 minutes long, and there’s an interactive element to this series, with each chapter acting as a springboard for thought and discussion, alone or with a group. This week I will start posting prompts in the community to participate as we explore the four topics together. If this sounds like your cup of tea, come get involved.
Also in the community this month …
Our “summits” are back, having moved from weekly to fortnightly. We’ve gotten together twice this month—once for a general check-in chat, and another earlier this week to discuss 2014’s “Boyhood,” the latest entry in our rotating movie/book club.
The London dads got together last night for a few drinks, and I’m trying to lock down a date for a coffee morning here in Barcelona before the end of the year. More irl events to come in 2023—some with kids, others without.
The Geneva community goes from strength to strength, with open discussions and genuine connections between dads there. There’s a huge chance you’ve never heard of this app, but don’t worry—I’ve come to think of it as a less overwhelming version of Discord, or a Slack that doesn’t make you sweat with fear every time you hear the notification. A few recent discussion topics have included menopause, keeping kids occupied on dark winter evenings, tips on getting started with formula milk, and imposter syndrome. The most active topic of the month has been on diet and exercise, which has inspired a few to start an accountability/progress group in the new year. I’m sure you’ll be hearing more about that soon.
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After seven years we're back in the thick of it again. We're one of the lucky under 1% where the pill didn't work haha. Anyways the point I was getting to is how much I forgot living on a three hour baby sleep cycle, waking up in the rocking chair, not even making it to bed, just getting through however we can. But this past two weeks my wife did all the heavy lifting with the baby because I was working 12 days in a row. I basically slept alone in our bed for two weeks, and still was exhausted. I finally get today off. Last night my wife got a well deserved sleep in our bed and I had bubs almost all night in the lounge room chair. Yeah, I'm tired, but I didn't realise I missed that time with him so much.
I'm a mom to 7 kids (+ 2 bonus/step kids), the oldest being 19, and something about the refreshing warmth of your writing led me to finally become a paid subscriber. Even those of us parents who truly know we are doing our best and to let the small (and big) shit go can always use a little more empathy and encouragement on any given day. Your writing always makes me smile. :)