"What if he resented us for not having a boob?"
A story of surrogacy—another path towards fatherhood.
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 950 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 not going to lie, last week's newsletter left me physically and emotionally exhausted. But I felt that sharing my story could help others, and I was so moved by the comments, emails and messages I received. I'm genuinely humbled that so many of you felt inspired to share your own stories too—either in public or with me privately.
This week I'm going to let Steve Nye take over for a while. We used to rent Steve and his husband Ryan's house in San Francisco, and they have a personal perspective on just how much fatherhood has changed. Oh and, as you'll probably notice, their son is also called Bodi— a slightly different spelling, but still the same wonderful meaning. Take it away Steve!
Fatherhood is honestly not something I ever thought I’d be ready for. Frankly, I loved my life before: lots of traveling, meeting fascinating people all over the world, throwing myself into an interesting career. But I was getting older, life felt a little ... emptier, more worn. Both Ryan and I started worrying that we’d regret not starting our own little family. And Ryan had always wanted to be a dad.
So we resolved to do it. It didn’t hurt that some of our closest friends were also taking the plunge. Safety in numbers, right?
There were different routes to fatherhood available to us. But somehow, we landed on the concept of surrogacy. Something about having a link to our kid just felt right. Of course, that brought with it a whole host of hoops and expenses and complications—and lawyers.
So. Many. Lawyers.
Turns out there’s a lot that goes into having some stranger carry your precious child for you. But beyond all the machinations of surrogacy, we managed to find something perfect for us. A wonderful surrogate who selflessly gave her time and body to help our little family come to be. And honestly, it could not have gone better. She was happy and wanted to do whatever she could to follow our wishes. And she was calm. So important—we’re convinced it helped make our little guy a well-adjusted, easy fella.
Heck, even the birth was something out of a storybook. Our son was supposed to be born in mid-Jan. But he decided that Dec 21 was a much better birthday. Three and a half weeks before we were expecting any news, we got the call. I was at work, my penultimate day in London before we were due to fly home for the holidays. Our surrogate had texted to say she was in labour. We couldn't get our heads around it. But there was no time for that! We changed our tickets, packed like maniacs, and went through a panic-buying shopping spree for baby stuff at our local grocery.
We were so not ready. But somehow, our little guy waited for 2 days for us to get back to the States. He sent that first signal … and then just sat back and waited for us. Our surrogate was 5.5cm dilated when she called that Thursday evening. When we arrived Friday night, she was still 5.5cm dilated. He wanted his daddies, apparently.
Then Bodi arrived. After lots of pushing, suctioning, and a few terrifying moments of not knowing whether he was alive or not, we finally met him. I just could never have imagined the love that poured out of me. And ever since then, it’s been a whirlwind of figuring out this dad thing. We were worried about what would happen without a feminine guiding force in his life: What if he resented us for not having a boob? What if we didn’t know how to help him? To figure out what he wanted? What if we broke him?
Everyone who had been a parent told us: you’ll just figure it out.
But I just couldn’t imagine how that could be.
And then … we just figured it out. And he was easy. So very easy. Maybe we’re lucky. I think we are. But I’m sure not complaining.
Over the months, we’ve gotten to know Bodi and watch his hilarious, sweet, clever little personality emerge. And I just can’t imagine not having made the choice we did. He makes every day better. We both look forward to getting out of bed every day (well OK, most days.) Maybe we’re still in the first 14-month honeymoon. But he just seems to be so damn cool. We can’t wait to see who he turns into.
Who knows where we go from here. It’s hard many days, especially with COVID. We’re both worn out, exhausted, desperate to see other people, to have some semblance of normal life again. We have to fight like hell to keep our own relationship healthy and strong. We don’t succeed every day. But then we see Bodi and hear his little laugh. And we just make it work. Because we both know we’re in for something special.
Thank you Steve, Ryan and Bodi! If you've got a personal perspective on how fatherhood is changing, and you'd like to share it here, we’d love to hear it. I’m especially interested in hearing from you if you’ve had what others might call a “non-traditional” path to fatherhood. Just reply to this message, or send me an email, and tell me what you’d like to talk about.
OK, now back to our regular weekly programming.
3 things to read this week
Ted Cruz was never the best role model. But the way he threw his daughters under the bus last week, blaming them after getting caught out on a trip to Mexico? Truly shameful. On the upside, it did inspire a few interesting takes around fatherhood. Dan Sinker looked into the struggles we've all faced over the last year, and reminded us all to give ourselves a break: "Every parent wants to be a good parent. And every parent, every day, fails at that because, right now, being a good parent is literally impossible. A fine parent? Maybe. An OK one? Possibly. But a good one? We’re eleven months into a pandemic that sent all our children home, laid waste to jobs, killed a half-million people in this country, and sickened many millions more. So no: a good parent isn’t really an option. We’re all just barely getting by."
Austin Kleon followed up, saying we should be aiming to be "good enough parents" right now: "If you are satisfied with being a good enough parent, and have no illusions that perfection is possible, you see this problem for what it is, a problem to try to solve, not a tragedy, not an occasion for blame or shame."
I've spoken before (and almost certainly will again) about my love of the kid's cartoon Steven Universe. It's the perfect way to introduce your children to subjects like same-sex relationships, non-binary genders, and more. Last month they released a series of cartoons about how to be anti-racist, that are well-written, brilliant voice acted and just really, really fun. Truly leading by example.
Having a tough one? Here's a little pick me up
Olympian runner, author and filmmaker Alexi Pappas isn't a dad. But in the video above she shares her "rule of thirds", which should help you get through today if you're having a rough one.
The one thing you need to watch with the kids this week
This five minute video of a starling murmuration is absolutely stunning. Grab your kids and watch it on the biggest screen, in the highest resolution, that you possibly can.
Previously on The New Fatherhood
It's close to impossible to pick just a few comments from last week's issue on paternal post-natal depression. I’d strongly suggest going and reading them all. But if you're in comfortably stuck in your inbox, and not moving for anybody, here's three:
"Thanks for writing this, it's deeply insightful. I felt this after both mine were born. I didn't realise what it was at the time. There was no indication in any of the books or classes that this would be something that existed for me and none of my mates had ever said that they felt anything like this either - classic baggage from an upbringing where we weren't allowed to unwrap emotions, I suspect. Your story is important and I hope lots of people hear what you have to say." Vahakn
"I'm glad to see that you've managed to overcome this darkness but I've also noticed the help coming from your partner. This is something very crucial in parenting business since we're in this together with our partners and overcome the obstacles this way. Since it's this difficult sometimes, single parents are like saints in my eyes, very powerful people." Oz
"Very grateful for you Kevin and all the other dads on here opening up. In fact it’s the first time opening up to a group of strangers for me also. It’s very helpful to read all the fights that other dads had been through and came out on top. This community is great and reading it definitely takes a lot of pressure off a young dad who is sometimes a bit overwhelmed by his new job. Hugs to all of you out there. We’re in this together."Johannes
I also wanted to know how you were feeling last week, and it seemed like a great safe space for us to get things off our collective chests. I think we'll bring that one back again as a regular feature.
This is where I like to thank the people that forwarded a previous email. But as last week's issue was so personal, and your reasons for forwarding it might have been personal too, I'll give it a miss. But please know, I'm here, and always around to talk. Hit reply to this email and it’ll send me a private message. Thank you to everyone else who continues to share the things I write with the people you know. Your referrals are the main way we bring more people into the world of The New Fatherhood.
Made it all the way down here and looking for something to do? This thread on how a 8 year old managed to convince her parents, school, and even the technical support staff at Zoom that she wasn't able to join online classes is a true inspiration to us all.