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Where’s my Jenny?
Why are fathers so terrible at looking out for each other?
The New Fatherhood is a weekly newsletter from Kevin Maguire, exploring the changing nature of being a father today. You are one of the 400 dads (or curious mums) who have already joined this community. If you've been forwarded this by someone else, please sign up to get this in your inbox every week.
Welcome to the second week of 2021! Or what feels like the 54th week of 2020.
Let me briefly whisk you back to simpler times: Summer, 2018.
After our second child was born, we were finding it tough. One day I looked over at my wife texting on her phone, and saw a sea of words from her friend Jenny. I was worried—a message this long? Something terrible must have happened.
"What's going on? Is everything OK?" I asked.
"Of course. Why?" my wife replied.
"I saw how big that message was. It's the whole screen."
"She's just checking in on me. She's got two kids, she knows how tough it is at the start."
My first feeling was one of relief: my wife had a fantastic support network in her friends. But then, I began wondering: where's my Jenny? I have friends. Many are dads too. But the idea that another dad would send a message, just checking-in, on how I was feeling?
Nope. It just wouldn’t happen.
In an instant I realised how we, as men, need to get better at looking out for each other during fatherhood. It’s a time of fundamental change, a tectonic plate-shifting of what it means to be a man, triggering all kinds of emotions and memories ... and not all of them positive.
Through thousands of years of herd behaviour, and a society that enables women to be more empathetic than men, mothers have developed this sixth sense at looking out for each other.
But we haven’t. We lack the language and skills to be able to talk about these things easily.
As men, generally speaking, we're terrible at talking about how we feel. It's a key driver of suicide rates for men being around three times higher than for women. Broad brushstrokes here, but it's two-sided problem: those who need help don't ask for it, and those who could be helping don’t have the emotional intelligence to understand when their friends need them most—rushing to solve problems, rather than understand the causes behind them.
Women have ‘a greater ability to recognize what another person is thinking intuitively and respond appropriately.’ On the other hand ‘men have a stronger drive to view the world through “rule-based systems” striving to learn how things work through their underlying parts.’ Science Daily
What I hope with this community is that dads-to-be, and dads-who-already-are, can begin to understand the gamut of emotions that fatherhood brings, and help us to help each other through it.
I want us to see fatherhood for what it can be—a rewarding experience and a personal development opportunity of the highest order. Not just to become a better person yourself, but to nurture a completely new person—from scratch!—and enable them to thrive, to go out into the world and impact it in positive ways themselves. To completely comprehend that you get out what you put in. That, if given the right thought, and intention, fatherhood can be a lifelong opportunity to get better every day.
We spend so much on self-improvement: $11 billion a year (just in the US) on books and courses to be the person we aspire to be, professional coaching and training courses to be successful at work, and therapy and marriage counselling for when things don’t go to plan.
But, for some reason, we allow fatherhood to just happen to us. We’ve become “self driving dads” — passengers in a vehicle going in some sort of general direction, but not in control of the route, how we’re going to get there, or what to do when we arrive.
When was the last time you spent time (or money) on something with the sole intention of it helping you become a better father? When was the last time you heard of a friend doing it? Let’s normalise and celebrate this behaviour, making things like fatherhood weekend retreats as normal as mindfulness ones.
I want The New Fatherhood to be a safe space for us to connect and share, where we can together develop a shared understanding of what fatherhood means today, and what we can do to help each other along the way.
Have you something recently to try to become a better father? Help the rest of us out and let us know.
(Yes, signing up for / reading this email counts! But it's kinda cheating to pick that.)
Ok, now onto all the funny shit you really opened this email for ...
TikTok: it’s not just a place for teens to learn the latest dance crazes and overthrow facist governments! There’s a torrent of excellent dads on there showing the world what The New Fatherhood is all about. Like the dad who wouldn't let his son dress up as Elsa (alone). Another dad moonlighting as his son’s hype man. Try turning the end of nap time into into a VIBE. Shredding down the road with pops on Father's Day. A prank that will bring a tear to your eye. Another that will bring a smile to your face. Supporting your LGBTQ kid by just sending goofy photos whenever you see something rainbow coloured. An epic adventure when memes go wrong. And an all-time classic: Why are you copying me?
Room for one more? 5 things I learned during the first 24 hours of fatherhood: “Crying is a fun activity you can share with both your newborn and your spouse.
3 things to read this week
If this ode to a father from Humans of New York doesn't make you feel something ... I'm just not sure we can be friends.
The “Donald Trump is a terrible father” edition
Vids for the kids
You won't believe what John Collins AKA "The Paper Airplane Guy” can do with a piece of paper.
Last week we found out our friend Nic Murray had passed away after a fight with cancer, and are sending love to his family at this tough time. He was a magnificent friend, loving husband to Danielle, and wonderful father to his 2 year old son Ezra. Nic was only 41 years old. A reminder to make every day count, and tell people you love them before it’s too late. We miss you already buddy.
Like anything here? Hit reply and let me know. Send me links, comments, questions, and feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org or just reply to this email.
Did you get all the way down here? Amazing. Here’s one more thing to do. Text a friend who has had a kid recently, ask him how he’s feeling, and go be his Jenny.
Feel awkward doing it without a reason? Yup I’ve been there too. I got you. Just forward him this email and say “hey I read this and it reminded me to check in, how are you feeling?”