Posts Tagged ‘ Dad 2.0 ’

The New Face of Fatherhood, on Display in New Orleans

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014

Let loose 200+ guys for a weekend in New Orleans—sans wives, partners, and kids—and you may expect the equivalent of a Judd Apatow plot. And there we were, doing what guys do: welling up at moving descriptions of father-child bonding, discussing how we can be better fathers, and dissecting how the role of dad is reflected in our broader culture. It was my first Dad 2.0 Summit, and I am so grateful to have spent these days doing a deep-dive into the meaning of fatherhood with some of the best observers and chroniclers of the topic out there today.

Here are seven key points I came away with:

There is a new dad in town. The conference, more than anything, celebrated the “new face of fatherhood,” a phrase that was repeated often in one way or another. This new model of father is unafraid to show and discuss his emotions, prioritizes family over work and struggles with work-life balance, expects to be treated in the media—as in all aspects of life–as a competent, involved father and not a Homer Simpson-type fool, and defines his identity as father first, everything else second. He is conscious of how new this is, so different than fathers past, and eager to celebrate it, even as he admits freely to the fears and insecurities that so many of us face. And he wants you to know how much he loves being a father and how much he loves his children. Suppressing emotions is so yesteryear; today’s guy gushes. Stoic is out, sappy is in. (Personally, I am guilty as charged.)

We’ve come a long way, but we’re not there yet. A couple of years ago, Huggies put out a commercial that was widely seen as demeaning to fathers. Thanks in large part to the efforts of many of the dad bloggers I met in New Orleans, the commercial was pulled and new, completely different, better one was created in its place. The incident has come to be seen as a turning point, showing the power of the dad community and heralding a new assertiveness, a willingness to fight the old, insulting portrait of dads that the media often painted. However, plenty of examples of the bumbling dad remain, and nearly three-quarters of men say they feel falsely depicted in advertising, according to Rob Candelino, the VP of marketing for Unilever, who spoke at the conference as part of Dove Men+Care’s sponsorship of the event. Falling back on the easy stereotype is always tempting, I am sure, for someone trying to get a laugh or sell a product, but these fathers are ready to stand up to depictions of dad as unable to change diapers or make a decision about their kids’ lives. Of course, we all went home and watched the Super Bowl hours later, happily seeing plenty of sweet examples of the “new dad” being depicted in the commercials. Proof that our culture is changing its view of dads, for the better.

Fathers are important. While there was a lot of talk about how dads are more involved than ever in their kids’ lives, there was also some talk about how more kids than ever are growing up without a dad in the house. For many kids, dad remains an important presence despite their not living together—but for many others, there is no father in the picture. A growing area of interest is research into the impact on kids’ lives and their future successes of having, or not having, an involved father. One example is the upcoming book, Do Fathers Matter: What Science Is Telling Us About the Parent We’ve Overlooked, by science journalist Paul Raeburn, which will be released in advance of Father’s Day this year.

Being a new kind of dad can be lonely. This is especially true of the stay-at-home fathers, who were well represented at the conference. One spoke of being the only guy at mommy-and-me classes, and I imagine that that experience is not uncommon. They look to the blogging world for community and connection with other dads who are like them, amd a conference like this offers a rare opportunity to spend time in person with other dads whose lives are as focused on their kids.

Dads are making more buying decisions. Marketers have generally targeted moms as the decision makers in the household when it comes to kid-related purchases large and small. While that’s not going to change anytime soon, there was a sense that as dads become more involved in their kids’ lives overall, they are also making more purchasing decisions. In addition to Dove, conference sponsors included, among others, Cottonelle, Kraft Cheese, and Lego (as well as Meredith’s Parents Network, which includes Parents.com). All of these would likely have been considered mom’s territory in the past. There was also a panel dedicated to marketing to men and understanding how dads make buying decisions.

Fatherhood can be good business. Many of the dads at the conference derive a steady income from their blogs and/or the books they wrote (which often spring from their blogs). But beyond that, some dads are venturing into new money-making projects that are intimately tied to their identity as fathers. Most riveting was the Family Adventure Guy, Charles Scott, who quit his high-level job at Intel to spend more time with his kids (not a euphemism in his case) while also pursuing his passion for extreme sports: He takes his kids on amazing adventures, such as biking the full length of Japan, and makes money by blogging about it, soliciting corporate sponsorships, doing speaking gigs, and writing a book.

We love moms. Speaker after speaker made clear that they do not want to incite a competition for who does more or who has it harder. They were conscious that discussions of dads’ roles and the challenges we face can easily devolve into yet another war of the sexes. But the challenges and accomplishments of one group need not imply anything about the other. Moms paved the way—as involved parents and as bloggers—and the dads at the conference looked to them for inspiration and advice, and several great mom bloggers were in attendance.

Of course, the weekend wasn’t all panel discussions and keynote speakers. It was New Orleans, after all…

See all of my posts from and about Dad 2.0 Summit here. For a laugh watch this video from the Lords of the Playground, who attended the conference as well:

Lords of the Playground: The Countdown
Lords of the Playground: The Countdown
Lords of the Playground: The Countdown

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The Paternity Leave Struggle

Monday, February 3rd, 2014

Time-Warner reportedly offers its employees a generous maternity-leave benefit: 10 weeks paid time off. It’s unusual for an American company to offer any paid family leave, and I hope the women who work for the giant media company deeply appreciate this policy. Men at Time Warner, however, are not so lucky–the benefit does not extend to new fathers (or at least, biological fathers, since it does reportedly apply to adoptive fathers or men who became fathers through surrogacy).

That disparity is being challenged by Josh Levs, a reporter at CNN (which is part of the Time Warner empire), whose third child, a girl, was born in October. He’s filed a complaint with the EEOC alleging that the policy is discriminatory. Levs was a keynote speaker at the Dad 2.0 Summit, which I attended this past weekend.

I am no lawyer, but it certainly seems like Levs has a strong case and will hopefully prevail. (Time-Warner did not return a phone call from Parents.com seeking comment.)  That dads should be afforded the same opportunities as moms to stay home and care for, and bond with, their babies seems obvious to me–as does the injustice of any policy that applies to one gender and not the other. As Levs put it in his talk, his male colleague could adopt Levs’ baby and get 10 paid weeks of leave; as birth father, Levs needed to return to work after two weeks.

Even if Levs prevails, however, I don’t know that his EEOC case will have an impact beyond his own company, for the simple reason that few workplaces offer any paid leave for moms or dads. I certainly hope that changes and that the U.S. catches up to where much of the rest of the world is on this issue (as illustrated by this depressing chart, which made the social media rounds recently).

But there is another side to this issue, one that doesn’t involve government action or corporate benefit policies. Put simply, we fathers need to take advantage of the benefits already offered to us.

When my first daughter was born, I decided to take several weeks off from work when my wife returned to her job at the end of maternity leave. This paternity leave was unpaid, as my wife’s maternity leave was. When friends and colleagues  heard that I was doing this, I was taken aback by how many had the same reaction: “How great that your company offers this.”

I had news for them: My company was supportive and encouraging, but their policy was not guided by goodwill or generosity. It conformed with the letter of the law, which guarantees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during the year following a child’s birth or adoption for any new parent, man or woman, who is covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act. That law generally applies to anyone who has worked at least 1,250 hours during the previous 12 months for a company with at least 50 employees in the vicinity.

Yet few new dads take advantage of this paternity leave policy. A 2011 Boston College study found that about 75% of men took a week or less off from work when their child was born. And other reports have shown that only small numbers of eligible dads take paternity leave even when it’s paid.

I know it’s not an easy issue, and there are so many factors inhibiting dads from taking leave. Money is, I am sure, the biggest reason more men don’t take unpaid leave–which is what makes efforts like Levs’ so essential. But even for those who can afford it, or are lucky enough to work for the rare company that does offer paid leave, it can sometimes be hard to decide to take this time off. We men are so conditioned to work and strive to get ahead that it can be scary to step away from the office for an extended period. Will we be passed over for promotions or interesting projects? Will our bosses or colleagues think differently about us or believe we’re not committed to our jobs? Will we be at the top of the list when layoffs come?

Nevertheless, I hope to see more dads taking more of the time they are eligible for. It’s may not be what Josh Levs is fighting for–paid leave on par with his colleagues who are moms–but it’s not nothing, either. Until more of us use what’s available to us, it’s hard to argue for more. “You can’t have family values without valuing fathers,” Levs said in his talk at the conference. And, I would add, our society won’t truly start valuing fathers–and change its perception of men and work–until we  fathers make it that change happen.

See more about the Dad 2.0 Summit, or use our calculator to see if you can afford to be a stay-at-home parent. And for something on the lighter side, watch this video in our Lords of the Playground series:

Lords of the Playground: The Countdown
Lords of the Playground: The Countdown
Lords of the Playground: The Countdown

 

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Jason Katims’ Parenthood ‘Moments of Grace’

Friday, January 31st, 2014

If you watch the NBC show Parenthood, chances are you tear up, if not outright cry, at some point between 10 and 11 p.m. on Thursday nights while the show is in season.  Jason Katims, the show’s executive producer and showrunner, who worked on the show Friday Night Lights previously, spoke today at the Dad 2.0 Summit in New Orleans, which I am attending.

A surprising number of major, emotionally intense, storylines in Parenthood come in some form from Katim’s life, he revealed. His son, Sawyer, has Asperger’s Syndrome, an experience reflected in the character of Max, whose depiction of living with Asperger’s is ground-breaking.

“We were thrown this big curveball when he was diagnosed with Asperger’s,” Katims said. They felt alone in their challenges, until he had a realization that ended up being central to the idea of the show.

“Everybody has something,” he said. “This image and this idea of a normal happy family, it doesn’t exist. Every family has the stuff they’re grappling with. That stuff is not the aside of life, it is what family is about and parenting is about, leaning into that.”

In one episode—a clip of which we watched today during his talk—Max’s father, who is usually calm and controlled, punches another man in a supermarket because he was being insensitive to Max. Katims described the real-life incident that inspired this fictional moment: His son loved going on a particular amusement park ride, but one day they discovered he’d become too tall for it. They went to another, similar ride, only to find that his son was too short for that one. Katims begged for an exception to the rule, but the attendant wouldn’t let his son on; Katims lost his cool and yelled at the attendant.

The challenges Katims’ faced in communicating with his son helped him redefine what it means to make memories and forge a connection.

“Having a son with Asperger’s, there’s a lot of struggle finding those moments of connection with him,” Katims said, “Those small moments of grace are so powerful.”

Those small moments are the heart of Parenthood, the characters realizing that everyday events are deeply meaningful and memorable. The show was inspired by the 1989 movie of the same name.

“My responsibility was to say what is different about this generation than the generation that Ron Howard was observing 20 years ago,” Katims said.

Those differences are reflected in the show’s unflinching depiction of Asperger’s Syndrome, as well as storylines about single fatherhood and single motherhood.

For the record, of all the parents depicted on the show, Katims said that as a father, he most identified with Crosby, the slacker-turned-responsible father.

“I envy people who say the minute they see their baby they feel connected and in love. It wasn’t like that for me,” Katims said.

See more about the Dad 2.0 Summit and watch live video from New Orleans, or read more about the evolving role of fathers.

Lords of the Playground: The Countdown
Lords of the Playground: The Countdown
Lords of the Playground: The Countdown

Update 2/3/14: I’ve been asked to mention that Katims was brought to the conference by the events title sponsor, Dove Men+Care, which helped make Dad 2.0 a very memorable event. 

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Work-Life Balance When Work Takes You Away

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

I am en route to New Orleans for the Dad 2.0 Summit , waiting in Cincinnati for my connecting flight. I’ll be speaking on a panel about work-life balance. It occurred to me, as I kissed my family good-bye this morning, that the advanced logistical planning at home that preceded my agreeing to take this trip is testament to the challenges of “the juggle,” as the conference organizers aptly termed the title of my panel.

Extra hours from our nanny while I am gone, grandparents helping out and bringing dinner, a neighborhood teenager coming by for a few hours to help out. It’s enough to make a guy feel needed and useful.

And guilty.

And that was all before my 3-year-old made clear she thought my trip meant I was never coming back. I was already on the airplane waiting to take off when I heard this piece of heartbreaking information.

That last problem may have been painful, but was easily fixed by reassuring the tantruming child—by our nanny and my wife at home, reinforced over the phone by me. But as I assured her that “I will always come home to you,” I already missed the chaos of home life I am leaving behind for a few days (even as I am most certainly looking forward to the conference and a few nights of decent sleep).

I don’t travel for work terribly often, and this is the first time I will be gone for part of a weekend since before we had children. But it’s also the first time I will be traveling since our third was born, in early November. Hence the aforementioned logistical planning and all the extra help at home, and also my guilty feelings. I’m usually the one to get up with the older kids and make them breakfast, so my wife can sleep as long as the baby allows her to. Bedtime is a team effort, touch and go the whole way with both of us fully engaged. But for the next few days, Stephanie will be doing both ends of the night and everything in between. It’ll be tiring for her, even with the extra help, and I deeply appreciate her willingness to have me go and the sacrifice she’s making.

I am looking forward to spending a few days meeting other involved dads and discussing the life of a modern father, even while recognizing the irony that I am, for a few days, putting work above home and inconveniencing my wife. But “work-life” balance can’t possibly be measured on a day-to-day basis; same for the equal partnership my wife and I have tried to forge as parents. “The juggle” is indeed a challenge–sometimes we drop a ball accidentally, and sometimes we let one fall on purpose. But, sure as daddy will come home from his trip, we always have an opportunity to pick it up and continue juggling.

See more about the Dad 2.0 Summit and watch live video from New Orleans, or read more about the evolving role of fathers.

Kids Talk about Loving their Daddy
Kids Talk about Loving their Daddy
Kids Talk about Loving their Daddy

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This Dad is Heading to Dad 2.0

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

It’s a truism that when a dad is out and about with his little cutie, he gets “oohs” and “aahs” and smiles of encouragement from the strangers around him. Meanwhile, moms get unsolicited advice and judgmental comments.

It’s also true that dads are, so often, stereotyped in pop culture as bumbling and incompetent (though there are signs that that might be changing for the better), even as we spend increasing amounts of time with our kids.

Yes, parenting in the 21st century is complex. And I haven’t even brought up the really serious issues, like work-life balance and the economic pressures that seem inescapable to so many of us these days.

So I am excited to be heading down to New Orleans for this year’s Dad 2.0 Summit, where I will have a chance to hobnob with some of the top dad bloggers out there. I am looking forward to getting out of the office and spending time face-to-face with other men who are deeply involved in their kids’ lives and who struggle with these issues as much as I do (and write about it all online). I’ll also be speaking on a panel about the issue of work-life balance for dads, titled, appropriately, The Juggle.

But fear not, while I am there I will remain connected with you, dear Parents.com users, via Twitter, Instagram, and this blog. Look out for the #Dad2Summit hashtag to see the latest from New Orleans, and be sure to check out this page dedicated to all things Dad 2.0, including a live video feed from New Orleans. (Meredith Parents Network, which includes this site, is a sponsor of the conference.)

And for any of you who will also be attending the conference, make sure to introduce yourselves to me, or stop by Meredith’s booth to say hi.

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