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Friday, September 12th, 2014
Joe DeProspero has two sons and a wife, and he is complimentary birth control for anyone who sits near him in a restaurant. His writing has been described as “outrageous,” “painfully real,” and “downright humiliating.” Author of the dark comedy fiction novel “The Boy in the Wrinkled Shirt,” Joe is also writing a parenting humor book. He will be posting twice monthly and his previous posts can be found here. He currently lives in New Jersey and can be found on Facebook and on Twitter @JoeDeProspero.
I was asked this question during a recent interview about my work as a writer and father. I sat silently and fidgeted with my pen as I searched for some poignant, poetic line to say. “Use an analogy. No, no, a movie quote!” I thought to myself. But still, nothing came to mind. Then, it came to me. And very much like the time I was searching for my eyeglasses while they were on my face, the answer was right in front of me.
“I anticipate that my job as dad will be done when I’ve breathed my final breath,” I said with a devilish grin. The more I thought about it, the more it became obvious.
There’s a piece of dialogue from the 1989 comedy “Look Who’s Talking” where the George Segal character claims he isn’t interested in being a father to his child with the Kirstie Alley character because he was past that phase of his life and had already “raised his kids.” To which the Kirstie Alley character replies, “Raised them? They’re 11 and 9! Don’t tell me they’ve moved out and gotten jobs!” And it fits right in with what we’re talking about today. At some point, at any point in your parenthood, will you feel like you’ve completed your mission? Will you feel like you can label the job as “complete?” I’m anticipating the answer is no, and here’s why.
When your child is a newborn, your job as a parent is to feed them, clothe them, put a roof over their heads, and provide care for them 24 hours a day. That’s the part of the job that’s the most physically demanding, but also often the least complex.
When your child is a toddler, your job is to teach them the basic differentiators between right and wrong, encourage them to start using a toilet instead of their diaper. You also are tasked with ensuring anything remotely dangerous is out of their reach, and assuming one is needed, scout out the appropriate daycare center. Oh, and also to feed them, clothe them, and put a roof over their head.
When your child has reached school age, your job is to guide them through their homework (without helping too much), teach them the importance of socializing and forming bonds with friends, without letting that socialization distract them from their work. This is also the time you are tasked heavily with refereeing their language, choice of entertainment, and the clothes they venture into the world with. And of course, you’re still responsible for every drop of liquid, every bite of food that goes into their mouth. Oh, and the roof over their head. Can’t forget that.
When your child is a teenager, he isn’t a child anymore, and he starts to make some of his own decisions, for better or worse. He likely will start to firmly believe that he has all the answers to life’s questions. It’s your job to either tell him the real answers, guide them to find the answer on their own, or simply allow them to fail and learn from their mistake. He will probably begin venturing into the dating world and start forming actual opinions. They may not believe it, but your role in their life is perhaps more vital now than it ever will be. And of course, there’s the food, clothes and roof.
When they become full-fledged adults, there’s debate on whether or not the parents are still “on the hook” for raising them. I may feel differently when my children are grown, but I believe your job as a teacher, nurturer, and friend goes on. And I know this because I still look to my father for advice. To me, he remains the unimpeachable, larger-than-life entity he was when I was six. I still seek him out to discuss health insurance, career decisions, family history, etc. I will always be his boy, he will always be my protector, and I will always sit atop his proverbial shoulders.
That said, I don’t believe I’ll ever be able to say the words, “I’ve done a good job as a father.” I might be able to say, “I’m doing a good job,” or “I’m on the right track.” But as a parent, my job remains perpetually unfinished, with that check box in the complete column happily and appropriately untouched.
What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Please add your comment below! Or follow me on Twitter @JoeDeProspero.
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Image: “Son-set” photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com
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Parenting, The Parents Perspective
Wednesday, June 18th, 2014
A friend of mine, an involved father in every way and a sometime stay-at-home dad, was shopping for clothes in the kids’ department of a large department store recently with his wife and two daughters. When his daughters, 8 and 5, needed to try on clothes, he did what he’d always done, and what many of us would have done—followed them into their dressing room Except this time, something different happened. A manager came and asked him to leave the dressing room area, saying there was a complaint from a mom about his presence.
My friend, shocked, complied, not wanting to make a scene at the store, though he did ask the manager what would have happened if he was a single father. She said she wasn’t personally bothered but that she was acting only on the other woman’s complaint. (Why a store manager can’t exercise judgment and must blindly comply with a complainer’s request is another story.)
That’s all the information he got, and all the information I have, but he and his wife were outraged, and so am I. Was that woman objecting because she worried something inappropriate would go on between father and child in the dressing room? That would mean she saw a father with his daughters and immediately assumed he had horrible things in mind. Or was she concerned that a man might somehow see her daughter changing clothes in her own dressing room, even though the dressing rooms were all private? Aside from the supernatural abilities that would require, this assumes he would even have interest in doing so.
What happened, it seems clear to me, is that the other woman saw an involved father enjoying time with his children—enjoying shopping for clothes with his children, which so many dads don’t (guilty as charged here)—and immediately thought, “Pervert.” And not just thought it, but acted on it.
Part of me wishes my friend fought back and stood up for himself, and by extension for all dads implicated by such treatment. But I fully understand why he chose to comply rather than have his daughters witness what would likely have been an ugly argument.
The incident remains baffling and enraging to me. Yes, the statistics on child abuse are horrifying and unacceptable and I mean in no way to be dismissive of this reality. But I fail to see how that connects to what happened in the dressing room. While not everyone has experienced humiliation on par with what happened to my friend, so many dads have had strange interactions with people when they are out and about with their kids, ones in which strangers clearly have some suspicion. In less insidious cases, it may not be suspicion of abuse, specifically, but an implication that a man’s place is at work and not home with his kids, that there is something unusual about a dad breaking traditional gender stereotypes. A stay-at-home dad I met at the Dad 2.0 Summit earlier this year talked about the questions he frequently gets from strangers about why he is at the park on a random weekday with his kids.
We hear lots of welcome support for involved dads and the amazing changes that are taking place in modern fatherhood. But we can’t ignore the inescapable fact that some people look at involved dads as weirdos—or, worse, as suspects. For shame.
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Thursday, May 15th, 2014
I am just back from five weeks of paternity leave, and now that I’ve hung up my weekday dad jeans, I thought I’d offer some reflections on my experience as a temporary stay-at-home dad with that little cutie you see in the picture (and her two bigger sisters). I started my leave when my wife returned to work after her own maternity leave, so it was a period of transition and new routines for all of us, which we’re dealing with again now that I am back at work.
The experience was, not surprisingly, as much—or more—about my older kids as it was about the baby. And that was just fine with me. It was amazing to spend the extra, relaxed time with my older kids, and I did still have plenty of bonding time with Sophia, the baby. Being able to pick up or drop off my older ones at school, or cook dinner with them, or just be around for the late-afternoon homework-dinner-bath mania was important and memorable to me, as I hope it was to them. As my leave neared an end and my 7-year-old asked if I could teach our babysitter some of the recipes we cooked for dinners, I knew it had had an impact. Same with my 3-year-old, who regularly asks in the mornings, heart-breakingly, whether we’re staying home with her, even as she sees us getting dressed and ready to leave for work.
Still, I realized I do not aspire to full-time SAHD status. While I do wish I could have more time at home with my kids and spend more of their waking hours with them, I am not the guy who would become a full-time dad if I won the lottery tomorrow. I cherish the balance in my life between home and work, kid activities and professional pursuits. Needless to say, it’s a personal choice and I mean no judgment on those who choose otherwise—quite the contrary, I love hearing about the choices so many men have made to be SAHDs—but it’s important to know what is right for you.
I was (happily) shocked at how many dads I saw out and about. I don’t remember feeling the same way the last time I took a paternity leave like this, seven years ago. My memory from then is of feeling like the only dad around during weekday work hours. Not this time: Dads—and grandpas—were present with their kids/grandkids everywhere. It was great to see and made me feel like less of an outlier.
You can’t be partly on leave and partly working. Like being “half pregnant,” it just isn’t possible. For the first half of my leave, I did a decent job of staying away from email and really unplugging, at least when I was with my kids. But when my team here at work experienced upheaval, I found myself drawn back in and wanting to be back at the office to help, and truly felt torn between work and home. It led to the more-than-a-little absurd afternoon when I dropped my oldest at gymnastics and drove on the highway for the sole purpose of getting the two younger kids to fall asleep—at which point I pulled over and called into a meeting. In the middle of the call, my 3-year-old woke up, noisily, understandably demanding to know what we were doing and when we were going home.
Life happens whether you’re on leave or not. Duh, no surprise there, but I still found myself extra resentful when my basement flooded and I needed to spend several of my precious paternity-leave days dealing with the fallout. Not that I expected all bliss and sunshine, but really? A flood? Of course, the stay-at-home parent inevitably also must take the lead on shopping, cooking, waiting home for the repairman, and all things homemaking, regardless of the fact that my leave was intended to be about spending quality time with the kids. When it came to day-to-day tasks, I was more than happy to do them, and still got plenty of great moments with the little ones. But at times, like when I was sloshing through my flooded basement, my focus had to be elsewhere temporarily.
People seem to assume I took leave for my wife, to ease her return to work. Several people made comments to this effect. But while helping her was a nice benefit, it takes a very mom-centric worldview to make the assumption that that was my primary motivation. I took this time to bond with my baby, and to prolong the time that she spends full-time with a parent before our nanny became her primary caregiver during workdays. I took the time to be a full-time parent for a short period and spend more time than I otherwise could with my older girls. I took it so that I could have some time when they, my daughters, were the center of my day. Yes, it helped my wife and put her mind at ease, but she would have been fine without my taking leave, and this was not among the top reasons I took the time off.
I am Stoller Man. Yes, it’s true: I earned a new nickname (and a new beard, but that’s a different story). Perhaps it’s my new superhero identity. It came from a moment of absent-mindedness, when I stopped at the bakery with Sophia asleep in her stroller, and in my haste to get out before she woke up, forgot my order on the counter after paying for it. I returned to find this note:
All in all, I feel like paternity leave accomplished what I wanted from it. Despite the intrusions I mentioned above, I was able to focus for this period on spending quality time with my three children in a (mostly) relaxed environment where they were my main concerns. Not to imply that it was all peace and bliss–I do have three children, after all, and we had our share of tantrums, yelling, fights, and frustration. But I wasn’t seeking some fairy-tale existence: The point was that I was there. And, of course, happy as I am to be back at work, I miss the girls during the day. When it comes to work-life balance, finding that happy medium remains an elusive goal.
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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:
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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 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.
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Babies, Big Kids, Must Read, The Parents Perspective