by Hogan Hilling, Dad Guru
Christmas is upon us once again. One of the holiday traditions is to show gratitude to the people we cherish and love by showering them with gifts. One of those people is your husband and father of your child(ren), who I will refer to as Dad.
Several weeks before the eventful day of December 25th millions of moms will endure traffic jams on the street and shopping malls. Moms will struggle to find that one special gift to place under the Christmas tree that will light up a Dad’s face.
The choice of classic gifts for a dad vary from a coffee mug, personalized DAD t-shirt, tech device, brief case, shaving kit, gloves, pen, golf accessory, videos, alcohol, tools, sports memorabilia, gun, rifle……and all things masculine. The challenge is not only to decide which gift to purchase but also affordability.
But alas I have a suggestion for a special, unique gift dad will appreciate and every mom can afford. It is a gift that does not require you to spend any time battling street traffic and foot traffic at the mall because you can’t find it in a store. It’s a gift that doesn’t cost anything except a pen, sheet of paper and an envelope. And it is also priceless. It’s a gift that comes from the heart.
But before I tell you what the gift is I’d like to challenge you to view Christmas in a different way this year. I will begin with a story a dad shared with me.
Al is a very involved and hands on dad. One day he finally convinced his wife, Jessica, to take time off from her motherly duties and spend some alone time or with friends on a Saturday morning. Jessica left the house at 8 am and planned to return sometime after lunch.
When Jessica returned home at 1pm she arrived to find Al, and their two daughters, Madison (6) and Jackie (4), in the family room still wearing their pajamas. Al was combing Madison’s hair and Jackie was playing with her new doll and tea set. All three had smiles on their faces, laughing and enjoying each other’s company.
Jessica was not happy. “Why are you and the girls still wearing pajamas? The house is a mess! Look at that kitchen! What have you three been doing all day? I’m gone for 5 hours and the place is a disaster.
Thanks a lot honey! Now I have to spend the rest of the day cleaning up!”
Here is what Al shared with me. “Hogan, I couldn’t understand why my wife got upset. Yes, I understand the house was not as clean as she would have wanted when she came home. But I didn’t do it on purpose. I was having so much fun with the girls I forgot about the time, dressing the girls and cleaning the house. Why couldn’t she have focused on the smiles on our face, and how happy the girls and I were? Why couldn’t she have invited herself to join us and spend time as a family together? What is more important a clean house or a happy family? I would have been happy to clean up the mess with her later. I work hard during the week and there isn’t much time for me to spend with our children. It would have been nice to have my wife thank me for giving her time off from being a mom and my effort to spend time with our children. I’m really confused and frustrated.”
THE SPECIAL GIFT I SUGGEST YOU PLACE UNDER THE CHRISTMAS TREE OR IN THE STOCKING IS THE FOLLOWING LETTER:
My Dearest Husband,
Here is my special Christmas gift to you. From this day forward I will embrace your role as a dad by following these simple “12 Days of Christmas” rules.
1. I will accept the fact that you parent differently than a mom. And that you’re priorities are also different than mine. How a dad parent’s is not wrong, just different.
2. I will focus on “what” you do and not “how” you do it. I will appreciate and respect the unique and valuable role you play as a dad to our child(ren).
3. I will not criticize or make embarrassing remarks about the way you parent in front of other people, especially the children.
4. I will accept that your number one priority while spending time with a child is different than mine. I understand that your number one priority is to have fun and build a relationship with our child…not color coordinating our child(ren) or keeping the house clean.
5. I will relinquish my role as a parent to you when necessary, find time for myself and not feel guilty. I realize that no mom or dad can be a parent 24/7 and that it is okay to take a break from the child(ren).
6. I will not allow other people to refer to you as “Mr. Mom” or the “babysitter” when you are caring for our child(ren). You are our child(ren’s) dad.
7. I will defend your role as a dad and not allow anyone, even my mother to disrespect your role as a dad.
8. I will not ask you to show your feminine side because you don’t have one. I understand that a man can be sensitive, nurturing and compassionate in a masculine way.
9. I will not listen to or associate myself with other moms who criticize or talk badly about their husband’s role as a dad.
10. I will respect your role as a dad, which means I will trust your instincts and skills as a dad and allow you to be a dad to our child(ren).
11. I will place our relationship as husband and wife before my relationship with the children. Our love for each other is the foundation of this family. I need to nurture it as often as possible and keep the romance alive in our marriage.
12. I will no longer take your role as a loving husband and involved dad for granted. I will love, honor and respect you everyday.
The letter is not only a special gift for your husband but also a great gift for the child(ren). And it is a gift that keeps on giving!
Father of his 1-year-old son, Chad Stamm shares his joys and challenges as a first time dad, how he incorporates his business life at home and what he does to balance it all.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a father of a 1-year-old boy and have been living in Boulder, Colorado for about six or seven years now. Prior to that, I had been living in New York for a while and loved it. It’s a very different place to live. But when my wife’s sister and mom moved to Colorado, we saw the opportunity and decided to make the move knowing that starting a family was imminent.
The lifestyle here is great and it’s a great place to raise kids. There’s a little bit of a lack of diversity in Boulder, but we hope to mitigate that by taking our kid out to travel and expose him to things. That’s a big reason why we’re here.
Also, when I was younger, my dad took me backpacking out West in the summers. Since he was a teacher, he had the summers off and we’d pile into the camper and literally drove around the West to hike and backpack in places like the Grand Canyon, Bryce and Rocky Mountain. I really fell in love
with Rocky Mountain National Park, which is about 35 miles from Boulder.
My wife and I have been married for 7 years now. We met at the University of Florida where we are proud and happy alums. We actually went back to our college town to get married and get our pictures taken across the campus, including the 50-yard line of the football field.
A couple of months after we got married, we quit our jobs in New York and traveled to Europe for six months which was how long the money we saved up lasted.
Now that you’ve been a father for a little over a year, what has changed or happened that you didn’t expect?
When were pregnant with my son, so many of our family and friends already had kids. So, everybody told us what to expect and they all had an opinion on things. But, the one thing that nobody told me about, which was the biggest surprise, was how much comedy is involved with a kid. I’m laughing constantly. There is a constant source of entertainment and I feel like I could probably write a sitcom.
What is the most recent thing your son has done that surprised you?
Apparently, he has a thing for brunettes. We were on an airplane flying back to see my family and we were sitting next a young brunette girl. My son is kind of going through the phase now where he doesn’t like
to go to anybody else but mommy and daddy. So, we were shocked to see that all my boy wanted to do was sit on her lap and crawl all over her. He just wanted to hang out with her and didn’t want to be away from her.
Then on the return flight we had a very similar experience with another younger brunette girl who was sitting across the aisle from us. My son wouldn’t stop playing peek-a-boo with her the entire flight. It was sort of weird.
What do you enjoy most about being a father?
At this point, I think just seeing the light bulb go off in his head. Understanding that he has made a connection with something whether it’s vocabulary, an emotional thing or just a sense of enjoyment. To see that light bulb go off makes all the work worth it. That’s the rewarding part, such as the first time we put him in the swing and seeing how big his eyes got. Taking him into the pool the first time and just watching him realize that he was in a much bigger bathtub than he was used to.
My wife and I really value travel and we spent a ton of our savings doing that, as opposed to other things like buying houses. I can’t wait until he gets to the point where he understands where he’s at and where he’s going. Now it’s more of the audio-visual sensory type of thing, but once he starts connecting places, I can’t wait to travel with him.
As far as the travel stuff goes, I’m an active member of Rotary International and I actually chair the Rotary Youth Exchange Committee for our club, as well as serving on the District Committee as Country Contact for Austria,Germany and Switzerland. I’m heavily involved with the Exchange Program. One thing that we want to do is expose our son to other cultures and places. He’s going to have exchange brothers and sisters from around the world, which is going to be a big part of what we do with him.
What is your biggest challenge as a father at this point?
Interestingly enough, it is balance. Especially going through this for the first time, I didn’t really understand the workload involved. Even though we have a very easy baby, he’s still a lot
of work. In addition, add the work of starting a business, I have to balance all that. The one part, which gets put on the back burner a lot, is time between my wife and I to make sure that we’re doing things that we need to do for each other.
Another challenging part is to take some time out for myself. This is something I have to encourage my wife to do more, because she’s hesitant to do that as a mother. I believe she has to take time for herself and go out, whether it’s to go running, go meet coworkers at happy hour or whatever it might be.
I’m a creative person so I know how much I value that time and I have to haveitorIgocrazy. Asahobby,Ioil paint and write fiction. That’s my time.
It’s tough for me because my office is twenty steps from my bedroom, and I have to make sure that I put that barrier up so when I walk outside my office door, it’s family time. I have to make sure what stays in the office, literally stays in the office and it doesn’t invade my private life.
That’s certainly something that I struggle to balance with especially because he’s still young and is at home during the day. Over the next year or so, we’ll start putting him into day care. Since
the very beginning, I take Tuesdays off and spend time with my son, which I call, “Tuesdays with Sharkey.” My nickname for my baby is Sharkey just because he eats everything.
Now that he’s getting older we’re starting to do more things. This past Tuesday we went for barbecue together, which is one of my favorite things in the world. My son loves art and paintings. So, we go to the Denver Art Museum and the Van Gogh Exhibit, which was pretty special for me. We took him out of the stroller and walked into this amazing exhibit of Van Gogh paintings that we had here in Denver. We walked through the doors and I started to choke up a little bit. It was kind of cool just carrying him around, and watching him stretch his arms out and make grunting noises when he sees something that he likes. Next weekend we’re going to the Rothko Exhibit, a mid-20th century painter famous for big blocks of color and juxtapositioning reds and oranges. I think it will be a good way to teach him color.
Share with us what your business is all about?
The business name is Sitters4Charities.org and we provide parents with access to babysitters, nannies and au pairs. In the process, we make a donation to one of four charities, which the parent selects when they sign up.
Between my business partner and myself, both of our wives have always encouraged us to follow our dreams. We didn’t just want to build a company, but do something that makes a difference at the same time. We want to provide a great service and a worthy product, but also give something back to the community in the process.
Especially as a new parent, you realize quickly that many times your social schedule revolves around your child care provider’s schedule. If you’re babysitter isn’t available, then you’re not going out that night. That’s just the reality of it.
When we were creating Sitters4Charities.org, I was four months into fatherhood and started to realize the value of high quality childcare.
What does living a balanced life mean to you?
As a father, I think there are different aspects. It’s about all the requirements that come with fatherhood, being a husband and being a career-minded entrepreneur while making sure I take time for myself as well. I do my best to spend equal time on all of them. Obviously, at some point, work may take over or if you have a sick baby, the childcare takes over. It’s basically about making sure that the time spent and the emotion put into those things are equal.
What are the things that you like to do that help you maintain a sense of balance in life?
Particularly in the summertime, my wife and I just like to put the baby in a stroller and take walks around town. We are about a ten minute walk up and over the hills to downtown Boulder, CO. We enjoy the walking lifestyle. It allows us to spend time as a family. As husband and wife, we can have discussions and be present, and the baby is with us.
Also, I always like to be on the move. Travel is important for us. Taking a walk around the neighborhood isn’t traveling, but it still, in some strange sense, quenches that thirst to move, look around and explore.
A dedicated father to his two little ones, Joel Lane has a love of music and a talent for transforming things through painting. He shares what he loves about fatherhood, his favorite moments as a father and what he does to live a more balanced life.
Share a little bit about yourself.
I am 31 years old and live in the Sacramento, California area. I have two children. A 3 year old boy, named Noah and a 6 year old daughter, named Tatum. I am a single dad who is fortunate to have the kids quite a bit of the time.
I own a painting business called, Parkview Painters. I paint interior and exterior cabinets, furniture and also pianos.
Pianos are kind of an interesting thing for me because I used to be a music director at a church in Southern California. I am a musician and music has been my life for a lot of years. Being a single dad, I have not been able to play music much but I always have pianos in my house or at my workshop. Right now I have a total of six pianos in my house and workshop and I get to play around on them a little bit.
I started playing the piano when I was 5 years old and performing when I was 7. I recorded my first album at 13 and I have been in and out of quite a few bands. You can listen to some of my music and download some of my albums for free on my website www. JoelLane.com. I play soft rock music and while I was at the church I did two alternative style Christian albums.
In addition, I do a lot of running and I enjoy it. I did a half marathon last year and I am training for a triathlon happening in June at my hometown. Most of it is bike riding, which I am actually afraid of. I don’t like bikes, because three different times in my life, while riding my bike, the front tire just fell off, the rim and everything. I ate it and got all messed up. Now, I have this fear of riding bikes and I am hesitant to do the triathlon. But I figured it’s time to get over my fear of that and just go for it.
Tell us more about your business, Parkview Painters.
We do interior/exterior painting for residential homes. On my website there is a short video that shows me painting a condo in a minute and a half. It’s a fun, time lapsed video.
I had another business for about 3 years called, The Painted Past where we just painted furniture and pianos. I recently got divorced and I passed that business on to my ex-wife so that she could have income coming in. Now, Parkview Painters is my new business. I have two partners coming on that are also really good painters. I am going to be doing most of the marketing and setting bids, while I have my kids so I can work from home. The days I do not have the kids, I will be out painting as well.
Painting has been kind of something I’ve done since I was young. I’d pick up furniture at thrift stores or classified ads, paint it and resell it. I just like to paint furniture or houses and I enjoy the transformation from old to new.
What do you enjoy about being a father?
Being a father is something I enjoy but something I am scared of at the same time. I enjoy being a role model for my kids and instilling in my children good values and morals. At the same time, I get scared because I just hope I am doing it right. Many times I question myself. As they grow older I adjust and I have to read up on how to protect them, how to communicate with them better and let them know that they are loved.
Mainly, what I love is just the fact that I get to spend time with my kids, even if it is just sitting there having a picnic with them. Whatever it is, we create a lot of good times together.
When I was growing up, my dad worked a lot, all the time. So I make it a point to be available for my kids, at any moment of the day. I want to be around. I enjoy knowing that they know I am available for them and they can talk to me about anything.
At the beginning of this year, I realized that I am growing through them. In fact, a book called, Upside Down Mommy by Amanda Johnson helped me with that. As a parent, that book reminded me that these little human beings, my kids, are transforming everyday and we, as parents, are transforming with them. We are a part of that process. As a result, I have been making it a point to remember that concept and allow myself to transform and not be stuck in the ‘this is the way it’s gotta be’ mindset.
What top advice would you share with a first time father?
I would say to just allow them to be themselves and allow them to tell you what they need. A lot of times I get caught up in, “Okay, this is what we are doing; this is how you should do it; this is what you need to wear; smile like this; talk like that.” Sure, all those things are good, but I think there needs to be a balance. As parents, we need to listen more. I think we need to allow them to use their voice to express themselves and to just be themselves. That’s gone a long way with me recently. Now, I feel my kids can actually be comfortable using their voice and know that they are heard.
What are your favorite moments with your kids as a father?
My favorite moments would be snuggling in bed. For the last few months, they’ve been wanting to sleep in my bed. As a result, I don’t get any room at all with all three of us. I just really enjoy waking up next to them and seeing those smiles on their faces. The other times are when I don’t have anything else going on and I can give them my undivided attention. Anytime we can just get away from the house, get away from stress, we all seem to have the best times.
What do you do to live a more balanced life?
That’s been a pretty tough one for me lately because I am so used to having a partner to just balance things with. It’s been a learning process. At this time in my life, the main thing is that I’ve learned to just keep my eye on exactly what I need and stay focused on that, whether it’s finances, exercise or if it’s a break from the kids. I am constantly staying aware of that, throughout the day. So that way I can tell when I am getting to that point where I cannot handle it. With the kids, I take them for a walk, which is a big thing for us. We go out for many walks and go to the park a lot.
Also, having my goals written out for the week and just knowing that it will happen. I don’t have to stress about it. I remind myself that everything will fall into place and things will get done.
In addition, I think pre-planning is important. For example, today, I have a paint job and the kids will be with me while I am painting. I’ve got everything lined up. Lunch is all pre-made and I’ve got extra clothes for them. All that preplanning makes it easier to be on time to things and to get out of the house in an orderly way. Not too stressed.
The biggest thing for me is just taking breaks, even when I don’t have it planned out. If I plan to get something done this week, but the kids are on edge and everyone is just elevated, I know I need to just be aware of that for myself and know that it’s time to go to the park and go for a walk.
Nominated by his wife, Tyrone Pearson was voted to be this issues featured Dad. He shares how his strong faith moved him forward, what energizes him as a father and what he does to stay balanced as a man.
Tell me about yourself.
I am a twin in a big family of 13 children. Since I was in high school, one of my passions was playing basketball until I started college at California State University Long Beach where I found my other passion, which was running track. In college, I studied Accounting, which was what I wanted to study since I was about 12 years old. Some counselors tried to discourage me and told me that the field w as too hard and I shouldn’t take it. Some would say it’s boring, but for me, it wasn’t boring. My strong background of faith helped me be disciplined and kept me focused on looking forward to what I wanted to do instead of looking back. The college years taught me a lot and it is when I met my wife, Lakia.
Today, Lakia and I have been married for 8 years and have a very active 5 year old son. In addition, I just recently became a pastor of my church.
What do you feel is the most important thing about being a father?
I think being there and I don’t mean that you’re just in the room. It’s being active with your child. Letting them know that they can come to you to talk and to play. You’re not necessarily only their friend but you are their father. You’re the guy who has to discipline him, but also the guy the y can have fun and talk with. Most kids look up to their father to be an example.
I try to show my son that I work hard, but I still come home and take care of his mother and I take care of him. I think that’s important too. Kids need to know that the father is there to take care of the mother and love her also, not just the child. And it’s also making sure my wife and I are happy, which helps the child grow in a good household.
How can a father who is feeling the overwhelming stress of keeping everything afloat still be there for his family?
Many times kids understand that mom and dad have to work. So I think this is the time to talk about working it out together as the parents where mom will spend some play time with the child one day and dad will do some activities another day. It’s very important to show the kids that mom and dad are working together as a unit to take care of the family, both financially and emotionally.
Don’t put so much focus on always trying to get the bills paid and let your kids slip away. Always carve out time for them.
Listening to the needs of your wife. I think the issue where a lot of guys fall into is they don’t really listen… it goes in one ear and out the o ther. It’s just as important as making sure all the bills are paid. You may not be able to meet all her needs, but at least do your best to meet some of them. So that she knows that you are listening to her and that you’re trying. As the saying goes, “a happy wife, a happy life.” I believe that.
What do you enjoy most about being a father?
Making my son happy. He loves to play. Any time I get to play with him is such a joyful time… to see him laugh, to see him having a good time makes me happy. I love the times when he comes and tells me just out of the blue that he loves me.
When I come home from work really tired and I play with him, he doesn’t realize how much that picks me up, because it makes me realize why I’m working hard. It’s not just to pay the bills, but to also take care of the family and to make sure they’re happy. To see them happy, gives me more energy to continue what I’m doing.
I believe it was a calling all my life. Before my pastor passed away not too long ago, I was an assistant pastor at Bethany Church of God In Christ in Los Angeles, California. I’ve been going to that church all of my life. I am now the pastor of the church and feel honored, becauseI love the people and I want what’s best for them. I feel a responsibility to do my best as their pastor.
What does balance mean to you?
To me, balance is like juggling. It’s making sure that all the balls in the air are at equal lengths. So, making sure my career, my work ball, is in a good spot while making sure our family is also in a good spot, but not putting work higher than family.
Knowing that I’m working for my family, not just for myself. Making sure that the church work that I’m doing is also balanced. To me, family comes first and everything else follows, because if I’m not happy in my household than I can’t be happy with anything else that I do. It even says in the bible that you can’t take care of God’s place if you can’t take care of your own household first. I have to have the balance here at home first, than everything else around me can be balanced.
What do you do to live a balanced life?
I always pray. That gives me peace. Also for entertainment, my family and I love movies. So, at least, once a month we go see a movie. We see a movie that my son likes and my wife and I have a date night and see one we want to watch.
I try to make sure I have my own time alone and that’s mostly in prayer. And then I make sure we have time together as a family and as a couple.
What is one of your most favorite scriptures in the bible?
Enter into his gates with thanksgiving; enter into his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and praise his name.
Every time we go into the house of God, we should always be thankful that He has blessed us to see another day. I say that because even when things are bad, He allows us to see another day to get things right so that we can move higher to a better place and spend time with each other.
Always be thankful for everything God has blessed us with, because that gives us opportunities to see all the wonderful things he can do for us.
An excerpt from Tyrone’s nomination letter from his wife, Lakia.
by Liana Wong
In May 2007, our son Max was diagnosed with a rare diagnosis of B-cell Lymphoma. We started to raise money immediately for cancer research, specifically directing monies to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to underwrite a cell therapy lab.
In less than six months, we raised more than $200,000. We quickly learned the reality that pediatric cancer research is under funded and needed our support.
What obstacles did you face when you started the foundation?
We needed to educate ourselves on the cause and have a plan. It is common to want to do a lot in a short period of time.
We were fortunate to have success early on, but needed to maintain focus and not stray from our mission. Ideas are constantly flowing and we need to always do what is best for The Max Cure Foundation and our mission.
What were your initial thoughts when your son was diagnosed with cancer?
It was the worst day of my life. I felt like my soul was ripped from my body and smashed to the ground.
How did you handle communicating the diagnosis with your other children?
At the time, we only had Alexander who was 2 years old. We were honest from day one about Max’s cancer to Alexander and to Max. We called it a “boo boo that was very dangerous”.
I felt blessed that God gave us the opportunity to find the cancer and to get Max immediate treatment. The diagnosis was stage 4 but there was hope for a cure with Max. I was not going to let any negativity into our lives to change our focus and mission at hand.
What top advice would you give to others in a similar situation with their family?
Take it day by day and keep the stress and negativity to a minimum. Part of the healing process is a nurturing home. It is easy to lose control. The last thing you want is a child to feel that the cancer is his/her fault.
What top advice would you give on how to keep the marriage solid throughout it all?
Good question. I am not sure that I have the answer for that one. LOL Our marriage definitely had its challenges. We still have our challenges but when you have a child that is fighting for their life, it is important to be selfless and remain a team no matter how difficult the situation. It is not about you, it is about the child.
I try to be there for my children and participate as much as I can in their lives. I am far from perfect and I am definitely working on the “balance” part. It is not easy running a foundation, which could easily employ twenty or more people if we could afford it. We have so much going on all the time and I find myself wearing many hats, which is tough to do. I am grateful for the small team we do have because they keep me in check and look forward to the future.
Pediatric Cancer Facts:
- 13,500 children in the United States are diagnosed with cancer each year
- 3,300 children die each year in the United States from cancer within five years of diagnosis
- Cancer kills more children than any other disease
- Those children that survive five years have a ten times greater mortality rate
- Research to find cures for pediatric cancers is the most under funded of all cancers and relies heavily on foundations such as The Max Cure Foundation for support.
As a husband and a father with three kids, including a special needs son, Hogan Hilling has been the voice and blazed a pathway for at-home dads. During a period when being an at-home dad was not a socially accepted lifestyle, Hogan was able to break the detrimental stereotypes and bring awareness to the differences between how men and women communicate within the household.
Hogan is an author of two companion books, the first of its kind, that address issues and perspectives from both sides of the equation – the mom and the dad. He shares experiences and tips to help both sides understand and communicate effectively with each other creating more of a team achieving a common goal.
Hogan spoke with us about his upbringing and how it was a turning point to his commitment of being a great father and a voice for other at-home dads.
I was raised by a single working mom. I grew up without a father and my mom never really talked about him. When I was 29 years old, I had the chance to be reunited with him. He talked about the divorce with my mom and why it happened. I had the chance to hear his side of the story. I had no resentment toward him. I was just happy to meet him, because so many kids don’t get to meet their own dad. So, when I met him I decided to have a different attitude. As he was sobbing and apologizing to me, I realized at that point that he actually missed me more than I missed him. It was a huge healing process for me, because I made a pact with myself that I would never feel the way my father felt. I was not married at the time, so I told myself that I would never do this to my kids and I would never do this to myself.
I address this in my books. It’s not about healing the relationship, because you can’t control what the other person is going to do. I had to walk away knowing that I did everything I could to stay connected with my father, not be judgmental and take the relationship for what it’s worth from the time that it started. It was a real revelation for me. From this, I teach dads in similar situations that you must heal yourself in order to move on and be a father for your kids. If you haven’t done that, it will be much more difficult to really take on the responsibility of that role.
Pacifi(Her) – What She’s Thinking When She’s Pregnant is for the dads to help them understand what their wives are going through. The other book is Rattled – What He’s Thinking When Your Pregnant is for the moms to help them understand what men go through during her pregnancy. Very little has been addressed regarding the issues that dads go through, because the focus is always on the mom and the baby and we have overlooked what dad goes through.
I believe I’m the first author to write companion books for both mom and dad that delve into how they both feel during pregnancy. I want to stress the word on “feel.” A lot of what’s going on in the parenting world and has been for generations is that there seems to be a right or wrong attitude, which creates conflict. What I explain in both books for both moms and dads is to really focus on the reason behind what they’re feeling in order to really address the issue because of how we communicate sometimes, especially men. Stupid things come out of our mouths. Sometimes we say what we don’t mean. We have a hard time communicating the feelings, because we’ve been taught not to or haven’t been taught how.
What I tell the dads is that your wife is really emotional right now. Her body is changing physically and emotionally. He needs to not take what she says personally. I share ways he can communicate better to say things in a way where he won’t offend his wife.
I don’t sugar coat the issues I address in the books. I really get down to the nuts and bolts of why both sides feel the way they do based on my own experience with my wife and also because I was a stay–at–home dad. I got a lot of information at the playgroups from the moms. They actually helped me understand my wife a little bit better.
What really motivated me to write the books was when I was doing the dad workshops. People were always telling me that guys wouldn’t show up and they wouldn’t talk. That’s just an example of how our society perceives dads. We live in a culture where we’re constantly preaching to dads. So, what I found out during the workshops is that the guys were sharing intimate details with me that they never shared with their wives. Our culture teaches boys to be submissive with their feelings. So, by the time they become husbands and fathers, they fall into that pattern thinking they’re not supposed to say anything because either mom knows it all or I’m supposed let mom be “super mom”. When I delved deeper into the reasoning behind this, there was a four letter word that always came up – Fear. They were afraid of losing their masculinity, but more importantly, they were afraid to share how they really felt because of the backlash they would get from their wives. They would get criticism, be told to suck it up, hear “how could you feel that way”or “you don’t love me anymore”. So, they shut down.
I teach moms that those are the words they shouldn’t be saying. I ask them when they want to talk to their husbands, don’t they just want a supportive arm around them and hear, “I’m sorry you feel that way. What can I do to help?” Husbands want the same thing.
A lot more men are staying home and are seen at the grocery stores and at the park with their kids while the moms are working or building businesses. So, the roles are flipping and are acc epted more. Don’t you think?
I totally agree. The roles are flipping. Women and men need to be commended here. In the 90’s, there were plenty of at-home-dads. They were just afraid to come out of the pantry and be recognized. The media didn’t know how to handle them and didn’t know how to talk about them.
Then the movie, Mr. Mom came out. And there was always a reference about us as “Mr. Mom” as though we were a replacement for moms. We’re fathers. We’re not replacing moms. At that time, the feminine movement was making this whole thing about wanting to see the man’s feminine side. Well, I got news for you ladies. We don’t have one. We are sensitive in a masculine way. Don’t let us lose our masculinity. I’ve never heard a man say, “I would like my wife to show her masculine side.”
It’s my masculinity that will make me the best dad I can be. Now, men are more courageous about being at the park and saying that they’re not “Mr. Mom” and not “a babysitter.” They are expressing that they really enjoy what they do. A lot of men couldn’t wear that badge of honor of being an at-home and involved dad.
In the early 90’s, I started one of the first Dad’s Club at El Camino Elementary School in California. We had many at-home dads come into the PTA. And all of a sudden, the working dads started noticing that more fathers are getting involved. I always said that at-home dads were going to be a wake-up call to not only fatherhood, but also to parenthood. And that’s exactly what has happened. People are starting to really recognize that men are competent as dads.
Tell us more about The National At-Home Dads Network.
It was founded by Dr. Robert Frank and a few other dads who organized this network voluntarily. We hold annual conferences and have been for the last 16 years. We are the second longest running dad’s event in the country. What’s different about us is that we do not lecture to the dads. Most of what we do is an open discussion forum. We actually let the guys talk. There’s no steadfast curriculum to how we do this, which dispels that whole myth that men need to go through some 10-step rehabilitation-type program to be a good dad. They’re just like moms. Put the guys in a room together and let them talk. They’ll figure it out.
What top advice would you give to a new at-home dad?
Leave your ego behind. Be proud and comfortable with the decision you’ve made. And that’s likewise with working dads. If you want to spend more time with the family, then maybe change professions or find a company that is more family friendly. Many guys feel they don’t have choices.
Develop a thick skin. You can get upset with how people are talking with or about you. Or, as a good friend told me, “If you want to have a fatherfriendly environment, you have to be a friendly father.” You have to change your mindset.
When I first decided to be an at-home dad and I went into the playgrounds and schools, the media was saying that we need to see more dads at the playgrounds and get involved in schools. So, when I showed up, I was rejected. Moms didn’t embrace me and I was mad at the moms. Then I realized these women have been indoctrinated to treat me as a stranger. It’s not their responsibility to make me feel comfortable about being there. It’s my responsibility.
I’m 6-foot-6 and intimidating. I don’t have a natural smile. So, I had to work on smiling more and bringing extra toys. I didn’t talk about sports with moms. I would ask where they got the nice outfit their son was wearing, because I may want to get one for my son. Or I would complement a daughter’s eyes and mention that she got them from her mother. Things that men aren’t comfortable talking about.
Another tip is to be patient with your wife. There are many issues that working moms need to deal with. I tell dads to be sympathetic with their wives and try to understand what she’s going through when she has a large workload and doesn’t seem to be doing anything at home.
Many dads ask me what they can do to help their wives feel more comfortable coming home. I ask them what the first thing their wives see when they come into the house. I tell them to make sure the first place she enters is clean. The rest of the house can be a bit messy. As she comes home, she needs transition time and when she’s happy when she enters the house, she’ll tend to overlook the other stuff.
As a dad, what do you do to maintain balance in your life?
I make sure that I have me-time. And I say the same thing to my wife. She needs her own “me-time”. You can’t balance your life unless you have energy. However, both sides feel that guilt when they want to take “me-time.” That’s just ridiculous. It goes back to that oxygen mask in airplanes. Put your own oxygen mask on first before you apply your kid’s mask.
DadLabs is an information and entertainment company that fosters the father/child relationship through media, instructional and retail products. The company provides resources to expecting, new and veteran fathers that will launch them into a more active and creative role in the lives of their children.
Clay Nichols, Chief Creative Officer, Co-Founder, Writer, Producer, and Star of DadLabs speaks candidly about how DadLabs was created, shares his challenge has a father, how he juggles it all and finds the balance in his life.
Tell us about the DadLab website and how it came about.
DadLab is a site about parenting from a father’s perspective. We have all kinds of features on the site, but our main platform is video. We create between 2 to 5 short videos a week on pretty much any imaginable topic pertaining to parenting. It’s informational and some of it is just pure entertainment. We’ve got over 800 videos in out catalog.
How did DadLabs get started?
It was started with two other of my colleagues. We were teachers in a private school and we were doing a lot of work with film. It led us to start conversations about starting our own films and we got together one night a week to kick around ideas for movies. We discussed what it was like with our kids and our pregnant wives and then our babies. We would talk about nursing or sleep deprivation and we realized that a lot of guys were having conversations about this also. However, none of it was available publicly, because everything was geared toward moms.
When we first started out, there weren’t a whole lot of available networks to go out to because we were some of the first dad bloggers. Unlike mom blogs where there’s a network to go out to and communicate with, this kind of thing wasn’t available to us dads when we first started. And now there’s a healthy network of dads. We got lucky. We had some notes in national media and some features on YouTube© that got us circulating. And that’s kind of what launched us. We’ve been lucky to have some new corporate partners.
I think this is just a reflection of what’s going on in our culture. At a grocery store today, there is five times as many men than 15 years ago and that’s just part of a larger cultural shift. We’re redesigning what’s expected of men.
Does your tagline, “Taking Back Paternity” signify that more dads are going out there and being more involved with their kids?
I think in some ways it was sort of a joke. Maternity has just warm positive implications. It is something that’s to be celebrated. When you think of the word Paternity, you think of lawsuits to get men to live up to their obligations and it’s a very negative connotation. Paternity should be just as positive of a word as maternity and that’s our approach. What we’ve produced so far has been funny and lighthearted. It is important for guys to participate in the lives of their kids and also to talk about it with other guys.
Share with us what the book is about?
We’ve put out two instructional DVDs a long time ago and those are out of print. A few Father’s Days ago, 3 years or 2, we published a traditional book called Guy’s guide to fatherhood, pregnancy year 1, and it’s basically a funny handbook for guys to look at pregnancy in the first year. The people that have read it have had great reviews, many people find it useful. Just recently we’ve begun publishing a series of eBooks that are a little more practical and a little more specific and less oriented towards dads, more general and we’re galling it he sane parents guide and we just published the sane publics guide for getting g young home ready for a baby and we’ve got 5 more titles in the series the will include things like mobility, like strollers that will come out next month and so on and so forth over the next 6 months we will be publishing these eBooks. It’s a great opportunity for creators and parents to get together and that’s been our talk from day one. You don’t need a publisher, a TV show; you can sue the tools out there to talk directly to parents.
I think this is true for a lot of guys. If you go home, sometimes it’s hard when the rubber meets the road because I want to be completely present for my kids, be an equal partner to my wife when it comes to taking care of the house and kids. I want to fully inhabit this new role and at the same time there’s the pull of stereotypical things like spending more time at the office, I need to be working harder and earning more money. The traditional male roles still have a grip on me and dictate things that won’t necessarily make me the best dad. Balancing the old model with the new model is a challenge for me.
One of the hard things for all parents is the juggle of three kids with work, the birthday parties, etc. Everything works fine until one kids gets sick and the whole house melts down. You have to be with the one kid. The hard thing these days is balancing all our obligations as a family.
Wow, so it’s not really too far off from how we feel as moms with the balancing and juggling.
Yes. I think that as time goes by our concerns are going to be converging. Moms are working more and dads are contributing more at home. So it’s not a surprise. Ultimately, one of the big challenges for moms is feeling compelled to get everything done. Moms feel like they have to get all these things done. One of the big problems we see as this new household model emerges is that moms are going to have to give some stuff up for dads to do, but as they do that they have to really give it up. They can’t pass it to dad and expect dad to do it just as mom would do it. It may be the way dad folds the laundry. Moms need to let go a little and let dad do it his way. It’s not wrong, just a different way of doing things, but it gets done.
What do you enjoy most about being a dad?
There is not a lot about it that I don’t love. Reading to them, sitting on the sideline and watching their sports games, hearing how their day went as school, listening to them talk to each other when they don’t know that I’m listening. Those are some of my favorite moments. There’s so much about fatherhood that I find endlessly fascinating.
Of course, there are hard times and bad times. And you hate to see the kids struggle or get ill or get in conflict, but they enrich my life that it’s not possible for me to conceive a life without that.
I think it’s about you having to be present. The biggest challenge to men and to parents is to be present as much as you can. At minimum be in the same room, and at the maximum be unplugged, focused and listening and you’ll learn everything you need to know about being a good dad. The key thing is just to be present and that means sacrificing a little bit like giving up golf for a little while or coming home in time for family dinners. Set aside things that you think are important but really aren’t.
Number two is being able to laugh at yourself and have a sense of humor with what you’re doing. Kids offer the opportunity for us to learn about ourselves – the good stuff and the bad stuff.
Moms need to do certain things to feel balanced, what do you do to stay balanced?
There are two things I do. I run and I drink wine. About 5 years ago, I decided that I was going to go to bed when the kids did and get up earlier than them to take time for myself and go for a run. That developed into a nice hobby and a great release for me. The other thing I do is my wife and I have a long-standing tradition where we sit down in our family room every evening, which has no television, and we have a glass of wine and talk. We don’t really have to offer an invitation or any inducement, but our kids find a way of wandering in to sit down and listen to what we’re talking about. If their friends are over, they join in on the conversation and it’s been a way of making sure that my wife and I are connected, that the kids are aware we are connected and to invite them in to be part of the conversation.