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.