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Not your father’s fatherhood: Modern wisdom from today’s dads

When many of today’s dads were children, the internet didn’t exist, blended families weren’t as common and stay-at-home dads were super rare. Dads on TV brought home the bacon, but were clueless in the kitchen, and many dads in real life took on more traditional roles in their families. A lot has changed since then. With Father’s Day coming up, we wanted to hear from dads about their adventures in parenting and how they are thinking about the part they play in their kids’ lives.


Throwback fatherhood

Our ideas of parenting are informed pretty early in our own families of origin and in the culture that surrounds us growing up. Some of those ideas we gladly accept and pass on. Others, we leave behind in search of new ways to do parenthood.

My dad was more of an authoritative figure. I kind of thought it would be different with me, I would be more friendly, more relational.” -Kenny, dad of 3, ages 13, 23, and 25

Providing, being the protector and being a teacher are the things that were givens as [dad] duties. Growing up religious in the rural south, there were a lot of parameters and restrictions on what boys should be like, so I think my dad felt like it was his duty to make sure I fit that mold.” -Buck, dad of 2, ages 16 and 18

“Most of the images and stereotypes of fatherhood I grew up with, I found offensive. The stereotypical sitcom dad, a bit of a knuckle dragger, can’t cook pasta to save his life.” -Sergio, parent of 2, ages almost 7 and almost 9


Times are changing

Roles and expectations

“[As a stepdad] I’m becoming a father figure and my wife knows that I have to earn some of those stripes and she can't hold my hand the entire time. Otherwise, if I'm watching the kids for a week when she's gone, I'm gonna be pretty useless if I haven't developed those relationships and that respect.” -Dana, stepdad of 4, ages 8, 10, 11 and 13

“I’ve noticed how often we talk about working mothers, but not about working fathers and how often moms are asked ‘How do you balance family and work?’ and nobody asks dads. Plenty of men defy those stereotypes, but generally speaking, people are still surprised to find that a father is taking parental leave, or a father is a stay-at-home dad.” -Sergio

“My kids are different from me in the sense that I never really shared with my parents what went on around me in high school. My kids share a lot with us and we have conversations about it, which is terrific, because the world has become so much more complicated for young people than when I was a teenager.” -Ramon, dad of 2, ages 15 and 17

Getting kids world-ready

Things change so fast. The job they think they may have may not even exist in 10 years. That’s where I feel like teaching my kids to adapt and change and be open to trying new things is really valuable.” -Buck

“My parents are good people, but I think they assumed that the way they experienced the world was the way everybody experienced the world. Since becoming a dad, I’ve become more aware of other parents having to raise their children with different worries that I don’t experience. We don’t hold seminars with our kids, but we talk openly with them about empathy, privilege and the importance of taking time to understand other people’s lived experiences.” -Jake, dad of 2, ages 8 and 16

“It's interesting to see our kids developing their own ideas and thoughts about how they see the world. We're talking about issues that are more grown-up in nature (politics, society, culture, etc.). When we agree, it's great. When we disagree, it's important to debate and exchange ideas without butting heads. The current political climate has become very binary. I want them to know it's OK to trust their gut and have opinions that don't fit neatly into a certain box or that differ from a peer group.” -Ramon

The upsides of tech

“I think having a voice assistant is amazing with a baby because we can use it to play songs or ambient noise for him, and my wife and I can talk to each other like an intercom around the house like, ‘Hey, I need another bottle.’ You will not understand the importance of hands-free devices until you have a baby.” -Bill, dad of 1, age 7 months

Technology has changed, but the core thing is still the same, making sure their heart is in the right place, the things they’re exposed to, the things that they are watching and listening to are something that’s going to help them grow and not going to get them off track.” -Kenny


Father doesn’t always know best (and that’s OK!)

Any parent who’s telling the truth will admit they don’t have it all figured out. Keeping it real can help keep you from going crazy.

“I thought that dads were supposed to make sure you can hit a baseball or fix stuff, but I didn’t know how to do those things. What I eventually realized was, my kid could learn things from sources other than me. What she could get from me were the things I was already good at--offering perspective, support and quality time.” - Kevin, dad of 1, age 25

“There’s so much pressure from so many sources...online, other parents, etc. Everybody has an opinion. There’s lots of opportunities to second-guess yourself as a parent being able to see how so many other families are doing things. ‘They’re doing that. Should we be doing that?’ But it’s good to remember that there’s no one right way to parent and that all you can do is your best.” -Andrew, dad of 2, ages 2 and 4 ½


Kid-tested tips from real-life dads

Don’t go it alone

“Finding a support system is a lifesaver, especially for new parents. It can be very isolating to feel like you’re going through it alone. Build up a circle of people you can count on to help or at least who understand what you’re going through.” -Andrew

It makes me really happy to see my partner connecting with my kids and to know that he has my back. I saw how he was with my kids and how they meshed together perfectly. There are things my kids are into that I’m not super interested in, but he’s really into them. Like they bond on video games, superhero movies and nerding out.” -Buck

Let kids set their own pace

“Our older daughter has loved being read to since we brought her home from the hospital. Our younger one didn’t seem interested until she was maybe 7 months. I was really worried for a while that she wouldn’t ever like books. I wish I could go back and tell myself not to worry. She loves reading together now.” -Jaime, dad of 2, ages 2 and almost 5

“Language has always been important to me and to my identity and how I connect with my family and my heritage, but it’s not something that I have really pushed or instilled in my kids. They are not bilingual, but they have a lot of exposure to Spanish. I used to really give myself a lot of grief about this, but I realized I can’t do everything. Now, what’s exciting to me is they are expressing a lot of interest. I’m happy to follow their lead and say let’s do this!” -Sergio

“As a stepdad, I don’t want to force the kids to call me dad. My wife’s stepdad did that and she really didn’t like it. Every once in a while, the kids will slip and call me dad, which I love, but I’m trying to be cool about it and let them call me whatever they’re comfortable with.” -Dana

Take your own advice

“Listen to the advice you give your kids. I’ve always wanted them to be themselves, but my biggest hurdle as a dad was worrying that being true to myself was going to affect my kids in negative ways. Now I see that it affected them in really positive ways.” -Buck

“I was listening to a podcast about the approach of peaceful parenting. If a child is having a meltdown or having trouble regulating emotions, there are three things that you should do: 1. Establish and reaffirm their safety. 2. Allow their emotions. 3. You model self-regulation of emotions: ‘It’s perfectly fine to be angry. It’s not OK to hit.’ Model that by staying calm yourself and not acting out angrily. Trying out this technique with my daughter and having it go well made it feel like we won together. I use this technique on myself, too.” -Sergio

Enjoy the little things

I cannot say how much joy singing to and with a baby is. It’s so much fun. I didn’t used to sing in the car or in the shower. Now I sing every day.” -Bill

One thing my dad and I bonded over was food. Sometimes before school, he would buy me an empanada. Now I do the same with my daughter. When we first started going, it was subconscious, but then I realized that it was because I did that with my dad.” -Jaime

“Having kids forced me, a type A personality, to slow down and enjoy the moment and re-prioritize things instead of ‘getting things done’ mode.” -Andrew

“I love to see him experience someplace that I’m familiar with. His eyes are all over the place, and I haven’t really looked at this place in years. Now I’m gonna look at it again because I’m thinking, ‘What’s he noticing?’” -Bill

Note to self: don’t worry (easier said than done, we know)

“Don’t try to be a perfect parent or expect perfection from your kids. They aren’t going to be perfect, just like you’re not perfect. You’re both a work-in-progress.” -Kenny

“This is advice that I’d give my younger self and my current self: ‘Chill out, man. All we have is the present moment.’” -Sergio