For our podcast I did an interview with Chad about fatherhood! Here is what he shared with me about his personal experience about becoming a father and discovering the kind of parent he wanted to be. There is a lot of talk of fathers and mothers and breaking traditional roles and stereotypes. This is a very emotional topic and one that carries centuries of gender-based biases. There are also so many personal, religious, cultural, familiar, and social factors that contribute to the experience of every parent and of course there are all kinds of family models. Chad shares his experience of becoming a father to one child, as a man who is married to a woman (the Montessori Mother, no less 🙂 and who was raised by very strong, Alaskan women. As Chad shared with me, although every parent’s journey is distinct, it is helpful to hear about each other’s experiences and this can affect our understanding of what being a father means to us.
Chad is a Montessori father and teacher for 3-6 year olds. Together he and I run our school and raise our 2-year-old daughter. Chad also guides Fathers’ Meet-Ups, which is what inspired us to do this podcast episode/blog post.
What is Fathers Meet-up?
Once a month on a Saturday fathers come and have a space to interact with their children and we have a discussion, which is optional. Some fathers just want to spend time with their children, which is great. The reason I came up with the idea is because I saw that in our classes there were loads of women who would talk to each other about their experience as parents and as women and how that in many ways helped them. It made me think that fathers don’t really talk about these things. There’s not really a platform where they can feel like they won’t be judged or they can express themselves honestly without hurting someone’s feelings. We have this environment where all different kinds of fathers can share the way they feel about things without fearing someone is going to judge them. Even if they disagree, it’s even better that way because a lot of fathers do have different experiences and can share that and it expands our understanding.
All fathers are welcome with children from 2 months to 4 years. Some fathers talk about how their religion affects their parenting, but it’s not religion-specific. There is also talk of mothers and wives as well as husbands and partner-fathers, we also have single fathers and co-parenting fathers. It all plays into the idea that we get together and we hear about eachother’s experiences and this can deeply affect our understanding of what kind of fathers we want to be and how we understand what being a father means, particularly to us.
What changed for you when you became a father?
I think becoming a father opened my eyes a lot – to the biological truths about ageing, family, the unfairness of how women are treated, and fatherhood. I think it’s made me feel more in-touch with other men. I was raised by only women and I always felt a bit out of place among men. My mom was a tough lady who worked in the oil fields her whole life after she left the army. She taught me how to use a chainsaw and build houses so I ended up doing a lot of jobs in traditionally male environments for most of my life and I always felt apart, even though I was competent within that world. Becoming a father made me see the parts of me that are masculine and because of that I felt more comfortable in male surroundings and maybe more empathetic to other men and more conscious of what we as men in society really need in order to be more present with our children.
What to you hope fathers will get out of Fathers Meet-Up?
Having a place where fathers can share their experiences and get or give advice is a very important reason I see to be a part of our group. More importantly, I set this whole thing because so many fathers just don’t have equal time with their children. There are a myriad of reasons, but I like the idea that on a Saturday a father and his child can set out on an adventure across the city and have a place to go that the other partner knows is safe. Everyone who works with children has a different way of doing it and they are all valid as long as they can provide for the child’s mental, emotional, and physical needs. What often happens when both parents are together with the child, or when one parent doesn’t get any alone time with the child, is that the rhythm of one parent begins to control the rhythm of the other parent – or even excludes it unintentionally. So I think it’s vital for a dad and his child to set off into the world, just the two of them, and solve problems as they come.
What was the best piece of advice you have received from another parent?
I suppose the best advice that I’ve gotten was from a man who was in the playground by himself with his children and I was talking to him while I was with my child and he expressed to me the idea about the rhythms. He understood later when his child was older that it’s really important to be alone with your child in order to develop communication. He said that a father needs to spend time alone with his children as early as possible. This means that he sometimes has to put his foot down and say, ‘I am a part of my child’s life and that means now, not later when they can talk and play football, but now.’
What is a common misunderstanding about fatherhood and what is the truth that you now know?
I think this is my experience, I don’t know if it’s everyone’s, but I think that a big myth is that raising children is ‘women’s work.’ We live in a time that is very different from past generations and many fathers are a big part of their children’s lives. However, I see very prevalently in society the belief that men are not natural parents. I’ve seen a woman jump across isles thinking I was going to drop my child. I see women who feel the need to explain how a stroller works to me or whether or not I should consult my child’s mother before I give them ibuprofen. It’s not that women don’t suffer degradation in society, but it’s particularly difficult for men to surpass this misconception that “mother knows best”. Fathers are often not considered as equal parents with an equal right to make decisions or have their own philosophy for child-raising… [Chad gives several of examples in the podcast about common situations he has heard of and how the father felt when being corrected in those situations]
Maybe it looks easy when a mother does it, but there is no magic “mother’s touch”. It’s not about being a mother. When two human beings suffer through difficulty- and being a child is extremely difficult with a myriad of new experiences – they develop trust with each other and a form of communication that’s only between them. The child understands that they are safe with this person physically and emotionally. Women have the benefit of countless generations who have come before them that cemented this role of motherhood in society. They also passed down tools of how to care for another human being, which many men are not given when they are boys.
Do you feel like fathers have equal opportunities in education and parenting? What do we need to change to help them be more included?
I think fathers often don’t have the level of opportunity as mothers do and I think it’s really about time. Many fathers don’t have the particular kind of courage or tact to put their foot down and say ‘I am an equal parent. And while I may not be the only one making the rules of engagement, I won’t be left out of the conversation or subordinated to carrying out orders.’ I don’t know how that comes off, but when you’re a father it does often feel like ‘I just have to carry out what the mother says because mother knows best and I am just kind of here…’ A mother needs support, but a father also has valid input. Once a man has crossed over their line of illumination and their presence in the child’s life becomes vital, a lot of it becomes easier.
I will not listen to what society tells me and I will be present in my child’s daily life somehow…I will do this no matter what anyone else on the planet says. I am my child’s parent for life.”
Fathers often have a stack of difficulties. Some may only need time alone with their children to figure things out. Sometimes the other partner needs to see things from their point of view and ensure that their own behaviour is not discouraging or disabling that father from being present. Often schedules can be rearranged. [Examples in the podcast]
The priority we give our children now is the priority that they will give us when we are old and we don’t have work or our health and all we have is time.
Parenting is dominated by a feminine aesthetic and it can be intimidating for men to enter that world of holding the baby or of changing diapers or of putting their baby in a carrier and going for a walk quietly. It can make a man feel emasculated or like they’re in a world that they don’t fit into, or they feel awkward in. I don’t think many women are cognisant of the fact that this feminine aesthetic makes men feel out of place. There is a lot behind that psychologically, but the essential point is that a partner who is more comfortable with parenting can maybe try to see things from the other parent’s point of view. Maybe the kind of encouragement that they are trying to give isn’t the right kind. Maybe choosing a different tact in conversing or commenting on how they are with the child could be worked on.
How did you learn about what kind of father you wanted to be?
I never really thought of myself as a father. Maybe in my mid do late twenties I thought it would be cool to have a child, but it was only in passing moments. I think society doesn’t really gear us (men) toward what kind of fathers we want to be, especially not in the way that women are geared towards it. I was raised by women and the closest thing I ever had to a father was Indiana Jones as a kind of childhood idol. So many fathers base their idea of what kind of father they want to be simply on doing the exact opposite than what their father did. We have to think about and be aware of the fact that fatherhood doesn’t really have any good role-models.
The tools that we need to be a functioning member of our family in today’s world, to care for and encourage another human being, were not given to us. We have to forge them from scratch, from zero, through our own experiences in every moment.
What is the best part of being a father?
I think the best part of being a father – and this is going to sound strange or maybe silly – but when I pick up my daughter from somewhere, she catches sight of me and her whole face lights up and she runs towards me and hugs me, I think something inside me just melts. It kind of feels like all those fears that you are doing something wrong, that every parent goes though, just goes away because you see that your child is happy to see you.
Thank you for reading!
-Katelynn & Chad