I can’t say I thought a lot about fatherhood and what it really means to be a dad until my wife and I had our daughter, Olympia, two years ago. I’m grateful to have an amazing dad who modeled strong “dad things” from a young age — juggling running a travel agency with helping raise me and being a great partner to my mom — but I hadn’t thought about the real identity of being a dad until I went through it myself.
My introduction to fatherhood wasn’t easy. My wife experienced near-fatal complications during the delivery of our daughter that resulted in an emergency C-section and pulmonary embolisms. When we came home with Olympia, Serena could hardly walk, and had bandages over her abdomen that needed to be changed daily. We had so many things working in our favor: support around the house, family nearby, and we weren’t worried about losing our jobs by staying at home to care for Olympia — and it was still incredibly challenging. As my wife was recovering, I also quickly learned that I had no idea what to do with my daughter. I was afraid of holding her. I’m 6’5” and she was 7 lbs. “What if I broke her?!” I didn’t, thankfully, and learned how to calm her down when she was crying, rock her to sleep, change her diaper, do her hair — to be her dad.
Dads can’t just be thought of as “babysitters” while mom is away
It’s easy to think that because we’re not as biologically necessary as mom in the beginning, we’re not equal partners. But as any parent knows, there is plenty of work to go around, and we need to be at the table from the beginning. Here are a few thoughts on how we can start moving the needle:
1.) Take leave if you can
The stats are pretty grim. Only 9% of workplaces in the U.S. offer paid paternity leave to male employees, and 76% of fathers are back to work within a week after the birth or adoption of a child. I firmly believe that taking leave sets dads and families off on the right foot from the beginning, sharing parental responsibilities and being a supportive partner and parent. Taking paternity leave also helps moms. When men are equally expected to take leave, being a working mother becomes less stigmatized (and it’s getting easier thanks to professional talent marketplaces like The Mom Project, which we backed last year). It’s crazy to think that the United States is the only industrialized country that doesn’t provide some form of paid family leave, and I’ve been working to try to change that (sign Dove Men+Care’s pledge or visit my friends at PL+US if you want to support too!) I was lucky to be able to take 16 weeks of leave when Olympia was born and I couldn’t have imagined it any other way.
2.) Be thoughtful about sharing responsibilities
Whether it’s feeding, changing a diaper, or (attempting to) nail down a sleep routine, there is technology now that makes it easier than before to bring dads and all caregivers into the equation.
Nara Baby Tracker, for example, makes coordination and communication between all caregivers (parents, babysitters, grandparents, etc.) more collaborative. For example, while mom is nursing and using the Nara Baby Tracker breastfeeding timer, dad can be in charge of recording all diaper changes. Or dad can let his partner sleep a little bit more at night and he can continue to take care of the baby based on the data recorded into the app. Anyone in the baby’s life can have access to the baby’s data because as we all know as parents, it takes a village. (Full transparency: I loved Nara Baby Tracker so much, my firm Initialized Capital invested in it).
3.) Show the world more dads doing “dad things”
Simple actions like posting more pictures with your kids or talking about your kid’s new hobby or obsession of the month (my daughter is really into fish right now) at the water cooler at work make a difference. Over time, these are the things that can help shift culture and perception. Social media has enabled this generation of dads to think about dad life differently. One of my favorite examples is the r/DadReflexes on Reddit, a community devoted to sharing GIFs and videos of dads being dads — whether they’re catching their kid as he’s about to fall off the sofa, or cooking pancakes on a Sunday morning. We should celebrate these moments and encourage our dad friends to do the same.
The answer to the question “what about dads?” would have sounded very different when my dad was raising me — frankly, I don’t think the question would have even been asked. We have a lot of work to do, but I’m encouraged by this new generation of dads whose identity as a parent is central to who they are, and not an afterthought as the question “what about dads?” implies.