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  • AfroDaddy

Why Don't Dads Talk about being Dads?

I’ve been doing this AfroDaddy thing for a long time, and I have told the story of why I started it many many times, but in short, when I became a dad I didn’t see any conversations about real fatherhood happening anywhere I could access.


So I started having those conversations, and eventually some people joined in, while others created their own space for dad content to exist, and that was great.


However, I keep coming back to one question: Why do we still struggle to get fathers to engage and talk about their experience of parenting?


Sure, the landscape is improving - there is a new generation of men who understand what it means to be a progressive, present and engaged dad - but I would argue that it when it comes to actually talking about fatherhood, or joining in dad communities, or writing stories in media about our experiences…dads are languishing.


Like most things in life, the answer to that question is complex. You could look at the under- and mis-representation of fathers in media (how many shows focus on the struggles and complexities of fatherhood?), or you could talk about how our patriarchal society has made child-care a “women’s job” so much that we don’t know how to talk about real fatherhood.


I think those are valid points, but I’d like to add a third: the first few weeks and months of fatherhood creates roadblocks for dads to engage in fatherhood later on.


To help me explain, let me tell you the story of becoming a parent from the dad’s perspective.


This man has spent the last few months worrying about and caring for his pregnant partner. He knows (because he gets told repeatedly) that his job is to support her - she is the main character in this story right now. She’s vulnerable and going through so much physical and mental turmoil during her pregnancy.


So, he put his feelings, thoughts and struggles aside to be the support she needs.


Then…it’s time for the baby to arrive. At the hospital she gets cared for, messages of support from friends and family and told how much of a superhero she is.


He gets a hard plastic chair and pretty much gets told to stay out of the way.


Is he stressing about what is about to happen to his love? Is he anxious about becoming a father? Is he worried about his unborn child? No one asks, because who cares what the supporting character thinks or feels.


So, he put his feelings, thoughts and struggles aside to be the support she needs.


(Note: Of course this is not the experience for many, if not most, pregnant people in this country. This hypothetical story is about a very specific experience from the very specific perspective of a dad)


Then, the baby is here! His partner is physically and emotionally spent and for the next few weeks he knows he has to ensure that she doesn’t deal with the recovery alone. He has to do this while also having to go back to work almost immediately. He is tired all the time, but has to pretend not to be at the office so that he doesn’t appear unprofessional, and has to pretend not to be home so that he doesn’t appear to be uncaring.


All the visitors for this time lavish mom and child with praise…and he makes the tea and coffee. He knows this is role for this time…So, he put his feelings, thoughts and struggles aside to be the support she needs.


Time and time again, he has to ignore what he is going through for the sake of his family.


I’m not saying this needs to change - everything mentioned above about what his partner experiences and the support she receives is the way it should be…but do you see where the problem arrives?


For the first big chunk of his experience of fatherhood, this new dad has been shown and told that whatever he is thinking and feeling is secondary to mom and child. We tell him to push that down, not to talk about it, because in the larger scheme of things…his experience of parenting is just not important.


And then, after YEARS of receiving that message, we suddenly say “Hey, you should be talking about fatherhood to other dads. You should be ENGAGING with ideas around fatherhood to be a better dad. This is important for society to function!”


Oh, so now I’m suddenly important?


The reality is that when you’ve been told that you aren’t important enough to care about, why should you put in the time and effort to self-reflect? And if you don’t have self-reflection, how do you know where you need to work on yourself? And if you can’t work on yourself, how can you become the best version of yourself?


I’ve experienced this as AfroDaddy. Despite being a vocal and constant supporter of moms, and trying to encourage equality in the labour of parenting, the moment I start to talk about the struggles that comes with being a dad, someone inevitably tries to shut me down because “that’s NOTHING compared to what moms go through!”. So we want dads to be better, without acknowledging their value or struggles.


It just doesn’t work.


Ultimately, if we want dads to take fatherhood seriously, we need to take them seriously when they become fathers, not years later after the damage has already been done.


So, next time your friends become parents…make the dad feel special too. He needs it to be the best dad he can be.


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