illustration by Amy Curkendall
The Daddy Handbook: Part 1
Steven J. Moss
Fatherhood has dramatically changed shape since the turn of the millennium, with modern fathers increasingly committed to spending time with their children. Twenty years ago, college-educated dads dedicated an average of five hours a week to their offspring. Today that’s doubled to ten hours weekly. Men without a college education are also spending more time with their children, up from four hours a week two decades ago to seven hours weekly today. The intensity of fathers’ interest in their kids was illustrated in a 2012 New Yorker magazine cover, in which a mother with a stroller encounters a playground crowded with babies and their caretaker fathers.
View Publisher Steven Moss, has written a book crafted to appeal to this generation’s fathers, honestly describing his interactions with his wife and daughter, creating a series of stories about raising a daughter, and being a family. He’s looking for a publisher for this work; in the meantime the View is delighted to publish excerpts over the next few issues.
“You’re going to have three kids,” seven-year-old Sara announced, after examining the number of lines on my wrist. I tried not to wince as my daughter then held up her arm for me to predict her child-bearing fortune.
I came to fatherhood at an age that’s considered late. Sara was born when I was 40; 13 years older than average for a first-time father. By the standards of having children, I was already over-the-hill: fertility rates peak by the time a man reaches his mid-30s, and fall from there.
Still, while I may be older, the experiences I’ve had being a dad are much closer to today’s 20-something dads than my 1960s-era father. Dads now spend almost three times as many hours with their children – and more than twice as much time on housework – than their fathers did. I’m not in the same league as stay-at-home dads, of which there are now almost 200,000. But most modern fathers are like me. We’ve dived into the enterprise head first, with a deep commitment to raising our children, but minimal training and incomplete role models.
Except from a biological perspective, becoming a dad isn’t like turning on a light switch. It’s akin to making tea: a sudden splash into boiling water, followed by a slow transformation. This is the story of that transformation; how I raised my daughter and my daughter raised me. In many ways, it’s every dad’s story. Though the characters change, and the plot line may take a different trajectory, it’s a tale that most fathers can, and should, tell. Please tell yours, including sharing your tips on how to be a dad: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next month: A baby is born!
Tips: So You Want to Become a Father ...or do you?
• Sex = Life. Most single men only loosely connect sex with any other outcome than going to sleep afterwards, or, during the Mad Men days, having a post-coital cigarette. (I’m not sure what the current practice is; chewing on a slab of Nicorette wouldn’t seem to work). Here’s a little known fact: sex can create a baby; after a baby there’s very little sex. Either there’s some evolutionary advantage to refocusing male sexual energy elsewhere after becoming a father, or God is laughing at us.
• Life = Love. Setting aside any conclusions you came to related to (1), go ahead, have a baby. In fact, why stop at one; go for two, or even three. There are downsides to the enterprise – someone else in the house with a shorter attention span than you; being forced to share your stuff; you and your things will get drooled on, crumpled, or broken – but it beats the alternative.
• Make a commitment. Once the baby pops out she’ll be with you for a lifetime; it’s good to teach her something. I started taking Sara to swimming lessons when she turned three, driving 30 miles from San Francisco to Half Moon Bay once a week for almost two years. Today Sara swims like a mermaid, and I get the credit.
• Grow up. There’s plenty of time to stay in suspended adolescence, messing around with women, sports, travel, and technology. Feel free to take all the time you need; then, by faith or circumstance, stop acting like a boy.