When I was asked to write something up for Father’s Day this year, I immediately thought about my typical, go-to topics – my 6 year old daughter being my best friend (like, legitimately my best friend), or balancing my son’s wild side with my decreasing patience for it, or running a growing business with my wife while navigating parenthood.
But something felt off about all of those topics in light of what’s happening in this country right now. Countless people feeling marginalized, not heard and totally freaked out about our present and future. Writing about myself – and even my kids – felt tone deaf in a way. I kept coming back to other dads whose stories and challenges needed to be heard in order to build a sense of empathy and understanding of the struggles and stigmas all Dads face across the globe.
I’m a big believer in the power of empathy as more of it’s needed in the world to make it a better, kinder place. A couple years ago, I launched a somewhat accidental platform through our company STATE Bags called #WhatDoWeTellTheKids, mainly based around my borderline obsession with driving more empathy in our society. It began after hearing numerous kids at our non-profit summer camp asking their counselors about the #BlackLivesMatter movement with questions like, “Why don’t I matter?” and “Our teachers told us to act a certain way around police officers, but someone did the same thing last night and ended up shot dead.” Child development professionals (professionals!) were absolutely stumped… what do we tell the kids? We asked these committed educators that very question, and it started a movement that touched on a variety of social injustice issues.
As a parent, that question was so poignant, and became even more so over time with non-stop gun violence, school shootings, refugee crises, travel bans, mass incarceration, “taking a knee,” and constant, childish name calling from the highest office in the world. How the hell are we as parents and educators supposed to honestly explain all of this to the future generation, while attempting to maintain what makes kids so beautiful… their innocence?
I’ve found that the best way to confront this dilemma is to simply shed light and share stories so existing, harmful, unfair narratives can be shifted and yes, empathy and understanding begins to form. I’m always hesitant in tackling a certain issue because I’m a realist and know that me fixing a problem like police brutality or the ongoing, insane water crisis in Flint, MI just isn’t possible, but raising awareness to act and driving empathy is. Especially amongst the youth.
So as I thought about this post, and sat in meetings at STATE about how we were going to message Father’s Day, this all came to mind. Could we find an impressive roster of super stylish, great Dads to photograph and feature in our campaign? Of course, but how does that really push us forward as both a company and more importantly, a society?
In the age of Instagram, there’s no shortage of visibility to Dads that all make it look so easy, while looking so good in the process. But what often gets lost are the stigmas that many dads face because broader society doesn’t view them as part of the cultural norm. I began cold emailing and DM’ing Dads I found who had something to say, but have never been asked. My question to them was just that, “Would you be interested in us featuring you for Father’s Day to shed light on some of the stigmas you may face as a Dad?” Of the many people I connected with, I didn’t get one “no”. Each Dad was excited to tell their story and use this as an opportunity to knock down certain narratives and misconceptions that come into their lives more than most people can understand.
As part of my commitment to share those stories far and wide, here’s some snippets of these awesome Dads:
“I’ve been a single dad for almost two years now. After a very pleasant and amicable split with my now ex-wife, I quickly realized exactly what life as a single dad really means. For me, it was a matter of priorities. It was a life-changing event which I view as life-shaping for the better version of me.
One of my little ones mentioned how at school he was asked why he had two homes and his dad lived in the city and his mum in the suburbs. I had the traditional answer ready but it was his older brother that answered saying that dad and mum love each other but that they live apart because it’s the best thing for both of them. I smiled inside knowing that their reality, albeit not the norm, was so simply understood.
Two years post divorce and looking at my kids realizing that they won’t have the traditional home many of their peers have, struck a nerve with me. But what’s normal? Their normal is two lovely homes where both parents love them very much and remain best of friends. This is better than many others out there have and that in itself is beautiful and comforting.”
“We are the Roberts’. A pretty normal family; me, the husband/dad, Jess the wife/mother, Derek the cat, and two healthy children, Holly the girl, and Luke the boy, who has a tiny extra 21st chromosome in every cell of his body.
A lot of people don’t know much about Down Syndrome or the situation you may be dealing with. My wife says that she had never met anyone with Down Syndrome before Luke was born. We are ignorant until we had to live it. So when someone says “oh shame” or “sorry”, don’t get upset or hurt, rather educate them and tell them a bit about your experience, include the good and the bad. It will make the situation better for the both of you.
Having a child with a disability opens your eyes and makes you realize that everyone is fighting a battle of sorts, whether it be an illness, loss of a loved one or a broken home. When I started to see other people’s challenges I realized that, although life with Luke will have its challenges, it’s really not that bad because I have a 2 year old best friend who makes me smile every day. What has helped us immensely is the theory that If you are ok with it, everyone else will be ok with it.”
“There were times when we wondered if we would ever be Dads. Our journey to become parents took many twists and turns, but in the end it turned out better then we could ever have imagined. We will never stop fighting for our kids, and we will never take for granted what it means to be their Daddy and Papa.
Growing up, we know there will be times when people (who don’t know any better) will ask “Who are your ‘real’ parents?” We want our kids to know, that their ‘real’ parents are Daddy and Papa. There is nothing unreal about our love for them.
The first few times we went out in public as a family were nerve wracking. We never thought it was possible to be so proud and nervous at the same time, but there we were, walking through the mall with a double stroller when a voice from behind asked “where’d you get her from?” The girls were too young to understand what he was implying nor my stunned and angry response, but it taught us an important lesson. Stand up and fight for your family no matter what.”
“After coming out of the military I met the mother of my child and we were together for 4 years before my son was born. Unfortunately, a rocky relationship led to us splitting around the time my son was 1. Which has led to me being a single dad for the last year now that my son is 2.
I think a lot of the stigmas men face is that they are automatically the 2nd to the mother when it comes to the child. This wasn’t the case for me. When I found out about my son being born, at first I was scared because I knew that his mother and I were not on the best of terms. I felt like she didn’t love me enough as it were and that any wrong move made by me would result in the one thing that I had been avoiding my entire adult life, a broken family. I grew up in that and pledged I would always be the ultimate dad and be there for my child. So right away, I began taking an interest in parenting. I read books, watched documentaries, took an active approach to the birthing process, went to classes with my child’s mother. Everything.
As a single black father I automatically have a stereotype attached to me. That I’m a derelict. That I’m less important than the mother and indeed may not do as much for my child. Nothing hurts me more than not being able to give my son a stable environment, and I’ve pledged to always be the ultimate dad that’s there for my child.”
So as you’re celebrating Dad’s Day with your crew, take a second to reach out to the other Dads in your life who could use some extra love and encouragement. Those who are busting ass to provide for their families, who are learning as they go, and who may be in an uphill battle to earn everyone’s respect and admiration. Sometimes, all it takes is – you guessed it – a little bit of empathy.