NOTE: Last year, I had the opportunity to talk with five new dads about fatherhood, but the article didn’t run. With Father’s Day coming up, I wanted to publish it here. As you’ll see, their thoughts—their hopes, their fears, their insights—remain worth reading.
Chances are, you have (or had) a dad. Maybe you even are a dad, or expect to become one in the near future. Or maybe you’re just curious about this whole fatherhood enterprise, and want to find out (as one dad puts it below) “what’s the real-real.” Whatever the case, you’re in the right place, as we recently asked five new dads for their candid thoughts on fatherhood as they prepare to celebrate their first official Father’s Day. Read on to learn from their wisdom, and from their wit.
Michael Williams, founder, A Continuous Lean
Michael’s daughter: Miya, born in October
How’s it been so far? “I always thought I wanted to have children, and I heard a lot of stories: ‘This is the most amazing thing.’ Even childbirth, being there and seeing your child being born, a lot of people told me this is the most incredible thing you’d see in your life. Not to be terrible, but I just wasn’t sure how that was going to be amazing. I was very skeptical. And then there was a lot of waiting around at the hospital, and honestly as the dad you’re largely in the way or concerned with how you’re going to help. But it ended up being one of the most incredible moments of my life.”
Do you have a philosophy of fatherhood? “I really love spending time with Miya. My philosophy has been to try to be as capable as mom. I wanted to get everything down, to try to read her and know how to do what she wants. To be tactically proficient—not just change diapers, do everything. That’s been my goal, and that’s made it so I can spend a lot of time with her. I can take her out on my own, and I can be at the house with her on my own. That father-daughter time has been the most rewarding for me.”
What’s been the hardest part? “It’s a very, very rewarding thing—the most rewarding thing i’ve ever done. It’s also very challenging. It’s hard to navigate the way your life changes, the way your relationship changes. That’s not to take anything away from the joy of being a parent. Especially when you have a child late—I had just turned 39, so I was a little bit older. When you’re older, you’ve just lived a selfish existence for a long time. But when you have a child it’s no longer about you.”
What else has changed? “It changes your relationship with your wife or your spouse. As a dad, you [automatically] have a lesser role, so it can be difficult to find your place and navigate all that. It can be difficult to have a lot of people in your house all the time. There’s a lot of stuff everywhere all the time. And it’s obviously worse for the moms—like I’m the fucking martyr. But being spared can come with a massive amount of resentment, too.”
What has surprised you? “I’m very surprised at how much of a baby person I’ve turned into. Like, seeing babies on planes, trying not to be a creep but I’m genuinely curious about small children. I just really like babies now. I’m also surprised that I can’t read about bad things happening to children anymore. I think it’s worse for women, for mothers. You definitely see the world differently.”
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself: “Here’s my advice: You need to be as helpful as you can be. Dads needs to be proactive. It’s easy to say ‘Hey, do you need help with this?’ But it’s another thing to just get up and do it—I don’t ask, I just do it.
“My other piece of advice would be to talk to dads and ask what’s the real-real. Be open and honest about the challenges and the positives.”
So what is the real-real? “I think post-partum depression for dads is very real. I think fatherhood is a challenging time in terms of your self-identity. Not that I don’t love my life, but I think that depression is just very overlooked [in conversations about fatherhood]. I think it can be depressing—and it’s not about not hanging out with your friends, it’s about feeling out of control or marginalized. It’s important to make the time to do things for yourself, to maintain some semblance of sanity. Maybe that’s a good thing that could come out of Father’s Day: A day to talk about these things.”
Any plans for Father’s Day 2018? “I think we’re gonna be in Colorado. I’m gonna try to go fishing and play golf. Also, my wife works on New York time [Michael and his family are based in LA], so I have Miya every morning. It’s so much fun. I want to do that on Father’s Day, too.”
What’s a gift any new parent will appreciate? “Coffee. Whiskey. Massages that come to your house—that’s the shit that will make the baby happy.”
Kevin’s son: “Hudson Richard is named after my late father. He’s seven months old, and he’s 21 pounds. He’s a big boy [laughing].”
What do you love most about being a dad? “I think it totally pulls you out of whatever world you’re in. Children have a way of not taking social cues or asking about your life. So you come in from a hard day and they just want to spend time with you, and bring you into what’s going on. As a business person and an entrepreneur, you need an off-switch. That has been a great excitement, that it’s so easy to walk in and be part of his world.”
What has surprised you the most? “How quickly they develop their own personality. And also as a dad, the first six months, for me so much of my life is spent being the leader, but in your child’s life it’s totally the mom.”
What has been challenging? “It’s just adapting to the time restriction of things. It changes your goals so fundamentally. It’s not like we had a lot of time to begin with, but now we have even less time, especially for relationships that take up a lot of your time and don’t yield a lot of happiness for you, or help the business. You have to minimize the noise.”
How has it affected your life in the food world? “We eat at home a lot more. I eat earlier than I ever have [laughs]. We’re bringing him to tokyo in two weeks, and we’re eating at a 2-3 Michelin[-star] place. He’s being watched, but we’re eating at 5:30, and I don’t think I’ve eaten that early in at least a few years.”
As a chef, how have you tackled cooking for your son? “My wife’s a great cook, so he’s had sweet potato. And avocados. And labna. He’s had miso. And foie gras. And chicken liver mousse. He plays with most of it but he tries all those sort of things.”
How have you balanced being the key guy at Emmer & Rye and Henbit, and being the key guy in your child’s life? “Having a key woman is the easiest part of that. My wife and I had an understanding that she was gonna take more time for the family and I was gonna work to support that. We have a nanny who helps out tremendously because there is sos much time that is needed to make sure that your child is developing. It totally takes an army and we don’t have family here. We have so much support [from the restaurant] and because of that Hudson is very socialized.”
If you could go back to father's day 2017, what advice would you give yourself about the journey ahead? “Oh, man I would just say probably … I would say soak up as much time with my wife as I could[laughs]. Secondly, I would say try and make sure that I’m taking that hour or two every day in the morning before I go to work so I make sure I form that relationship for him. I go to work at 8am and I finish at midnight. I definitely have times where I stop home, but yeah, it is a challenge.”
What's the best advice you've received? And the worst? “It’s not really advice but it’s my favorite thing, this realization that at the same time you want to hear all of the advice, and you don’t want anybody to give any advice. As someone who’s taking on a new task, you want everyone to tell you as much as possible about their experience. At the same time, you want the freedom to discover those experiences on your own.”
“Also, the mom-shaming in our society is terrible. First of all I appreciate that for your three minutes of experiencing us, you feel empowered enough to inform us of your opinion. In a normal interaction that would never happen, but because it’s kids people feel more obligated or empowered to like, give advice. It’s not like someone is walking around and saying your religious choices are the wrong thing.”
Any big plans for father's day 2018?
I’m cooking. Come visit me in two weeks. [laughs.]
Miles’ daughter: Lillian is just 7 months old. When she was born, she weighed 10.5 pounds! I thought my wife should have worn a cape because after 36 hours of labor I thought she was supermom.
What have you loved most about being a dad? I was just talking with a friend about how amazed I am at the way my heart continues to unfold. From the moment your child is born, you’re bursting at the seams with love. And yet as each day goes on, your capacity for love grows in volume, filling up space you didn’t know existed. I’ve never felt anything like it.
What has surprised you the most? Well, the whole thing is terribly exciting, isn’t it? The baby is born and by that point, it’s been a long time coming so one hopes you’ve prepared yourself as best you can. Then, for the first several months, there’s really not a whole lot you can do as dad. I felt my primary job was to help my wife with whatever she needed. But then, around the fourth month, the daily surprises come. The baby’s personality comes to the fore. Each day, a new skill emerges. Pointing. Giggles. Holding items. Sitting up. At that point, it’s a race home from the office each day to learn what new magic the little bean had performed.
What has been the most challenging part? Where have you struggled? Hmmm. You know if I’m being completely honest, I suppose it’s the iPhone. I’m good for five, maybe ten minutes with my baby girl on the floor—just us, no distractions. But inevitably, I’ll soon pull out my phone and start snacking on empty calories with Instagram or the “news.” It takes me away from her and the moment. And when I think about that habit from 30,000 feet, I realize that there’s no precedent for this phenomenon; there’s no reverse button. My children will grow up with these devices constantly soliciting their attention.
You started a business at the same time you had a baby. How have those two “births” dovetailed.
Well, it hasn’t given me a lot of free time, I’ll tell you that. My business had been in the works for a long time, but our official launch date was planned well before we knew the delivery date. They ended up coinciding as my daughter came two weeks late. Launching a business and having a child at the same time really forces you to trim to fat in your schedule. The only finite resource in life is time—there will never be more than 24 hours in a day—so I became more efficient with that limited capital.
If you could go back to Father's Day 2017, what advice would you give yourself about the journey ahead? I would say this: Look, everything you need to know about raising your child in a healthy loving home, you already know. It’s hardwired into you—you know what the right thing to do is in each situation. So don’t worry so much and just show up reliably.
Any big plans for Father's Day 2018? A phone call to my dad to tell him he’s a good man and a great American.
Brandon Hedgepeth, Health Care IT professional
Brandon’s daughter: “My child’s name is Bria Marie Hedgepeth. She is eight months going on 18 years old, and already moving around like a toddler. [Laughs.]”
What do you love most about being a dad? The sight of someone who just gets overjoyed every time they see you! That, and the constant beard tugging. I think she is weeding out the weak hairs in my beard. The hairs that remain can probably carry my weight on the edge of a cliff, ha.
What surprised you most about fatherhood? I'm most surprised at how easily I adjusted. I was almost certain that fatherhood would be the most difficult adjustment of my life, but even though my life is now centered around her, I don't feel that things are complicated at all.
What was your biggest challenge or struggle? When she was about 2 or 3 months old, I began to notice that if she started crying, only her mom could calm her down or get her to sleep. So one night, she was just crying at the top of her lungs, and I grabbed her, and held her on my stomach. She continued to cry and my wife would say "Let me take her and calm her down." This time, I refused. I said "If you come to her rescue in this situation, she will continue to view me as a threat that she needs to be saved from." My wife didn't like that too much, but she understood. Eventually, she calmed down and went to sleep. Now, I'm basically her sleeping habit. She will toss, turn and fight, unless she is on my stomach to sleep. Even though she is getting a bit big for that now.
If you could go back to Father's Day 2017, what would you tell yourself about the journey ahead? If you think that Fatherhood, is something that you can plan, or map out, you are sadly mistaken. I have always prided myself in putting a plan in motion to everything. Every evening, I try to properly prepare and plan out her next day, and funny enough, it falls apart each time. Apparently, fatherhood is about winging it.
What’s the best advice you’ve received? And the worst? I haven't really received any bad advice, but the best advice was when my barber told me, "I really can't give you any advice, because each child and situation is different." This goes back to what I said earlier. I have learned that there is pretty much no plan, book or schedule to this thing. You gotta take each situation that comes to you and face it head on.
Any big plans for Father’s Day 2018? So far, I don't have any big plans for myself. However, the other two ladies in the home (mother and daughter) seem to be putting something together behind my back, so there is no telling how things will turn out...
Ryan Heller, art director and memoirist, King of Stars
Tell us about your twins, Connor and Olivia. “They just turned one last week. It’s wild. We went through surrogacy to have them, my husband and I, since it’s a little bit more difficult for us to have babies [laughs]. Each of them is genetically one of ours—one is Chris’s, one is mine. They share the same ‘mother’ / egg donor. We literally got to see them in petri dishes, and now they’re a year old. It’s hard to believe.”
What have you loved most about being a dad? “I would say the greatest thing, and I don’t know if this is selfish or not, is learning about myself. You live your life one way before [fatherhood], and I thought I knew who I was as a person. And then these two incredible little people come into my life, and everything I know was completely flipped upside-down. People tell you that, but there’s no true comprehension until it happens. It forced me to change, to grow and discover new parts of myself. Creatively. Spiritually. Just as a human.
What’s a specific example? “Part of my background is a recovering drug addict. I’m about to be 7 years sober.”
Congrats. “Thanks. Having kids has given me a completely new appreciation for a life that I was otherwise wasting away before. To have that juxtaposition and perspective on where I came from, from rehab, and I was arrested, coming from that really rough past, to now, having these awesome kids and loving them to death and they’re happy, and as a family things are incredible. Being able to see the difference and the contrast, and the perspective has been monumental.”
What has surprised you the most? “The first thing that comes to my head is… So I’m gay, and my experience with the female anatomy is very limited. [Laughs.] So I had to become acquainted with the female anatomy, and ask questions that I would have never had to ask. Little female babies can get urinary tract infections, they can get diarrhea up there [laughs]. I have to clean it out, it’s mind-boggling. With a boy, it’s pretty self-explanatory. I’m pretty well acquainted [laughing]. She’s gonna have her lady time in 13 years or so. What the hell am I gonna do? I guess my mom’s gonna have to have that talk that she thought she’d never have to have again.
What has been the most challenging part? Where have you struggled? “Balance, for sure. I don’t know what it’s like to have one kid so I can just speak for having two. You’re literally juggling bodies as well as juggling time. For somebody like myself, who’s already disorganized with prioritizing life, I’m realizing now that I cannot do that. I’ve become the person that schedules things in the calendar, and has to triple-multitask everything from holding a baby down while changing a diaper while trying to give a bottle to the other baby who’s crying while trying to keep the dog from eating the dirty diaper. I work full-time, and so does my husband, we work together at a design studio. Having to work full-time as well as just maintain some semblance of a lifestyle, taking care of ourselves as well as taking care of and providing for the babies, and then we have other activities that we’re a part of on top of that … we have a lot. that’s been the biggest challenge: How do we make everything work?”
If you could go back to father's day 2017—or 2016, in your case—what advice would you give yourself about the journey ahead?
“Let go. I would tell myself to let go of the need to have control of everything, and learn how to really embrace chance or the unexpected. As much as I like to have freedom, I still very much like to know that I’m in control, and I get super anxious when i’m not. For example, I would always have the house clean and in order, and people would say just wait. And I would say ‘No, fuck you, I’m gonna have this on lockdown.’ But last week we had this birthday party, and we had upwards of 15 to 20 kids in the house at the same time, of varying ages, running around and it was just mayhem. And I was seeing things thrown on the floor, and things ripped out and being thrown around, and food being dropped, and my heart just about gave out, but I had to let go and be in the moment, and realize this is a beautiful thing. Enjoy it. They’ll never be one years old again. Experience it, and don’t miss out.
What's the best advice you've received? And the worst? “The best is probably the silliest. It was from my brother-in-law. Before they were born, he said treat them like a chicken. And I didn’t know what he meant by that. I was trying to change my niece’s diaper, and I was being super delicate. and he said ‘Ryan, treat them like a chicken. Pick them up, move them around, you’re not gonna break them.’ And I had to remember that, because [I would keep thinking] they’re frail little things that I’m gonna destroy. But that silly bit of advice got me through so much.
“The worst? I don’t know if I have any. I have stupid advice, more stuff that pissed me off. It was from a flight attendant on an airplane, who was telling me how to not strangle my children with a teething necklace. I don’t need that [laughs]. There’s just so much unsolicited advice.
Anything else you'd want to add? “One of the coolest things has been seeing my dad become a grandpa, especially when he thought he was never gonna be one because he has the gay only child. And so he’s just, I’ve watched this guy completely transform into this, like, super-grandpa. He gets so excited. He’s running around with them, and he’s got a bad back, and not the best heart. But he is like a kid again. He has just bonded with my kids in a way that is beautiful to watch as his son. That’s probably the best Father’s Day gift I could get.”