Dad-Life: Markus & Indy through the years. / Photos: Priscilla Obermeier
It’s almost Father’s Day, so let’s talk DAD, shall we? Long before a Google search for ‘dad blogs’ resulted in about 187.000.000 options in 0.52 seconds, I wrote about dad-life. One dad’s life to be exact.
In 2010, Markus, Indy and I lived in Los Angeles, where Markus dove into acting, and I turned Markus’s private dad-moments into situational comedy (because, people,… that’s the person I am). Daddywood was the title of my episodic sitcom built around the trials and tribulations of Marcus (exactly, to keep the character inspiration on the DL, I changed the letter ‘k’ into a ‘c’. You’re welcome, Markus with a k.), a former athlete turned stay-at-home-dad in Hollywood. In the city where every baby has an agent, Marcus tries to create a dynamic equilibrium out of his household, personal relationships, and acting aspirations while redefining the traditional soccer mom standards, attending “Mommy and me” events, baking gluten-free-lactose-free-nut-free challah bread, coming to terms with the fact that a sitting on toilet alone feels like winning the lottery, and maintaining his self, or what’s left of it, at the same time.
In Daddywood, Marcus documents his life as a dad on his well-read blog, Daddy Dolittle (based on the “Doctor Dolittle” books by Hugh Lofting. While Doctor Dolittle learned the secret of speaking to all animals from his parrot Polynesia, Marcus hopes that one day his son will teach him the secret to baby language). Here, he ponders out loud about how to settle the dispute between his inner “Disneyland Dad” (cool, awesome, fun) and “Disciplined Dad” (boring, hate that guy, big meanie). Can an article in a sports magazine be a good bedtime story? Why are there so many Mommy & Me – classes (yoga, pottery, dancing, art) and no Daddy & Me classes? Where does snot come from and does it ever stop running? How do we deal with full diapers and men’s toilets without a baby changing built-in?
Last question was inspired by Markus’ (with a k) frustrations about having to resort to acrobatic poses and squatting to change Indy in men’s rooms without baby changing tables. He turned out to not be the only dad taking diaper duty seriously, and with President Obama signing the 2016 BABIES act, baby changing units in mens rooms at retailers like Barnes & Noble, Whole Foods Market are now a reality. Some progress has been made – *insert a careful Yay!*
What else has progressed since Daddywood? When we define modern-day-dad, do rigid terms like ‘biological paternity’ and ‘economic provider’ still come to mind? Or do we trust our modern-day intuition and shout out a more up to date answer like, “Well, it depends.” Are today’s dads the New Neither? Neither stay-at-home dads nor primary breadwinners but guys who work and parent and likely spend a fair amount of time worrying about not doing so hot at either.
I recognize Markus in the ‘New-Neither’-Dad. He is an active entrepreneur and determined to be actively engaged in Indy’s life, continuously worried about both business and bébé. Even before Indy was born we knew that we both wanted to get our hands dirty as parents and entrepreneurs. Our first equal parenting bill circa 2009? Indy had to be bottle fed every three hours, and if we each fed him his bottle, we could both bond with our cute, little newborn and each sleep six hours. Less sleep deprivation and free baby hugs? Done deal. Markus loved his moments alone with Indy, singing to him, talking to him about life, love and the pursuit of happiness. I loved my moments alone with Indy, singing to him, talking to him about life, love and the pursuit of happiness.
We both were and still are determined to be engaged in Indy’s life, and we both refuse to choose between job or parenthood. Ever since Indy was born we both changed one trillion diapers, worried about whether Indy peed enough (yes, we did), hopped Indy around the living room, hotel room or plane isle for long periods of time to make him fall asleep (it was a specific horse-like hop that had to be carried out precisely), worried about flathead syndrome, carried him in his Baby Bjorn through Los Angeles, Paris, New York, Cannes, Antwerp, Milan, Rome, Boston, Berlin and Amsterdam, and we have taken him with us to meetings with lawyers, buyers, suppliers, manufacturers, bankers. We both were proud (he went on toilet! he fell asleep without me laying next to him like a statue for 1,5 hour!) and exasperated parent-preneurs.
Sharing the same mindset doesn’t mean we are the same parents. Our bonds with Indy are different. It doesn’t mean that one bond is stronger. Actually, when it comes to parent-child bonding in general, mom and dad even share the hormones. Two Canadian studies show that the hormonal balance of a new dad changes during pregnancy and right after the birth. Levels of a stress hormone called cortisol, which is strongly linked to attentiveness and attachment, tend to spike about four to six weeks after men learn they’re going to be fathers, subsiding as the mother’s pregnancy progresses. About three weeks before the baby arrives, levels of testosterone, associated with competitiveness, aggression and sex drive, fall with a third. Men get better at hearing a baby cry as the due date of his own child approaches. And a man’s supply of the prolactin hormone — a hormone that helps mothers make milk —rises more than 20%. Other studies confirm that men have an innate nurturing instinct. In 2000, researchers at the Families and Work Institute, in New York City, asked high school students from around the country to imagine their adulthood. Almost 60 percent of the boys said they planned to reduce their working hours when they became a father. Moral of this paragraph: we should be way beyond the “doofus dad” mode, people.
Equal parenthood doesn’t mean that dad has to live up to the expectations of a maternal gatekeeper and be a second mom, or that mom has to live up to the patriarchal society and keep dad’s back free. Dad isn’t ‘the help’ or ‘the babysitting breadwinner’. Mom isn’t ‘the homemaker’ or ‘the cook’. In this unprecedented era where the desire for sharing and egalitarianism is high, dad or mom isn’t just a role we act out, it’s a relationship we feel while trying to get all the moving parts working.
Indy knows that his dad can throw a tantrum while playing video games and jokes about that when he plays video games with me.
He knows that I throw a tantrum when I have to sit still in the heat at a tennis court, and jokes about that with Markus who joins him to all of his field hockey and tennis classes and competitions (and to all play-dates, may I add). He also knows that when I cook, he will eat melted fish sticks, tomato soup, spaghetti without meatballs, or no. 11 with white rice. When Markus cooks he will get something delicious and nutritionally balanced. According to Indy, I’m the better reader (my voice ranges from Spongebob Squarepants to Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz), Markus is the better and much more adventurous mountain biker/mountain climber/skier (I crawl down slopes on skis. Yes, this is possible). Markus cries during movies (even the Pixar ones), I laugh out loud when movie characters fall down (it’s a reflex, I’m sorry). Sometimes Indy is sad and wants a hug from his mom, sometimes he just wants to share his vulnerable moment with dad only. Sometimes the thinks that I am a Jedi, and Markus is a fish.
Daddywood was defined by my interest in Markus’ experiences as a dad in L.A., and in what would happen if we’d take the male – child relationship out of its institutionalized framework and redefine traditional parent roles. Unfortunately the pilot episode did not get picked up. Maybe 2010 (6 years before the DIAPER bill) was a bit too early for the independent-dad topic to be taken to the screen (what about now Netflix? What about now?). But after sharing my motivations to create “Daddywood” with NYC Dads Group, a diverse community of fathers in and around the New York City area, and flagship outpost of the national City Dads Group network, they wrote that I got the involved father role, and I felt that I had made one small step for dad-kind.
Happy Father’s Day!
P.S. Netflix, I’m serious. Call me.