Three voices in the fatherhood community reflect on the challenges of being a modern dad
After the birth of his daughter, Justin Baldoni was stressed. Really stressed. In Man Enough: Undefining My Masculinity, the actor, director, and now father of two reflected openly and honestly on the months that followed his transition to becoming a new dad.
He had just taken on a lead role in the first season of what would soon become the hit television show Jane the Virgin, a huge new professional responsibility. Needless to say, it was not an ideal time to be “whiplashed by emotions” and sleep-deprived.
“I feel that despite my effort, I never really gave myself a chance to just be a dad and a husband,” he wrote. “It was almost like as soon as I found out we were pregnant, my drive to succeed and provide went into hyperspeed, and I wasn’t even aware it was happening.”
At the core of this reaction was his fear of not being good enough as a father, or what Justin calls not being “Dad Enough.” However, eventually, Justin realized that his growth would be hard-earned, and it would require him to constantly manage the self and societally-imposed expectations that he had initially allowed to take control.
Somewhere in the mind of every father lurks the fear of not measuring up. But it is in sharing with others that we feel less alone. So, Man Enough spoke to Ludo Gabriele, Kevin Maguire, and Kier Gaines — three active voices in the fatherhood community — to learn how they deal with some of the modern pressures they face.
We asked them one simple question: “What does it mean to you to be Dad Enough?”
LETTING GO OF TRADITIONAL DAD NORMS
Eight years ago, Ludo Gabriele, the healthy masculinity advocate and author of the blog Woke Daddy, stepped away from a successful advertising career. At the time, his son was two, and Ludo felt that he had missed too many precious moments after his birth. He hoped the shift could help him make up for lost time.
The period offered the opportunity for the two to bond deeply, and it also kickstarted his thinking about masculinity and gender norms. He would go on to chronicle that journey of exploration through his writing, and his blog eventually received several glowing profiles in the mainstream press.
Despite the public affirmation and the pride Ludo feels in continuing to play an active role in his son’s early life (and younger daughter’s too), he’s often left wondering if he could do more. Specifically, he worries about not providing enough “traditional” father-son activities.
“My son is not going to see me build a shed or do active construction work,” he said. “I can do a bit of it, but I don’t like it, and it’s not me.”
He attributes the resulting anxiety to his fond childhood memories of growing up with a father who could build things from scratch. But he also recognizes that “it’s absolutely rooted…in what I’ve been socialized to think a man should be doing.”
Today, he and his son, now 10, play soccer together and have plenty of opportunities to bond. But he still must leverage new strategies to keep that old tension in check.
“When I am feeling that pressure, I try to remind myself of all the things I am doing with my son that my dad was not doing with me,” Ludo said. “Namely the deep conversations we have, or when we unpack difficult emotions, or when I allow myself to be vulnerable with him.”
“I want him to see and remember me as a loving dad who is gentle and strong.”
Reframing Fatherhood Challenges into New Opportunities
For Kevin Maguire, the author of The New Fatherhood newsletter and a dad of two, the beginning of 2020 brought on the sensation of unadulterated panic. As the world began to shut down, the creative consultant’s income stream also dried up.
“And as much as society evolves and both parents serve as breadwinners for the household, there’s still this pressure for fathers to be the provider,” he said. “I was like, I have no money coming in, and I don’t know what’s gonna happen.”
With the new burden of homeschooling and lockdown life, he began taking over more child care responsibilities for his now 7-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son. The new role in the family combined with the abundance of free time offered Kevin the invitation to think critically about how he wanted to show up as a dad.
“I REALIZED THAT THIS MIGHT BE THE ONLY TIME THAT MY KIDS AND I WOULD GET TO SPEND TIME TOGETHER. AND IT WAS LIKE A SWITCH WENT OFF IN MY HEAD, AND MY ENTIRE MINDSET BECAME ABOUT MAKING THE MOST OF IT.”
They learned to skateboard together in the empty hallways and used colored markers to transform their ordinary windows into stained glass works of rainbow art. Looking back, he’s so grateful for the period, not only for the quality time spent with kids but also for forcing him to ask himself, “What kind of person do I want to be?”
UNDERSTANDING THAT IT'S OKAY FOR DAD NOT TO BE OKAY
As a licensed therapist, Kier Gaines knows firsthand the importance of prioritizing mental health. And he’s developed a large social media audience by sharing his insights through personable videos on YouTube and Instagram.
Still, juggling the demands of his life as a prolific content creator, husband, and father of a three-year-old girl can occasionally lead Kier to lose sight of all that he’s learned. “Sometimes I’ll just be in a funk, and really upset, and not really understanding why I feel the way I do,” Kier said.
In those moments, he reminds himself that being a great father doesn’t mean being at 100 percent every moment of every day.
“Parenthood tricks you into thinking you have to sacrifice your entire self for your children,” Kier said. But “it’s forever treading the fine line between holding yourself accountable and giving yourself grace.”
For Kier, granting himself grace means finding time for the activities that help him recharge. He enjoys connecting with friends and makes sure to carve out undistracted alone time, whether that be eating a bowl of Pho at a Vietnamese restaurant or taking a reflective walk in the park.
But at its core, Kier feels that being a loving and high-functioning dad requires mindfulness and acceptance. “It’s just using your tools, being aware of when you’re in a low space, and trying not to allow it to overtake you to the point where you don’t realize it’s a moment, [not] your new normal.”
HAPPY FATHERHOOD BEGINS IN THE MIND
The state of Fatherhood has come a long way in the past several decades. Nearly as many dads as moms now say that parenting is extremely important to their identity and many more are choosing to stay home to care for their kids.”
But shifting identities and responsibilities also create new tensions both at work and at home. And what we can learn from Kevin, Ludo, and Kier is that navigating those tensions begins in the mind. Dads need to take time for themselves as well as find ways to reframe old expectations and stereotypes that can help them navigate the novel pressures they feel.
However, the most important lesson of all is that there’s no such thing as a perfect dad. Fatherhood involves a lot of doing, but fundamentally it is a state of being. And as long as you take time to be fully present with your kids and put your heart into the job of being a father, you will always be Dad Enough.
Kier Gaines is a licensed therapist and popular content creator focused on fatherhood, masculinity, and social change. He is also the voice of the “Tribute to Dads” video in the 20201 Man Enough X Braun Father’s Day campaign.
Ludo Gabriele is the Senior Director of Branding of The MARC (Men Advocating Real Change) initiative at Catalyst. He is also the creator of Woke Daddy, a blog about modern fatherhood, and masculinity.
Kevin Maguire is a creative consultant and author of The New Fatherhood, a weekly newsletter about being a better dad.
Jason Rogers is an Olympic Medalist, LA-based writer, and the creator of The Mandate Letter, a popular newsletter about modern masculinity.
* “8 facts about American dads,” Pew Research