Welcome to Portraits of Fatherhood: We’re telling the story of today’s dads.
There is no better place to witness the changing roles of men and women in the larger culture than through the lens of parenthood. But rather than speculate on what and how contemporary fathers do what they do, we’d like to bring you portraits of the dads themselves. In their own words. Would you like to be interviewed for this feature? See the end of the post for details.
NAME Michael Carley
HOMETOWN / WHERE DO YOU LIVE NOW? Porterville, CA
NUMBER OF CHILDREN One seven-year-old boy
WORK Work full-time
RELATIONSHIP STATUS Married 10 years
HOW DO YOU COMBINE WORK AND FAMILY? How have you, or you and your partner (if you’re partnered), arranged your life/schedule to provide the daily care for your kid(s)?
I’m glad men are now being asked this question too. It’s too often assumed that these things don’t matter to men because we’re just secondary parents, that our role matters less than mothers. But we face the same pressures women do and most of us do very much want to be involved.
As progressive as we are, our family arrangements are pretty traditional. My wife wanted to stay home with our son for his first few years. I work full-time and three days a week, I drive 50 miles for work, so I leave before my son wakes up and I get home around 6:45. With his bedtime being 7:30 or so, that doesn’t leave much time for parenting. You have to fit it in when you can.
I get off early on Fridays and I make sure I’m the one to pick him up from school those days. I spend every minute I can with him in the evenings and weekends. If I have to give up personal time, time to work on my novel, or sleep, that’s what I do. But to be honest, the lack of time is my biggest stressor.
HOW HAS PARENTING CHANGED YOU AS AN INDIVIDUAL?
From the moment he came out, kicking and screaming and peeing on the doctor (who deserved it) there has been nothing more important. No other job I’ll ever do, no other thing in my life, will mean as much as being a father, both in real-world importance and in personal meaning. (That can sound helicopter-ish and could lead to me living vicariously through him or turning him into a narcissist, so I do try to keep perspective, for both of us.)
There’s nothing more important than my relationship with him. Things I might have been embarrassed or self-conscious about before don’t really matter. Like showing affection. I hug and kiss him all the time. He still likes me to pick him up and carry him once in a while and I hold his hand parking lots. That might raise a few eyebrows, but I really couldn’t care less. If he’s embarrassed by it, then we’ll stop, but no one else’s disapproval means anything to me.
IF PARTNERED, HOW HAS PARENTING AFFECTED YOUR RELATIONSHIP? How often do you have sex? Is it enough? How do you communicate differently (if at all)?
You have to make time for yourselves and your relationship or it’s not going to work. One of the things we implemented as soon as he was no longer napping was “quiet time”. After lunch, he has 90 minutes in his room to himself to play quietly. No electronics. It’s not a punishment, but just a regular part of his routine. But it makes us better parents because we have a chance to recharge our batteries. Even if we do nothing but watch TV during that time, it’s helpful. The break makes us better parents.
WHAT ARE YOUR STRENGTHS AS A PARENT AND WHAT ARE YOUR WEAKNESSES?
Time could yet prove me wrong, but I think I get him, his motivations and needs. Our son has a very different personality than I do. I’m an introvert and he’s an extreme extrovert–I like to tell people he attended the William Shatner school of overacting. But I think I usually understand where he’s coming from. To me, one of the most fundamental aspects of childhood is this profound sense of helplessness. You have so little control over even the smallest decisions in your life, what you do from moment to moment, where you go, even what you eat. It’s important to me to find moments where I can give him a sense of independence and control over what happens to him.
As for weaknesses, I wish I had more patience. I’d like to do a better job of just being in the moment with him, being present rather having my mind on my own issues. It’s something I’ll probably always have to work on.
IF PARTNERED, WHAT ARE YOUR PARTNER’S STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES?
Going back to the patience issue, I wouldn’t say she’s more patient, but she’s differently so. We have different triggers, things that bother one of us more than the other, so we can trade off when one of us is stressed. Plus, she has more of an artistic sensibility, so there are things she can teach him that I can’t. She has a greater sense of whimsy. And she’s definitely more in the moment than I am. She lives in the moment.
WHAT IS YOUR WORST PARENTING MOMENT?
There have been so many. I recall one night I was putting him to bed, laying with him for a few minutes as we did at the time. He might have been about four or five years old. It had been a tough day and he was complaining about something. I don’t remember exactly what he said, something to the effect of “never” getting to do the things he wants. This hit me pretty hard, partly because it seemed like he’d gotten quite a bit of what he wanted that day and also because selfishness is a trait I have a hard time dealing with. I remember slamming my hand on the bed and yelling something. Luckily, I had the presence of mind to step out of the room for a few minutes and come back later to talk to him about it. I’m not sure I handled it much better then, but I hope so.
WHAT IS YOUR BEST PARENTING MOMENT?
Lots of small ones. One I wrote about for GMP was how we handled his grandfather’s death. My dad was a “fun grandpa” and our son hadn’t had to deal with much loss and tragedy in his life to that point.
I think my favorite moment though was when he was a baby, only a few months old. A couple of days in a row, he woke up from his nap screaming with a nightmare. That was pretty unusual for him. I called down the hall “Daddy’s coming” and he immediately calmed down. It seems small, but just to know that my presence settled his fears was really meaningful to me.
We’re looking for a few good dads.
IF you’d like to be interviewed for this feature, please write to Lisa Duggan at: [email protected]
Please write “Portraits of Fatherhood” in the subject line.