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 Pope
HOMETOWN / WHERE DO YOU LIVE NOW? My hometown is in the North Carolina mountains. I spent my childhood between Happy Valley and the nearby county seat, Lenoir. I now live in Apex, NC, which is just outside the state’s capital, Raleigh.
NUMBER OF CHILDREN I have one son who was adopted at birth and four step-children. They range in age from 12 to 22. There are three children who still live at home, the oldest of whom is seventeen.
WORK I am a part owner in a local computer consulting company. I mostly work from home.
RELATIONSHIP STATUS I am divorced, and I remarried five and a half years ago.
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)?
Not only do I work (more than) full-time, I also homeschool my son, who is in seventh grade. I have homeschooled him since his kindergarten year. It has been a challenge to balance the time required to do that with a business that also requires so much of my time. My wife handles most of the responsibilities associated with her children. Honestly, even after five years, it can sometimes be a struggle to understand my role in their lives; we’re still trying to figure that out. Two of our kids are heavily involved in club soccer, which is a sport about which I’m passionate, so most of my evenings are spent at soccer training sessions. My wife works in downtown Raleigh, and we generally only get a couple of hours together at the end of very long days.
HOW HAS PARENTING CHANGED YOU AS AN INDIVIDUAL?
Since having been married twice and on my own in-between, I have realized that your partner affects the person you are. I was a different person when I was married the first time. Each situation requires different aspects of yourself, in order to shore up gaps or lean upon your partner. It doesn’t change who I am as a person inside, but it does change who I am as a person operationally each day.
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)?
Honestly, parenting together has been our biggest challenge. My wife is my closest friend. We are very similar in so many ways. However, we have very different parenting styles and it shows. It has been sometimes difficult to work together and not let the children try to play off our differences. We are still improving in that. She is remarried also, and both of us were used to being the parent in our prior relationships that made most of the decisions regarding the children. So, if I may use some governmental analogies, sometimes our parenting looks more like an assembly from a federalist government than it does a government of a unitary state.
WHAT ARE YOUR STRENGTHS AS A PARENT AND WHAT ARE YOUR WEAKNESSES?
My strengths as a parent would be my availability and empathy. I still remember pretty well what it was like to be a kid, and I try to hedge that with an attempt at understanding the generational differences. My weaknesses arise from my sensitivity to perceived slights and my constant lack of sleep. I am an emotional person, and not all of the emotions are positive.
IF PARTNERED, WHAT ARE YOUR PARTNER’S STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES?
I’m not sure if you are asking about her strengths and weaknesses as a partner, or as a parent. As a parent, she is a very capable mother. She gets done what must be done. She handles much of the grocery shopping and laundry and most of the cooking. She handles most of the shopping for clothes and school supplies for the kids, as well. The area in which she most needs to improve would probably be her openness and empathy. When things get too stressful, she has a habit of shutting down or walling herself off, but she is improving on that. It now takes a lot more stimuli to trigger that reaction than previously.
WHO ELSE PROVIDES CHILDCARE FOR YOUR CHILDREN? Do you have unpaid family or friends providing help or do you have paid nannies/babysitters/au pairs?
Well, we both share custody of our children with our ex-spouses. So, for me, my ex-wife has our son every other week. However, during the school year, she still brings him to me in the morning for school and picks him up either at the end of the school day, or from soccer practice in the evening. For my wife, during the school year she has custody of her kids throughout the week and every other weekend. During the summer months, she also trades custody with her ex-husband on an every other week schedule.
DO ANY OF YOUR CHILDREN HAVE SPECIAL NEEDS? AND IF SO, HOW HAS THIS SHAPED YOUR PARENTING?
Yes, they all do as individuals. Each of them has dealt with the stresses of divorce, remarriage and blended families in their own way. We also have a wide mix of ethnicities in our blended family (European, African, Asian, and Native American), with identities of “Blasian”, White, Black, mixed, and some that are still being worked out. That affects the needs of the kids in different ways at different times. One of the children still living at home is a very high functioning teenager with Asperger’s syndrome. In most ways, it just means it takes more effort to understand him, though I do relate closely to him in a number of ways. Sometimes, it’s hard to understand whether his behavior is an expression of Asperger’s or simply a result of him being a teenager.
IS YOURS AN ADOPTIVE FAMILY? AND IF SO, HOW HAS THIS SHAPED YOUR PARENTING?
My son was adopted at birth in an open adoption and is in contact with his birth family. Mostly, it has expanded the concept of family. Not only does he have four step-siblings, he also has four sisters by blood. I was the first person to hold him after the attending nurse. So, in all senses but blood, he is my son. I was also adopted by my step-father who helped raise me from an early age, so I relate to him in that regard. However, it’s different for him in that not only does he have his birth family in a neighboring state, he is an only child when he lives with his mother, and he is one of many when he lives with me. I have never met my birth father, so I didn’t have to deal with the stresses of living in two separate households. I just try to be aware of that and help him as best I can.
WHAT IS YOUR WORST PARENTING MOMENT?
Since my son spends so much time with me centered around his homeschooling and soccer, he has seen me at my absolute worst. There are days when the stresses of my various responsibilities and lack of sleep combine poorly, and I am a bear to be around. I am glad that he has been exposed to the stresses of being a contemporary American man, but I have not always shown him the best way of dealing with those stresses.
WHAT IS YOUR BEST PARENTING MOMENT?
I feel like I’m doing my best when any of the children feel comfortable enough with me to open up and share their genuine thoughts, feelings, fears, and hopes. When we have had one of those conversations where they have exposed their inner self to me, and I have been able to offer a listening ear, console them, offer advice, congratulations, or simply another perspective, that is when I most feel like I am doing a good job at parenting them.
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.