Fathers are like weathermen:
They think they’ve got it all figured out — and about 20% of the time, they’re right.
Introducing The Dad Diaries, a three-part series in which we’ll grill five American men from unique familial situations on the greatest undertaking of their lives: fatherhood.
A single dad. A retired dad. A new dad. A stay-at-home dad.
Today, we’re asking them about the rules of their roost, from discipline to social-media usage to whether it’s OK for boys to play with dolls.
Their answers — like everything involved with being a father — may surprise you.
Chip H., 36
Profession: Music Supervisor
Kids: One boy, 2 years old
Marital status: Divorced
Dual income? No
Hours a day you spend with your child: I see him every other week from Thursday evening to Sunday evening. In that time, I am with him 24 hours a day.
Do you have help with childcare? As much as I would love help, I have very little resources currently. I find it hard to afford a babysitter and my entire family lives out of state.
Public or private school? He attends a private preschool in Newport Beach near his “permanent” home where his mother lives.
What was your biggest concern about raising a child before you had one? How I would be able to support him! Not that this is breaking news in the parenting world.
What is your go-to disciplinary method? When I need to discipline him, I get down on his level. I literally kneel in front of him, hold his hands and speak to him about the matter. I believe that holding his hands is a gentle way letting him know I need his attention for a moment, because I have something to communicate with him. And I always follow through with an explanation. For example, if he breaks a toy, I don’t just tell him not to do that, but I explain how breaking a toy means he does not get to play with it anymore because it’s broken. I do not underestimate his ability to make sense of the logic.
Do you think that light physical punishment (say, a spanking) is acceptable under any circumstances? No. Never. Under no circumstances should an adult use their size against a defenseless child. Words work just as well, forge a stronger bond with the child and help them to develop logic and reason.
What rules do you have around technology? As much as it pains me to admit it, sometimes I need to just let him watch TV so I can cook or clean or finish the laundry. As a single parent, I have battled with this choice, but sometimes I need the “buffer” to help me out. But I am selective with what he watches. Educational shows, and if he’s on my phone, it’s a puzzles app or something to help develop cognitive skills.
Are there any gender norms that were instilled in you that you want to avoid with your kids? None that were instilled in me. My parents allowed me to participate in a range of activities, from the arts to sports, and with the exception of school uniforms, I was generally allowed to dress however I liked. I think it’s an important form of expression for my son to be able to pick his own clothes, and essential to him becoming the person he wants to be. Recently, while his mother and I were deciding if we should cut his long hair (he’s never had a haircut), we decided to ask him. In his modest opinion, he said he wanted his hair to be long. I love valuing that.
What’s your favorite activity to do with your child? We spend a LOT of time at parks. At this point, I can navigate to almost any park in a five-mile radius of wherever I am in Los Angeles, and the parks are beautiful here. Shout out to the 310/323.
At what age do you plan to let your child …
Sleep over at a friend’s house: 8
Have his own phone: 12
Use the internet: Yesterday
Play video games: 8
Get the birds and the bees talk: 13, or sooner if it comes up
Travel unchaperoned: 15
Nicholas L., 64
Profession: Retired high-school English teacher
Kids: One daughter (34), one son (30)
Marital status: Married 38 years
Dual income? Yes
Did you have help with childcare? Only preschool
Public or private school? K-12 public, college private
What was your biggest concern about raising a child before you had one? Is this the right time and place?
What’s one thing you wish you could provide for your children that you’re currently unable to? More presence — they live 2,000 miles away.
What is/was your go-to disciplinary method? The occasional timeout, and the shame they would endure in the eyes of their mother and grandmother.
Do you think that light physical punishment (say, a spanking) is acceptable under any circumstances? No. I always figured their worlds in their own hallways and alleyways would smack them around enough as it is without my adding any more misery to it.
Are there any gender norms that were instilled in you that you avoided with your kids? I didn’t care that my daughter was a better athlete than many of the boys, nor that my son sometimes dressed up or played with dolls.
What’s one of the biggest conflicts you’ve had with your kids? How did you resolve it? Sometimes I thought they were ingrates, and then I had to remind myself that so was I and everyone else at one time or another.
What’s your favorite activity to do with your children? How about least favorite? I loved to camp with them. And it kind of broke my heart to watch them lose in the gym or on the court.
At what age did you let your children …
Sleep over at a friend’s house: 8
Use the internet: Third or fourth grade? We didn’t have home internet until 1997.
Play video games: God … they probably played Asteroids and Pacman.
Get the birds and the bees talk: By the time they were 10, I only clarified what they had already learned in the aforementioned hallways and alleyways.
Drink: They were on their own there
Travel unchaperoned: 17
Gavin L., 42
New York City
Profession: Designer, actor, writer and entrepreneur
Kids: Two — ages 5 and 6
Marital status: Partnered
Dual income? If you can call the inconsistencies of a C-rate acting career and fostering a nascent fashion startup “salaried,” then yes — we are dual-income. My partner’s a conductor. He’s more stably paid than I am.
Hours a day you spends with your kids? 5 on weekdays, 13 on weekends
Do you have help with childcare? When necessary
Public or private school? Public
What was your biggest concern about raising a child before you had one? I’m a traveler, so pre-kids, I feared I’d never get to take my dream trip: an idealized backpacking trip on trains across India. Oh, well. Changing diapers on my kids is more fulfilling than filling my own travel diapers in India.
What’s one thing you wish you could provide for your children that you’re currently unable to? Firstly: a second language spoken in the house. I think languages expand natural intelligence. Secondly: though I complain incessantly about all the time I’ve spent for the past five years with my kids and how much I need a break, I now find myself newly employed on Broadway, and I have to give up bedtime books with my kids for the next year. That breaks my heart. Third: money. Well — money they can’t see, but that gives the parents a bit more cushion to provide a stable household for the kids. But I will always make them think I’m poor. We already have too much stuff in the house.
What is/was your go-to disciplinary method? Timeouts when I’ve lost my patience, allowance to cajole daily tasks, a star chart (from which daddies can give and daddies can taketh away) to incentivize extraordinary behavior, and when apologies are necessary, my kids absolutely make eye contact and say why they’re sorry.
Do you think that light physical punishment (say, a spanking) is acceptable under any circumstances? Necessary? No. Acceptable? I mean … we’re human.
Are there any gender norms that were instilled in you that you want to avoid with your children? Absolutely. My parents shamed non-boy stuff out of me. If I ever played in a “non-boy” way, my parents told me “soon people won’t be laughing with you, they’ll be laughing at you.” My older son is gender-fluid, and we’re just trying to roll with it … letting him dress how he wants and encouraging him to be truthful about his interests, proud of himself and with zero shame attached. He knows he’s not conventional by societal norms, we try to make him proud of that. My younger son is all “boy.” When he once said “boys don’t like pink,” you better believe we discussed such mental limitations. I believe that gender is a social construct, so we raise our kids according to their natural interests, not what society encourages. My older son wears a dress, but I insist he play in mud and hike with me. My younger son has no interest in princesses, but we paint our toe nails together.
What’s one of the biggest conflicts you’ve had with your kids? How did you resolve it? Allowing my older son to wear a dress to school. We wrang our hands over it for a year, avoided the topic, tried to steer him away from it, but then realized it was our own stupid issue and we just needed to get over it and let him be him and let him know we always have his back. This ain’t 1957.
What’s your favorite activity to do with your kid? How about least favorite? When they poop. They’re focused and forthcoming as I sit on the edge of the bathtub and keep them company. Plus, they often make really funny faces in their “business.” And I’m disappointed in myself that I loathe imaginary play with dolls or characters. Racing cars is fine, but role-playing with the Disney Cars characters is torture.
At what age do you plan to let your kids …
Sleep over at a friend’s house: 6
Have their own phone: 12
Use the internet: 10
Play video games: 5
Get the birds and the bees talk: Whenever they can tell I’m avoiding the topic. (Though we’ve already explained they were in another woman’s belly.)
Date: I can’t even imagine … 14?
Drink: A couple times I caught my youngest finishing a glass of wine and I wasn’t quite sure how much liquid was still in it. (But it wasn’t much.) OMG, is this gonna get me arrested? As for actually drinking with supervision? Perhaps a half glass of Thanksgiving wine at age 16.
Smoke/Vape: Hopefully never. But when I catch whiff that they’ve tried it, I’ll have a smoke with them and hopefully talk them out of doing it any more. Also, vaping? Eye roll.
Travel unchaperoned: My kids are New Yorkers. I think they’ll be navigating trains on their own by 12. Visiting family overseas? By 14.
Barney R., 47
Kids: Two boys, 15 and 12
Marital status: Married
Dual income? Sort of.
Hours a day you spend with your children: During the week, 90-120 minutes. On the weekends, anywhere from 4-12 hours with one or both of them.
Do you have help with childcare? Only when my wife and I are traveling without the kids — our family or friends will take care of them on those occasions.
Public or private school? Public
What was your biggest concern about raising a child before you had one? Having enough money to support the entire family.
What’s one thing you wish you could provide for your children that you’re currently unable to? Why? I would love to have a complete college tuition fund for both kids. Why am I unable to? Have you checked in on college tuitions lately!?!
What is your go-to disciplinary method? Natural consequences. You make a bad choice, you own the outcome.
Do you think that light physical punishment (say, a spanking) is acceptable under any circumstances? No.
What rules do you have around technology and social media? Off social media at 9 PM on weeknights and 10 PM on weekends. I know their passwords. So far, I have not read their private messages, but if I suspected something nefarious was going on, I would not hesitate to do so.
Are there any gender norms that were instilled in you that you want to avoid with your kids? I grew up at a time and in a culture when homosexuality was discouraged and rarely discussed. We have avoided that with our children and we speak openly about sexual orientation in our family.
What’s one of the biggest conflicts you’ve had with your kids? How did you resolve it? Thankfully, we have not had very many conflicts with our children. As parents, we are clear about our expectations in terms of behavior and choices, and we speak openly about these expectations. When poor decisions are made by our children, we let them experience the natural consequences of that choice. We do not rub it in their faces, but we do talk about it and make sure that they connect the dots between the decision and the consequence.
What’s your favorite activity to do with your children? How about least favorite? Surfing with my eldest is my favorite activity with him. I like the search aspect and I absolutely love being in the water with him. Least favorite activity with him is being his chauffeur, especially on weekend evenings. Cuddling on the couch and eating popcorn and cookies is my favorite activity with my youngest child. Least favorite with him is helping him with his homework when he is tired or hungry. He hits a brick wall, stops thinking and starts crying.
At what age did you/do you plan to let your kids …
Sleep over at a friend’s house: 5th grade
Have their own phone: 6th grade
Use the internet: As soon as they could type
Play video games: As soon as they could hold a joystick
Get the birds and the bees talk: 6th grade
Date: Whenever they are ready
Drink: They have tasted wine in a supervised environment and I expect that they will do unsupervised tasting by sophomore year … we are open about it, we ask about it and we are advising moderation.
Smoke/Vape: I advise against them smoking and vaping and avoiding the habit.
Travel unchaperoned: 16/17
Reese G., 37
Brea, Orange County, CA
Profession: Stay-at-home dad
Kids: One boy, 29 months old
Marital status: Married
Dual-income: Not currently. When an opportunity presents itself, I occasionally engage in business projects.
Hours a day you spend with your child: I am our sonʼs primary caretaker, so it is all day.
Public or private school? We hope our son will be starting at a private school this fall — he is currently on the waiting list. I never expected weʼd struggle to find a quality program and have to battle for a preschool spot. Competition to give your child every advantage is incredibly fierce.
Whatʼs one thing you wish you could provide for your children that youʼre currently unable to? In general, we are lucky to be a socioeconomically advantaged family. I canʼt think of anything currently beyond our ability to buy for him. There are things we want for him that have not yet come to fruition. For example, Iʼd like to get him a 401k or backdoor Roth IRA started: that extra 20 years of compound interest will see him well off in the future. Weʼd like to have him get increased social interaction, an hour at the park or pool each day is just not enough. If there is anything that is currently out of reach, it is having our extended families closer.
What is/was your go-to disciplinary method? We use calm voices, stop the bad/undesired behavior, patiently explain the problem so that we are sure he understands, include him in any cleanup or repair work the situation may require, and redirect him to a related but acceptable activity. When I get really angry, I increase the talking volume and firmness of my voice while looking him in the eye, and sometimes clap loudly to get his attention if he is across the room. We donʼt spank, slap or use rough treatment in our house. For serious infractions, we take away a favored toy for 24 hours.
Are there any gender norms that were instilled in you that you want to avoid with your kids? Iʼve honestly not put a lot of thought into it. Our son sees me doing things traditionally done by a woman at home because Iʼm a stay-at-home dad, and he sees my wife being the breadwinner for our family, although I also do all the “man’s work” at home too. I would guess our familyʼs organization impacts his ideas of how the world works and the roles of gender in the home.
Whatʼs one of the biggest conflicts youʼve had with your child? How did you resolve it? Potty training has without a doubt been the biggest conflict. We used a method described by Jamie Glowacki in her book, Oh Crap! Potty Training. It worked exactly as advertised, but those first few days were harder than any other Iʼve ever had as a parent or ever. Watching him every minute of the day without a break was intense, frustrating and exhausting. But we survived! Jokingly I say, the experience almost broke me … and that is closer to the truth than I admit to most people.
Whatʼs your favorite activity to do with your kid? How about least favorite? We do everything together so Iʼm not even sure where to start. I can say that all the best activities result in moments of discovery. Pure amazement when their world gets bigger. Getting to share these moments with your kid is right up there with being immersed in their unconditional love; itʼs one of the best things you get to experience as a parent.
At what age did do you plan to let your child …
Sleep over at a friendʼs house: If we know the parents well, first grade. If itʼs extended family, like a cousin, 5 years would probably be ok.
Have their own phone: I would like to wait until heʼs in middle school. My wife wants him to wait until high school or even later.
Use the internet: He started using the internet around 18-20 months with us for FaceTime and YouTube.
Play video games: We donʼt play video games in our house. At some point a friend will introduce him, and we’ll have to decide at that time if he can get a game system.
Get the birds and the bees talk: We answer questions as they are encountered. Mom is a physician and weʼve taught general anatomy from the moment he was able to listen to descriptions of illustrations in her medical textbooks.
Date: When heʼs ready. I will certainly discourage make-out sessions and sexual activity until he has moved out of our house and gone to college.
Drink: After he is of legal age. Iʼm a beer lover and a home brewing enthusiast, so he sees me drinking occasionally.
Travel unchaperoned: I think 10 or 11 is a safe age, but if family was meeting him at the other end of a plane flight, I would be ok with 7 or 8. I think travel alone, beyond from point A to point B, should wait until high school.
Additional reporting by Alex Lauer