What began as an interview about my book, developed into a much more involved conversation about fatherhood and what it means to stand alongside a pregnant partner for nine months.
What began as an interview about my book, developed into a much more involved conversation about fatherhood and what it means to stand alongside a pregnant partner for nine months.
My new book, "What Do I Do While You're Pregnant?" is now available on Amazon.com (paperback and Kindle).
It is a refurbished, reworked and updated version of a previous publication, which originally took the name of this blog, "Men Get Pregnant, Too."
One of my primary reasons for undertaking the updating of the book ,which I had spend so many hours writing and babying through the publishing process, was, in fact, the title.
If I were nearby to explain the story to moms in the store, or they gratefully took the time to read it, they found it was like no other parenting book they had read. "I had no idea dads felt that way!" was a common reaction. Otherwise, upon seeing a book, writing by a dad, titled "Men Get Pregnant, Too," they would guffaw, drop it back on the table , and pronounce, "No they don't!"
Indeed, we don't. But male pregnancy was a metaphor for the angst felt by any first-time parent, be they adoptive, or expecting a baby being carried by a same-sex partner or a surrogate.
There is no such thing as feeling detached while waiting to become a mom or a dad.
Hopefully, this relaunch will encourage moms and dads to read the book together, and spark a new discussion about how men, or other parents-to-be who are not carrying their child through pregnancy, experiences those nine months of gestation.
To order for yourself, or as a gift, just click below!
Many parenting books deal with pregnancy and mothers-to-be.
Some mention fatherhood or focus on the humorous side of a dad who is all thumbs.
This book is a unique story by an expectant dad who is remarkably candid about how terrifying and overwhelming it is for BOTH parents to become responsible for a baby for the first time. It is respectful of both sexes; remarkably aware of of the incomparable experience of physically carrying a baby for nine months, as well as how confusing it is for a father-to-be on the sidelines wrestling with how to voice his insecurities.
How does he encourage and comfort his wife, while also balancing and expressing his own worries about becoming a first-time parent? When he is told he should be 100% involved in the pregnancy, what does that mean? Can he insist on knowing the baby's sex? Should he be planning his own baby shower? Who can he talk to about the overwhelming job of being the source of information for an entire extended family?
"What Do I Do While You're Pregnant?" is an honest and touching book by a dad-to-be wrestling to find his place. He balances news of his possible infertility and his pregnant wife's medical emergencies with his own phantoms symptoms and sleepless nights. This funny and poignant story respects an experience which is unique to both first-time parents.
CTV National News reporter Vanessa Lee stopped by my home yesterday to talk to my daughter and me about James Harrison.
The NFLer returned his sons' participation trophies because he felt they hadn't really earned them; after all, real men don't get trophies for showing up; they have to beat somebody first.
In Ms. Lee's report, my daughter and I share our views. In addition to what was said on camera, here are some additional benefits/philosophies, in my opinion, regarding participation awards:
Home should be a safe place; a place where, regardless of failures through childhood (or adulthood), our sons and daughters can drag their hanging chins through the front door and be welcomed and consoled. The participation trophy is a hug from a coach. Dad's should be allowed to return hugs to the league's head office.
Here is a report from CTV Montreal's Kevin Gallagher featuring a group of young boys from the Beaconsfield area who insisted on forming their own syncro team.
As someone who grew up trying to fit in as young male figure skater, I think this is a fantastic example of how shifting gender roles can empower both sexes.
As a Father's Day treat, I allowed myself (sandwiched between my children) to watch one of my favorite shows: CBS Sunday Morning. Their reports are timely and intelligent, sensitive and textured, and Charles Osgood is as warm and soothing a television host as there ever was.
Yesterday's theme was—appropriately—fathers.
Lee Cowan's cover story—"Daddy's Home: Embracing Paternity Leave"— focused on the unforgivable lack of a nationwide parental leave policy in the U.S. (Cowan points out that the U.S. is one of only two countries in the world that does not have country-wide paid maternity leave!)
Steve Hartman invited cameras to follow him as he helped his widowed father move out of their family home in Toledo and into an apartment, leaving behind a trove of memories. (The report includes a wonderful montage of old pictures placed against the backdrop of present-day images of the cottage).
There was also a current events piece about the tragedy in Charleston, a retrospective on Jane Russell, and a feature questioning the future of Vietnam's floating market in an evolving economy.
Then came Jim Gaffigan's rant on Father's Day.
My kids watched it with me. The three of us were full from the breakfast my wife had prepared (green eggs and ham, bacon, coffee, and fresh Quebec strawberries), the cards my children had constructed and colored lay next to my new paper weight: a rock from our garden decorated by my daughter so it resembled the moon.
Jim began his speech:
It's Father's Day. Ugh. How weird is that? A day to honor Dads? It doesn't make sense.
Mother's Day I get. They are mothers. They brought us into the world. Father's Day is like celebrating Darth Vader's birthday.
Great. Cuddle up kids. He continued:
"I guess since we honored mothers in May we should probably give a day in June to that guy who gets up early on his one day off to abandon us to go golfing."
I'm sure there are some really good dads out there, and I commend both of them.
I do do things with my kids, but when I come back from an outing, just know they are going to be sunburned, covered in mosquito bites and, yes, I forgot to get napkins when I bought them ice cream.
Wait, I lost one of their shoes? Well, at least I took them out! You're welcome.
He went on. But, I think we get it.
We got it when it was Archie Bunker in 1971.
We got it when it was Homer Simpson in 1989.
We got it when it was Ray Romano in 1996.
We've been getting it for a long time. There were several decades when we even deserved to get it.
But now it's tired, and insulting and—worst of all—counterproductive.
I know, he's a comedian. Fantastic. If that's your brand of humor, yuck it up.
But there are many of us dads who work hard to be what our children expect from a parent, and what society is only very slowly awakening to.
We are fathers who are working hard, not to prove that we can do it just as well, but working hard to succeed, so it becomes a given that we are doing it just as well. We want the care and love we provide for our children to be taken for granted, as it has been for mothers all these years.
We challenge dads like Gaffigan to understand that it is not about being lauded for taking an active role in their children's lives with a "Look he can do that!" But rather to assume that we should be doing that.
We are all parents to these children. Mothers and fathers.
Incompetence in not gender specific, it's an individual failing.
Physical and mental nourishment and enrichment are not gender specific, they are necessities to be provided to children by anyone who happens through this child's life.
That is why the dads in Lee Cowan's cover story are stitching together sick days and vacation time to be home with their kids.
Unfortunately, that feature was also stitched into a Father's Day show which chose the easy way out, at the expense progressive parenting and social change.
This morning, on BT Montreal, Joanne Vrakas and I talk about the endless labels parents assign themselves: Tiger Mom, Helicopter Parent, Free-Range Parent.
The discussion was instigated after the controversy surrounding a pair of "Free Range" parents in Maryland.
I was reading this article in the National Post about an English professor who left his career in education to pursue another as a mixed martial arts fighter.
As a metaphor to illustrate how men today are less likely to engage is risky behaviour relative to their counterparts a generation ago, the journalist wrote the following:
Much of the violence we commit is now done at arm’s length — by way of technology. Canadian soldiers charged up Vimy Ridge in 1917. Today, a drone might do the trick. The most dangerous behaviour most North American men engage in is driving a car. And there is a good chance it is a minivan, a boxy emblem of masculine decline.
I added the italics.
"...minivan, a boxy emblem of masculine decline."
I drive a minivan, so do many of my peers.
Before I defend whether I am "in decline", I would like to ask: in decline from what?
From the soldiers we are all supposed to be? The bar brawlers arrested after their team loses the game? The boors whose families are not to distract them from the NFL triple header on Sunday?
I disagree. As would, I feel safe assuming, the fellas at the National Fatherhood Initiative, or the Dads Groups in New York City, or Boston, or Chicago.
Or the more than one-thousand fathers who are member of our Dad Bloggers Facebook group.
It is at this point in the argument I am often told I am blowing something out of proportion, or that I'm missing the point, or that I am taking the metaphor too seriously.
But, that is the point. There are those of us for whom this argument is taken very seriously.
Modern weakness is not men driving minivans; it is men who try to hide their family vehicles from their peers, lest they be judged to be somehow emasculated.
The weakness has become being too proud to miss an NFL match in favour of the one being played on a soccer pitch by your 8-year-old's team.
The decline is represented by the words "Because I have to." which too often follow "I drive a minivan."
I love my van - not only because of its higher seating position and because it makes sense - but because of what it represents. I love listening to the doors being slid open a little more firmly than they need to be. I love watching the cartoon dust ball of schoolbags, lunch bags, and splash pants in the rear view mirror as my kids (always!) rush to get seated in the morning.
I love that my van represents for me, the evolution of who I have become.
I have never been in a fight, and I certainly don't regret that. But, challenges? Everyday. And those challenges are made even greater by the same circumstances which necessitated an upgrade in my vehicle's cubic footage.
My van is not an emblem of masculine decline; it is a badge of honour.
During the first part of my conversation with Dr. Sally Spencer-Thomas, psychologist and CEO & co-founder of the Carson J. Spencer Foundation (CarsonJSpencer.org), we discussed the support systems fail men who are at risk of taking their own lives.
One of the many reasons these victims of often undiagnosed mental illness continue to suffer is because they fail to feel a connection with available resources. They are worried that if they call a 1-800 number provided to them through work (if they're lucky enough to have an employer who provides one) they will be met with the same skepticism they encounter when they discuss their feelings of frustration, fatigue, and anger with their social circle.
Dr. Spencer-Thomas and her organisation have taken the unusual step of surveying members of high-risk categories (working-age males in high-stress jobs who suffer from an undiagnosed mental illness) about what they feel is lacking from conventional treatment options.
We asked a number of men that we considered double jeopardy men - men with a number of risk factors who were not going to seek care on their own - what would work for them; what would reach them?
What they told us they wanted was humor.
There was certainly evidence from some other campaigns that used humor to touch some of the social barriers around difficult topics. A number of men had told us that dark humor is the way we get around a lot of difficult things. We tried to strike a balance of how to make it fun, but not offending.
The foundation needed a vehicle which would be taken seriously. But they also needed a portal which was welcoming; one which users could share with friends who would understand the appeal of seeking help from this interface in the first place.
Naturally, the challenge was to create a resource which could integrate humor into therapy offered for such distressing conditions as bi-polar disorder and depression.
The Carson J. Spencer Foundation teamed up with the Colorado Department of Health & Environment and Cactus - an ad agency in Denver - to create ManTherapy.org
They created a character called Dr. Rich Mahogany. He is a man who talks about mental health in a way that our double-jeopardy men can relate to, and they pass it on to each other. It really takes the things that we know about mental health and translates them to a tone and a language and a format that can reach these men who can be very challenging to find and to benefit.
At ManTherapy.org's homepage, the actor portraying Dr. Mahogany brings an immediate grin to the face of any web-surfer. He is a robust character; that next-door-neighbor type who never misses a chance to yell "Good Morning!" to you in his boxer shorts as you hurriedly scramble to your car in the morning, while also being the kind of guy you could pass hours with sitting on your front porch.
What is also notable on the homepage are the buttons which let you instantly - and anonymously - access the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) as well as the Veteran's Crisis Line.
Rich will also guide you to information on "Gentlemental Health" and Man FAQ's about Depression, Anxiety, Anger & Rage, and Substance Abuse.
But Dr. Mahogany's real goal is to encourage men to dig a little deeper.
When you get to ManTherapy.org, Dr. Mahogany welcomes you in, and you can fill out an 18-point header section, which is based on actual standardized tools for screening depression, anger, and anxiety which quickly evaluates for the person taking it - how bad is it? Most of the people who access the online tool are people who need help in that moment but a lot of the time it’s the people surrounding them who are worried about them, and we also encourage them to take this training tool.
Even the questionnaire is created with humor. The header above the first question "Tell Me About Your Sleep Habits" reads: "Did you know koalas sleep eighteen hours a day? Lazy Bastards."
Who wouldn't want to move on the next question?
Once the eighteen multiple-choice questions have been answered (it took me less than ten minutes), Dr. Mahogany gives you a quick oral evaluation - speaking to you directly. The screen then reveals an official piece of paper (I know it is one, because it says "Official Piece of Paper" at the top) which can be printed. This contains a written evaluation as well as a percentage score in several key categories. It also immediately provides links for support (there is also a free search function to access a therapist near you). The idea is, Dr. Spencer-Thomas explained, that people will print this report and use it as a tool if they decide to seek help from an outside source. The site has been a tremendous success, but it has also highlighted how great the need is for support of this type.
We’ve had almost 500,000 people visit the website. The average time spent on the site is 6 minutes, which is an eternity.
Our organization has been doing quite a bit of work with the first responder community and fire fighters and law enforcement. Obviously they’re not all men, but the vast majority are men. They have been asking “Can we have a fire service version of this, or a police version of this?” Also, with the veterans' community, they’re looking for more of a warrior angle, because soldiers have specific needs.
So we are looking for additional funding which will target those specific populations. When we did our evaluations after the first 18 months, we asked people "What would you change? What is your favorite thing?" They said “We want more. Can you make one for gay men? Can you make one for women?” And we answer them by saying "Sure! Can you help us find some funding?"
Where healthcare is concerned, financing is always a challenge. However, specifically when talking about the challenges of dealing with mental health, stigma may still be the greatest obstacle.
Too often people who suffer from depression or bi-polar disorder are left to wrestle their own demons and turn to self-medication through drugs or alcohol.
Dr. Rich Mahogany is a welcome resource with a patient ear and an encouraging voice. One can only hope he can become an example for the individuals, families and friends of those who feel they have nowhere to turn.
He was coming home from his shift...sitting at this crossroads, ready to say goodbye to the world.
He said “Before I go, I’m just going to kiss my daughter goodbye one last time." So he went into her room and he kissed her, and he said “I can’t do this to her.”
He told me this a few years later: "She would never know what she did to my life in that moment."
Sally Spencer-Thomas is a psychologist, and CEO and co-founder of the Carson J. Spencer Foundation (CarsonJSpencer.org) - a non-profit organization which "works to prevent suicide using innovative methods to address root causes of suicide in schools, homes, and businesses. The Foundation also assists those coping with the pain and grief resulting from the death by suicide of their family, friends, or co-workers."
That opening anecdote was true recollection from a police officer - a typical representative of a group with an elevated risk for committing suicide.
Sally's brother was another member of that group, until he took his own life in 2004 after a losing battle with bi-polar disorder.
He was 34-years-old.
I originally contacted Sally because I was interested in writing an article about teenage suicide prevention. Our conversation followed the same course as her research had years earlier:
If you had asked me 10 years ago "Who is the primary person who wants to take their life?" I would have said high risk teens. But, in fact, they're people just like my brother: a working-age male with a diagnosable mental health condition.
Diagnosable. That is an important word. It implies that a condition is treatable, or even preventable. But - unlike a rash or a broken limb - depression, bi-polar disorder, or anxiety do not make themselves visible. They fester within the mind of their victim, gradually altering that person's perception of themselves, of the people around them, and of their ability to deal with day-to-day living.
For a mental health disorder to be treated, it must be acknowledged and accepted. Then it's victim must feel secure in asking for help, and their support system must be open-minded enough to accept what for many people is an uncomfortable reality - someone they love is in distress.
Unfortunately, as Dr. Spencer-Thomas explains, working-age males are conditioned to believe that cries for help are unacceptable.
(They) have been told from very early ages about how to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and be strong; it really can be quite a fatal trajectory for men. There are a lot of reasons from a conditioning standpoint why men are taught to be the strong ones, be the ones that people rely on. There are a whole host of barriers here. Reaching out to strangers seems desperate for men, and they just don’t have a lot of benchmarks or blueprints to help them. It can feel very intimidating, with very little evidence that there is going to be a return on the investment if they are bold and brave in that situation.
Like most people who suffer quietly from a mental illness - such as depression - outsiders are often of the opinion that these people are simply lazy, or attention-seeking. Consequently, that person withdraws even further and continues to deteriorate. Dr. Spencer-Thomas explains that this pattern leads to a loss of connection with those most important to them, which can ultimately prove fatal. This is especially true for men who, through divorce or loss of employment, begin to lose connections within their community, or even within their own families.
There are a number of psychological qualities that increase risk for men, and one of them is about belongingness.
All of those transitions can be very very challenging for everybody. But...men traditionally do not have a strong, in depth network built around them where they can be vulnerable and get support when they need it. When they lose these primary relationships, its hits men harder. So when men are experiencing transitions where they are losing connection, or when they’re losing purpose and meaning in their lives, they’re at risk.
For most people, the downturn of losing a job, or becoming separating from their spouse, or relocating to another city without a strong sense of connection to that new community can be a formidable obstacle, but not insurmountable.
However, with the added burden of an undiagnosed mental illness, the stress can deteriorate into thoughts of suicide. Unfortunately, suicide itself has a stigma. It is perceived as an act of cowardice. This perception is now being turned on its head. This is in large part due to the research related to "Burdensomeness", being done by Dr. Thomas Joiner - a professor of psychology at Florida State University. Sally Spencer-Thomas continued:
He found that a lot of the common risk paths really related to people feeling like they have become a burden to people who love them. So their thinking is: their death becomes (more valuable) to the people who love them than their life is; that they’re doing these people a service; that these people would be better off if they were not there. To most people this is absolutely twisted thinking, but this is also what depression does to the brain when people get completely overwhelmed and the brain isn’t able to generate a solution or see help in any way. People get a strong sense that their lives have lost meaning; that the world will move on just fine without them.
The combination of men not having a strong support system, while also being conditioned to hide psychological weakness, has a tragic consequence. Even the men who do seek help, are unwilling to share that experience with others, leaving each person believing they are unique and alone in their suffering.
Education and understanding from those closest to person suffering is vital. Most often, the warning signs are misconstrued:
A lot of people think “Maybe they’re just having a bad day.” and that’s simply not true. We really need to prepare family, friends and co-workers on what these fine points are. Usually there is some kind of mood disorder that comes in initially. A lot of times it’s self-loathing and withdrawal. There will be anger; a lot of disconnect from responsibilities; withdrawal and alcohol abuse...a passive way of coping, a real sense of giving up. They rarely come out and address these as “I’m going to kill myself." or "Why am I here?" It tends to be very subtle. They are actually shouting from a mountain top that they’re not OK, but they’re (outwardly) so subtle.
Dr. Spencer-Thomas, however, has slowly begun to re-think and revolutionize how support and treatment for men suffering from mental health issues are made available.
Through her research she discovered there is a common theme men do respond to when investigating possible therapies: humor.
In part two of this two-part discussion, I will talk with Sally Spencer-Thomas about her Man Therapy Program. This unique online portal is an anonymous, welcoming, and invigorated resource aimed at men who for too long felt they were running out of options.
I had lunch yesterday with a friend I had not spoken with in more than 20 years. We filled in the gaps of the past two decades: our marriages, our children, our careers.
She said she was surprised I was not a stay-at-home dad.
"Why do you say that?" I asked.
"Because," she replied "it was what you said you always wanted to be."
I remember always wanting children, but I don't remember hoping to marry a good provider who would enable be to stay home and take care of our children full time. I don't remember having said it, but it doesn't surprise me that I did.
I am 42 years old. If I did, as a teenage boy in the eighties, want to focus (and make public) my intentions of becoming a stay-at-home father, how would that have manifested itself?
During the 1950's, a young woman would be encouraged to seek out a 'good provider'. The understanding was, once married, their husband would earn the household's only income, and the woman would housekeep, raise children, and take care of their spouse.
There was nothing unusual about verbalizing those intentions. In fact, expressing an interest in becoming a career woman was largely discouraged.
According to a U.S. Census quoted here by the National At-Home Dad Network, there were 214,000 Stay-at-Home Dads in 2013, more than double the number from the 2000 census.
Might young men begin to voice aspirations of becoming a full-time caregivers to their children?
Today's future fathers have the social freedom women of 50's did not: they are admired whether they choose to have successful careers or also if they commit themselves to the care of their children full time.
How would society react to 17-year-old boys openly admitting that marrying a woman with strong career potential was a high priority? What if they kept their eye out for a good provider?
I am an advocate for hands-on, present, in-the-home parenting; whether by a mom or a dad.
But how would I react if my son said "I don't want to strive to have a professional career; I want to raise my children."
My reaction, in 2014, would be similar whether that point of view was expressed by my son or my daughter. I would encourage them both to have a marketable skill which they can set aside if they choose - and have the luxury to be able - to take care of their children full time.
There are two reasons I don't predict a wave of young men bucking their career search and instead advertising their interest in finding a rich wife. First, society's pendulum is far from having swung away from 1950, and second, the new normal is becoming a household with two working parents rather than a working mother and a stay-at-home father.
According to HealthyChildren.org, a household with two working parents has its benefits:
When both parents are occupied with their jobs for eight or more hours per day, there are obvious effects on the family. On the positive side, the family has an increased income and thus fewer financial stresses. Also, when both parents work, there is a potential for greater equality in the roles of husband and wife. Depending on the nature of the parents' work, as well as the family's values, fathers may assume more responsibility for child care and housework than has traditionally been the case.
So how about that young aspiration of becoming a Stay-at-Home Dad?
Logically, I would never counsel any individual to not work towards skills which can eventually be transformed into a lifelong career. However, if my son - while hopefully excelling at school - said "This is great, but I really home to be a Stay-at-Home Dad." I would consider that a source of pride, perhaps more so even than being half of a successful pair of working parents.
Could it be I don't remember my high school declaration about wanting to be at home with my kids full time because even I didn't take myself seriously?
If my son echo's that sentiment when he is in the 9th grade, I'll be sure to hear him out. The question is: will the rest of the world be ready to listen?