Fatherhood looks very different from the bygone “Father Knows Best” era. Stereotypical fatherhood is no longer just spending time on the weekends playing ball with Junior before returning to the rat race on Monday morning.
Modern-day fatherhood requires selflessness, self-awareness, sensitivity, and constantly juggling schedules and priorities while carving out quality time for yourself and your partner.Here, four Northeast Ohio fathers share their impressions of what they thought fatherhood would be like, and how that compares with reality.
Expectations of Parenting
We often look to our own parent-child experience to get a sense of what parenthood is like.
After growing up as his dad’s sidekick, Anthony Lancianese, father of four children ages 13, 11, 6, and 5, was ready for “big kid” parenting, but had a rude awakening when it came to the baby phase.
“With a career as a sports coach, growing up with my dad included daily trips anywhere a sporting event was taking place,” he says. “My dad shared his life fully with me, and this was perhaps his biggest expression of love. In turn, when I thought about fatherhood, my expectations jumped straight to what it would be like with older kids. I was completely unprepared for babies. I neglected [to consider] how critical diaper changing and midnight feedings were going to be. What a wake up call.”
Ryan Cohen, an entrepreneur and father of two kids ages 4 and 2, says, “I was not exactly sure what to expect, but I knew no parent is perfect, and they make mistakes constantly. I wanted to learn from my mistakes and constantly better myself as a father. Being a father is more work than anyone can ever express, and it is constant. In the same breath, it is also more rewarding and fills me with more honor than I could ever express.”
Many dads expect fatherhood to change their priorities.
David Stock, an attorney and father of one, says the reality of fatherhood has meant redefining his goals and priorities in life.
“I do not think I would have ever imagined leaving a big city before my son came along,” he says. “But the value of living in Northeast Ohio in general, and near family, has been ineffable.”
Being a positive male role model is not easy for Ronald Powers II, father of three girls ages 11, 6, and 1, but he knows how important it is.
“I am surrounded by women,” he says. “My father passed about five years ago, and I am surrounded by my wife, three daughters, mom and sister. I used to rap, and I had written a song when my oldest daughter was born. One line was, ‘From the moment of your birth, I will provide the diagram of the man you must choose to one day take your hand.’ I am very conscious that I am the primary man they see, and I’m not perfect. Fatherhood is definitely not something anyone should take lightly. Your children are looking at you every day.”
The Reality of Fatherhood
Becoming a parent inevitably changes people in ways they never anticipate.
Stock says he expected the reality of fatherhood to redefine him, but it actually redefined his entire universe.
“Also, I was surprised by how quickly I became comfortable handling poop, vomit, and many other bodily fluids,” he adds.
For Cohen, one of the biggest surprises of fatherhood has been how much stuff you need when going on a vacation or even just a weekend trip.
“Over time, my wife and I have streamlined the process as best as we can, but we spend a lot of time planning clothes, toys, and activities for our young kids.”
The Challenges of Fatherhood
The challenges of parenting come unexpectedly, whether it’s your first or second child. The day-to-day responsibilities of fatherhood and raising little
humans is a balancing act.
Lancianese talks about the often-confounding situations a dad may find himself walking through on any given day.
“At times you are a manager planning and executing a weekly to-do list,” he says. “Then, you are called on to clean dried chocolate from behind the couch that may or may not have been there for three weeks. And, when you are driving from soccer to swim to violin, encouraging the older kids to talk — because they won’t — the younger ones simply cannot stop talking. Of course, it’s also being a chef at a restaurant where your patrons hate what you make, refuse to pay you, and tell you, in no uncertain terms, that they wouldn’t feed this slop to the neighbor’s dog. And yet, they continue to demand more food as if they didn’t just spend the last 30 minutes ripping your culinary skills to shreds! At times there is so much to process, it can be overwhelming.”
Powers adds that the least fun part of fatherhood has been potty training.
“It took a long time, and it just felt like I was running around after this ticking time bomb,” he says, adding that navigating the personalities of your children is difficult, too.
“They are all so individual, and they don’t all respond the same way to how I parent,” Powers says. “I’m still working on this myself. It’s hard to have my brain on all the time.”
Parenting is also a journey many couples feel like they can lose their own identities in, and maintaining a balance between the competing identities of parent, individual and partner is a unique challenge. Dads today have a keen awareness of this and adjust accordingly.
Stock’s biggest challenge of fatherhood is how his wife and him can “divide and conquer” when it comes to parenting.
“We work very hard to share household responsibilities and respect the time the other has to devote to work,” he says. “Determining the equitable distribution of responsibility and fun has been both challenging and equally rewarding.”
Unexpected Joys of Parenting
While fatherhood is exceptionally hard, there are also moments of sublime happiness. Lancianese reflects: “It’s always when they overcome what appears to be an insurmountable struggle. As parents, we witness this early on from first words or steps, but it doesn’t stop. Each new age brings new challenges they will have to face and overcome. At times we can hold their hand or offer support, but often they must meet the challenge themselves. Watching them not only overcome the problem but realize what they are fully capable of brings a great sense of joy.”
Powers mirrors this sentiment, saying, “A certain level of joy and pride comes over you any time you see your child accomplish something. I feel like I have a part of helping her succeed. For example, watching my oldest daughter get a hit in softball, or my middle daughter score in basketball — the joy they feel and exude is overwhelming. I just think, ‘Oh my gosh! She did it!’ and I get emotional watching.”
For most parents, their kids’ new interest in activities or sports creates a common bond. For example, Cohen says he’s big into fitness, and it brings him joy when he sees his son want to mimic some of his workouts.
“They watch everything you do and take it in,” he says. “It makes me laugh, because when I see or hear my son say something, I can usually decide if that was from my wife or myself. They truly are sponges, and it is so much fun to watch them grow and learn!”
“Each one of those firsts was certainly special, but I think the things I enjoy the most are the time I get to spend and play with him,” Stock says of his son. “He is at a fun age right now where he has an intellect all his own and looks up to me both literally and figuratively. I remind myself to take joy in those small moments when he is excited to play with me, to read books with me, or just hold my hand when we walk.”
Another unexpected joy for Stock is that his son calls him “Aba,” the Hebrew word for dad.
“My reasons were partially selfish at the time, because based on the noises he was making, the ‘B’ sound came out before a ‘D’ sound, so I jumped at the chance to equate it to a word that would not only identify me but was an important part of my identity — that being my Judaism,” Stock says.
“Religion and Jewish values play a large role in my life, and by having him call me ‘Aba,’ I feel like I have imparted them onto him in some way. It’s a word that serves as a constant reminder of our obligations to our community, to repair the world, and take care of one another. When I hear him call me Aba, I often think about that.”
A Little Advice From Dad
Stock: “Sleep ‘til noon just one more time [before you become a father], because you will probably never do that again.”
Cohen: “Be where you are at and put the dang phone down! Most kids just want their parents to play with them and give them attention.”
Powers: “Working on the balance between marriage and parenting is the No. 1 challenge of having children. You’re always trying to maintain the balance. The best advice I could give anyone is ‘More communication.’”
Lancianese: “There will be quiet moments you will treasure forever. Especially in the middle of the night, when everyone is asleep except you and your new baby. You will experience a connection unlike anything else. You will be tired, maybe grumpy, and will probably have to work in the morning, but these moments will be some of the most special in your life. Don’t wish any of it away. It doesn’t last.”