It’s Father’s Day, and I’m looking over at my husband and thinking about how much the pandemic has changed us — not only our day to day, but the fatherhood job description, which is now multiple jobs instead of just the one. When I started to look at how the pandemic was affecting fathers, I wanted to start with him, as I know how it’s upended pretty much everything in our lives.
My husband, Roger DaSilva’s job has always been slightly more flexible than mine, so in the past he’s been at the whim of my insane hours, my traveling, and my need to be out networking. There have been times where that balance and share of household work has been contentious, but we’ve navigated through it with some wine, some tears (mostly mine), and lots of discussion. The pandemic has brought on a whole new normal where even though I’ve been home ALL the time, I haven’t been completely present as Zoom consumes my life. It’s left the brunt of the parenting responsibility on him, from the virtual schooling to making lunch to taking the kids outside for "recess."
Parenting during the pandemic hasn’t been easy for us but we’re not alone. Until now, many of the burdens of juggling parenthood and career have fallen mostly on working moms. The pandemic has opened the eyes of many fathers who are now forced into new responsibilities to understand and take on some of the pressures that women have been facing for centuries. In addition, with the protests and unrest all over the country following George Floyd’s death, parents have had to have difficult, yet often long overdue, conversations with their children about race, racism, and the police.
We recently polled parents with Perksy, and 59% chose "challenged" or "overwhelmed" as the one word to describe the current situation. Fathers, in particular, admitted to being challenged. But while mothers tend to be more stressed about the situation, fathers have felt like they’re yelling less, and because they crave a connection to their children, they’re actually enjoying this time at home. So it’s definitely a bit of a mixed bag.
I talked to a couple of fathers, including my husband, to see how they’re feeling during this turbulent time.
Many fathers have a newfound respect for mothers. "[My wife] is led by her heart in relation to the kids a lot more than me. That means that every decision is informed by her commitment to keeping them safe, making them feel secure, and making them feel loved & empowered, at all costs," said father of two and head of streaming and digital strategy at Outfest, Tarah Malhotra-Feinberg. "I also don’t really understand how she does everything she does. She has a very demanding job, yet still manages to be the COO of our home and a stellar mom."
Multi-tasking has been a challenge. Tarah said, "Before, on weekdays I could be dad in the morning and afternoon/evening, bring them to school, and then be an adult/professional during the day. Now, there’s so little time for myself or my priorities outside of the kids. It’s really hard to context shift constantly throughout the day." Roger adds, "During the day I’m mainly the caretaker/disciplinarian/educator, but my fuse runs out around 4 or 5 p.m. That’s when Jen swoops in and saves the day."
The hands-on time has been both positive and negative. "While more time isn’t always more quality, we managed to do some amazing things when we embraced the concept that we may not have another opportunity like this to be present with our family," said Humam Sakhnini, president of King Digital Entertainment and the father of 11 year-old twin girls. "This has made me aware of their behaviors and their mood swings throughout the day," said personal trainer, actor and father of two Reddrick Bruel. "My commute was two hours each way back, I would see them only at night. It’s different when you’re seeing them 24/7."
Fathers are feeling closer to their families. "We’ve always been affectionate and close, but over the last few months the bond, trust and affection between us has grown exponentially," Tarah said. "We understand each other better, we communicate more effectively, we cuddle more, and have more fun together than we ever have." Roger added, "I definitely feel more connected to my kids, and to Jen. When there’s a challenge facing us, we rise to the challenge and we’re a better couple. It’s actually strengthened our relationship."
And Humam said, "I have always thought [my wife] Mitzi and I had a great partnership in our marriage — it is about joint ownership and joint decision making, and seeing how we cope with this together really gave me deeper insight and respect into her intuition and her thinking. While the stress of all this adds to an already stretched two working parents, I do think this brought the family together in new ways and forced us to talk about the future and what is important to us as parents."
Fathers will miss the time they’ve spent with their kids once they go back to a regular schedule — but are also realistic about what their kids need. "I’ll think back and think that it was so much fun. We got to spend so much quality time together, and I’ve gotten to see [my children] literally grow. Our son, Drake has grown several inches since the pandemic started," Roger said. Tarah added, "I think we’ll all feel relieved. They miss their friends and having real, qualified teachers. I think that space from each other will allow us to continue to strengthen the bond that we’ve formed during this time."
Having honest conversations has been important, both in terms of the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement. "Drake is much more in tune than your typical seven year-old. He saw something about Black Lives matter when he was out with Jen one day, and we all had an open, honest conversation about it," Roger said. "He said the most mature thing, ‘It’s like we’re in the 1960s again’ and brought up MLK. It felt really good to hear him have that perspective. People don’t really give kids enough credit at any age." Tarah added, "We’ve been researching, talking to friends, and have found some interesting podcasts, videos for children (e.g. Sesame Street town hall video about racism), and bought A Kids Book About Racism (as well as several other books in that series). We’ve taken them to a really small, safe protest in our neighborhood and talked to them about what it means."
Given both COVID and the country’s unrest, now is the time to teach real lessons. Tarah said of what he’s talking about with his children, "Empathy. Patience. Compassion. Kindness. What it means to be safe. The fact that we’re interconnected with the world and what we do/experience affects others. Privilege — that our experience right now is far superior to a whole lot of other peoples’. We now have open conversations about the fact that people are getting sick, so that’s why we can go out or see people, including those we love. It’s a lot for four-year-olds to wrap their brains around, but they’re getting it and wear masks every time we leave our property." Reddrick, meanwhile, is telling his kids to "be thankful for what we have. I try to tell it like it is. If one of them is complaining, I’ll say listen, be thankful for what you have, life is too short. Cherish life and cherish what you have right here."
Jennifer DaSilva is the president of Berlin Cameron.