A KIND-LOOKING GRANDMOTHERLY WOMAN had the seat in front of me on a plane full of weary and irritable passengers headed back to New York at the end of the holiday season. Occasionally she turned around to smile and wiggle her fingers at my 8-month-old daughter, who was doing her perfect baby imitation, peacefully upon her mothers lap until my wife got up to use the rest room, leaving me with a now screaming baby, a four-year-old, and a tray table on which milk and juice balanced tipsily. And an infant care expert in the next row.
"Excuse me, sir," she said. Perhaps if youd just
." Blah, blah, blah. Blah, the voice went on. I, of course, did not hear her attempts to be helpful. What I heard (between my infants blood-curdling screams) was, You SUCK, Daddy!
There I was, holding a frantic infant in one arm, and trying unsuccessfully to prevent her sister from screeching "Mommy!" and taking off down the aisle herself. And from what I could make out between my babys heaving howls, the icon of female authority in front of me had taken it upon herself to point out to me how little she thought of my parenting skills. Well, I knew I wasn't Mommy, all right. In the three minutes that my wife was out of her seat, my children immediately spun out of control. I lost it too, first telling an old lady and her husband to mind their own business (not in those words, alas), next getting into a vicious verbal battle with some of (OK, most of) the other passengers around us, and finally being threatened with police intervention by the flight attendant (uh, thatd be the entire flight crew).
Fortunately (!!!), we were only halfway home, so after having nearly incited a riot in the rear half of the plane, I still had a solid three hours to ponder my role as a father. Is this what it's come to? I asked myself. Is this why, when my first child was born, I began working double shifts (9 to 9) on Mondays and Wednesdays so that I could take half days on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so that I could be a real daddy to my kids, unlike my own absentee father? Is this what I get for spending every second I could with my girls every weekend of the year, and taking my family, including my children, with me when I traveled for work? Have I nothing to show for all my faithful trips to the various grandparent destinations Las Vegas, Southern California and Japan than this ride of shame? Are these the fruits of my efforts my own humiliation and an airplane full of weary holiday travelers who want to kill me?
As passions cooled, I realized that no, I did not think that those were the sole fruits of my labors. Thank goodness! And yet, I couldn't help remembering how often I caught myself grateful, at the tail-end of a long tour of daddy duty, for the child safety bars on the windows of my 9th story Manhattan apartment at least something was preventing me from taking a flying leap!
With all of my miserable failures to be a perfect parent, I have not given up. I keep trying. And just showing up for work as a direct-care dad whether the day is one of glorious success or dismal failure has completely and unequivocally transformed me. I know, I feel in the very core of my being, what it is to love another person wholeheartedly
and then another one!
Of course, it makes logical sense to assume that a male who undertakes a parenting role (whether that is determined by the amount of time that he spends in that role or the types of activities he does) is in the Mommy Role. But anyone who has been in that position knows that that is just not quite the right term. I am not sure if it is because of things that we do not possess (breasts, certain smells, a specific familiarity that comes to an infant who has actually lived inside of you) things that we do possess (penises, denial, shorter fuses, and a yearning for a kind of elusive closeness to our children that seems so easily obtained by our female counterparts), or a lesser tolerance for certain kinds of infantness (perhaps a leftover from when an infant screaming in the cave was an invitation to the saber-toothed tiger?), but what have I learned, over and over and over again is this: Daddies Are Not Mommies. Still, having made the unconditional decision to allow ourselves and our lives to be changed by the act of parenting especially in the role of Direct-Care Dad we've found engagement in it that we might not have if we had allowed our style of fatherhood to be determined by stereotype, custom, or tradition. The reward has been an unexpected quality of excitement and commitment in our relationships with our children.
Out-of-control-infant-on-airplane incidents seem to befall women (e.g., moms) much more frequently than they befall men (how many dads are the go-to guy on the airplane?). The point of my example is not that my infant and child spun out of control because I am not a woman, or a mom, but that I did (spin) and with me went most of the rest of the plane in ways that I do not see when infants and their female caretakers are in similar circumstances.
There have always been a few direct-care dads, but not, until recently, very many. As our numbers grow, it might be possible to describe a still-unfamiliar vision of male parenthood. I am undertaking this project with an open mind, with an assumption for starters that I do not know, that we do not know, exactly what this creature the direct-care dad is. I am hoping to collect a series of stories, vignettes, anecdotes to help us fill in that term with descriptions and potential defining characteristics that come from our actual experiences.
To that end, and with the aim of writing a book on the topic, I am seeking requesting, inviting stories from other direct-care dads, stories that we can compile into a book  that will help us (the dads), and any other readers (moms, teachers, kids) understand what this role means. What are its tasks? How did it come into being? What is its purpose? And, most importantly, how do we fill it? What can it tell us? How can we learn from a style of fatherhood that unlike more traditional models of parenting has offered us very few precedents?
The stories of my own direct-care fatherhood tend to sound at first like goofs, or even catastrophes. Seldom in my life have I felt as overwhelmed as I have in my efforts to take care of my own daughters. Yet there is a golden thread connecting all these tales of woe, and that is the sense that it has all been worth it. Being a direct-care father has been a transformative experience. I am looking to hear what direct-care fathering has been like for other fathers. If you are anything like me, it has included not only moments of joy and enrichment, but also hours of frustration, exhaustion, and bewilderment, illuminated (not always soon enough!) with sudden flashes of insight. I hope that the stories we gather together here will be both entertaining and enlightening.
I am most interested (at least for this first iteration of the project) in stories/vignettes of fathers in the direct care role for children from birth to three years (whether you are in this role now, a decade ago, or 50 years ago). I am casting a wide net, and hoping to hear from fathers of all kinds and in all kinds of circumstances. In the interest of focus, however, I ask fathers who would like to submit stories to this project to limit their contribution to five double-spaced pages, and to follow the following very loose format:
The critical incident (be it funny, infuriating, harrowing, or whatever);
- How you navigated your way through it;
- How it felt in the context of what you learned from your own parents especially your father about being a parent;
- What you learned from it; and
- How it transformed you in your role as a direct-care dad.
Please feel free to submit a photograph along with your story, if you'd like.
Also, please do feel free to forward and/or send, by whatever means, this invitation to anyone who you think might want to join this project or, might know someone who does!
The best way for you to submit your stories to me is at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also write or call me:
Mark B. Borg, Jr., Ph.D.
Community Consulting Group
156 Fifth Avenue, Suite 725
New York, NY 10010
 All fathers who contribute to this project will receive my most heartfelt gratitude for helping to describe and define this role (and there may be more than one volume). Authors/Dads whose stories in their own words are used in the book will also receive my undying gratitude and a copy of the book when published. Some contributors might also be contacted to become more substantial contributors and compensation in those cases will be negotiated as the project progresses.