modern day fatherhood in raleigh

No Rules, No Roadmap

In December 2016 / January 2017, Feature Stories by Alexandra DrosuLeave a Comment

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Photographer Brett Donar and his son Forrest

Photographer Brett Donar and his son Forrest

When wedding and lifestyle photographer Brett Donar found out he and his wife were pregnant he did what most new parents would do: scour the Internet for information on parenthood and baby products. But it quickly became apparent to the first time dad that most sites and blogs were mom-centric, and it was difficult to find information that spoke directly to him—a modern day father. So he started his own blog, Papa & Co. The response from dads like himself was immediate and positive. “They were grateful and excited,” says Donar.

It’s an issue that has become more and more obvious as many of today’s dads struggle with a lack of resources, role models or road map to modern day fatherhood. The media often portrays them as good-intentioned bumblers, who don’t know how to change a diaper, not engaged dads who responsibly juggle family and work life.

Over the last half century, a man’s role in the household has changed dramatically. The traditional stereotype of sole breadwinner, coming home after an 8-hour workday to dinner on the table, no longer accurately reflects today’s society. The role varies widely. Take Marco, who has a business cleaning houses with his wife; they share household and childcare duties. While Austin and his wife decided he was better suited to stay at home with the kids. LeKorey is a single dad who juggles four jobs, and father of six Andrew is a full-time professor. The list goes on and on.

But one thing is clear: today’s dads don’t fit into one specific mold, and with it comes many of the same anxieties that women have been facing over the decades: how to best balance work and family life?

According to the PEW Research Center, 52 percent of dads say it’s somewhat or very difficult to balance the responsibilities of work and family. And part of the issue centers on the fact that the number of dual-income households is increasing. In 1970, the number of families with only the father employed versus both parents was evenly split. Today, almost 70 percent are dual income families, making it more likely that both parents juggle household needs and childcare.

O is for Overwhelmed

Coaching, homework, deadlines, dinner… there never seems to be enough time in the day. And the stresses of juggling schedules, hitting work deadlines or guilt associated with not spending enough time with one’s spouse can leave many men feeling overwhelmed. The challenge is that unlike women, men sometimes have a hard time admitting it or confiding in others.

“It goes with this concept of manning up. Men don’t define masculinity as being a childcare provider even though a lot of their identity is being thrown into that role. It’s not culturally validated,” says Andrew O. Behnke, PhD, Associate Professor of Human Development at NC State. “It is a changing role.”

And, part of the challenge is that this changing role isn’t clearly defined for many dads. “They don’t have a model—this is what an involved dad looks like,” says Michael Gialanella, Marriage and Family Therapist at the North Carolina Family Therapy Center.

“I grew up without a father,” says Max Trujillo, Restaurant General Manager and Co-Host of the NC F&B Podcast. “My mom was out the door by 6 a.m. so even as a kindergartner I would pack my lunch and get dressed, and my cousin would walk me to school. All I knew was that one way—I had to carve out my own place in the family.”

What compounds the issue is that there are few daddy-focused outlets, and if there were, it’s questionable how many dads would take advantage of them in the first place. “Men have different social needs in general. Men’s need for child-centered resources is not as great as what we’ve seen women seeking. Not that men don’t need it; they don’t prioritize it. ,” says Behnke.

But that’s changing.

When Austin Dowd first started staying home with his son he had a hard time finding playgroups during the day. “When I reached out to them it was either “it’s a moms only space” or they went silent. The understanding was that they weren’t really looking for dads to join their ranks. For the last five years, he has been a co-organizer of Triangle Stay At Home Dads. The group doesn’t only cater to stay at home dads, though, and Dowd says he’s in the minority. “Most guys work a primary job that allows them time off, with some arrangement between work and family. They reach out to us because we’re the only group,” he says, adding that the Triangle boasts one of the most robust networks in the country, aside from larger metropolitan areas like Los Angeles or New York.

In fact, the National At Home Dads conference was held this past October in Raleigh at the Marbles Kids Museum. The event attracted fathers from across the U.S. to connect with one another, enhance their parenting skills while also having fun. Events ranged from learning to homebrew with Raleigh Brewing Company and Dad’s Night Out at Crankarm to seminars on gun and home safety, creating a new narrative for fathers, and mental health discussions.

Photograph by Jennifer Robertson

Photograph by Jennifer Robertson

Smashing Stigmas

We have seen an increase in social acceptance; however, men’s identities are intricately tied to their careers and ambition. “Most men have always found their identity in what they do, but now they are seeing their identity in their family,” observes Dr. Jeff Roberts, Pastor of Trinity Baptist Church. “They still feel the burden of caring for the family. When they choose something more non-traditional, they struggle with how this new role”

The challenges can leave dad’s feeling isolated, stress relationship or finances, and elevate existing anxiety or depression. “They feel there’s a possibility of being judged. They don’t talk about their feelings. There’s a general stigma of mental health, especially for men,” says Gialanella.

The ever-present media portrayal of dads doesn’t help either. Matt LeBlanc’s latest role as a stay-at-home dad in “Man With a Plan” is more foolish than inspiring, while in “Grandfathered,” new dad Gerald is great with kids but terrible with women, sending a message that men can’t be good at both.

“The media continues to be a distracter,” says Behnke. “Dads are Simpsons-like depictions, irresponsible or incompetent.”

Ironically, it’s the shows from the ‘80s, when some of today’s dads were growing up that provided better role models of fatherhood. “The Cosby Show” painted an engaged portrait of fatherhood in a professional dual-income family. And what about Steve Keaton’s emotional connection to his children in “Family Ties”?

Gialanella says it’s not just media depictions that need to change. Work culture must shift to accept paternity leave as a necessity not just a luxury. Fathers need to bond with newborns just as much as mothers. By not acknowledging this need, the work culture continues to reinforce more traditional and inflexible models of fatherhood.

Friends & Fatherhood

Regardless of the images on TV or billboards, many dads are devoting a significant amount of time to their children’s activities: coaching basketball, leading Boy Scouts, or guiding an Odyssey of the Mind team. They are engaged in their kid’s day-to-day lives, and they do this with love, passion and dedication. But they also get involved to create a community.

“I purposefully joined Y Guides through YMCA,” says Trujillo. “It gives me time with one of my daughters and eight other dads who are likeminded. We collectively said we want to do this, and you get to have a camaraderie with the guys and talk about things that are important to adults.”

The path may seem long now but looking back on experiences underscore for many fathers the importance of their commitment. “I coached [my sons] in sports and did not miss a game or event in their life. In fact, I was coaching High School football until my son signed to play collegiate football at Butler University,” says high school business teacher Trent Wilson, Sr., who is now seeing the dividends of his efforts. “I will truly say that being a father is one of the most precious gifts that I have been given.”

YMCA Associate Director Jess Joiner says he is one of the lucky fathers, who looks to his own dad as a role model: “My dad was always there, and I mean always.  Whenever we needed his help, he was always around.  I’ll never forget my dad in the kitchen though.  Depending on the time of year, my mom would have to work excessive hours, which meant my dad would need to prepare dinner.  I think he halfway knew what he was doing but he never complained, at least to us, and we always seemed to have a hot meal on the table.”

He hits upon an important point that we all should be reminded of. At the end of the day, it’s not about perfection, it’s about being good to oneself when the balancing act becomes challenging. “We always talk about balance; I’m not so sure there is such a thing,” says Dr. Roberts. “It’s giving your attention to what is present in the moment. When we have to work we do our work well. But we have to be present with our children. try to help folks realize that with the time they have, make sure they try and be present mentally and emotionally to their children and to their spouse.” Behnke seconds that opinion: “Every father feels inadequate but that’s ok. Be good with being good enough.”

And think of the unwritten role of fatherhood as an exciting adventure. “A lot of guys see it as a challenge. I think it’s much more of a blessing,” says Dowd. “When I talk to moms, they feel that there’s a role that’s been written for them. If they deviate they become a hippy mom. Dad’s don’t have a rulebook; they can write their own ticket.” 

3 Ways Modern-Day Dads Get Informed


Check out Brett Donar’s lifestyle blog Papa & Co.! It’s not a daddy blog, instead it’s an fun and informative resource for modern men who also happen to be dads.


Pick up a copy of “All In: How Our First-Work Culture Fails Dads, Families and Businesses—And How We Can Fix It Together” by journalist Josh Levs ($25.99). The author advocates on the importance of paternity leave.


Don’t let the “stay” in the Triangle Stay At Home Dads group keep you away. This organization embraces all dads who want to get to know fellow engaged fathers in the area.


Four times a year, blogger and photographer Brett Donar creates an online mixtape that represents the season: “I relate times of my life to songs and my son and I listen to it.” He adds that it’s hard for busy dads to have time to discover new artists, so he does the work for them. Listen up!

Speak Easy by Mansionair

Hollow Body by Field Division

Dive Deep by Andrew Belle

It’s All in Vain by Wet

Rivers by The Tallest Man on Earth

33 “GOD” by Bon Iver

Satisfy Me by Anderson East

Ain’t It Sweet by Phil Cook

The Mtn Song by Rayland Baxter

Starting by Matt Pond PA

Tangled up in Blue by Bob Dylan

Catharine and Huskisson by Bill Ryder-Jones

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