Women I Admire Day 25: Daniella English, Rediscovering Herself #WomensHistoryMonth

One of the major pitfalls of getting married and having kids is the increased chances of losing ourselves; our individuality; what makes us unique. The struggle to reclaim that identity, or even the scary realization that you may have not had one to begin with, can be enough to drive a wedge in a marriage, or keep someone in a relationship when they are unhappy. But what if that relationship ends, and you now find yourself with no idea where to go next.

In the past, and maybe even now to a degree, it feels as if women are facing this more than men. While the number of stay at home dad is on the rise, as is traditional households where the woman is the primary source of income, it still seems like society looks at women as losing their identity within the family construct. Even if the woman is the primary bread winner, much of society will refer to Jane as Joe’s wife, instead of referring to them as equals. This kind of societal patriarchy can cause huge identity issues when a long-term relationships ends.
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Dear ScaryMommy, Marginalizing Dads is a Scary Mistake

Since becoming a father, I, like many people, have spoken up about dads playing more of an involved role in the upbringing of their children — as well as how this increased involvement is still not only being downplayed, but even ridiculed by so many. And being the kind of person who loves to whip out my soapbox from time to time, I never have a problem when it comes to defending fellow dads.

This year has been unofficially deemed the year of the dad. We’ve seen some pretty big strides taken to help break down the stereotypes of the idiot dad, but it still feels like we have a long way to go. For every hip and cool commercial, like #HowtoDad from Cheerios and the call to celebrate dads with Real Dad Moments by Dove Body Care, we still encounter examples of dads being marginalized on a daily basis. Some men even face particularly harsh criticism; such was the case with baseball player Daniel Murphy, who took off the three days of paternity leave granted to each player by the MLB to attend the birth of his son. Because that paternity leave conflicted with opening day, Murphy was subjected to major criticism by many in the media. Even long-time family traditions like apple picking are not safe from those who would like to drum up a laugh at dad’s expense. Don’t believe me, just look at the picture below:
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The picture above was taken just this past September at a farm in Massachusetts where they offer apple picking, but only if children, and dads, are under strict supervision. The man who took this picture, Aaron Gouveia from the Daddy Files, wrote a stellar and pointed response detailing why stunts like this (that companies will claim were all done in the name of jokes and a good old-fashioned ribbing) are ultimately dangerous to our sons and daughters, who grow up with the idea of dad being less valuable than mom.

Look, I get that there are many out there who will say that people need to lighten up or not take things so seriously, and I’m all for a good joke. But if we continue to push these kinds of messages — specifically, the message that dad is less than mom — and just write them off as jokes, then we as a society are doing a major disservice to our young sons. Because one day those little boys will grow up to be men, even fathers, who think that it’s OK to put less time into raising their children because society said so. Thus, the cycle of diminished male involvement will continue to grow, and for what? A cheap laugh?

I wish I could say that this stereotyping of men and fathers was isolated to ignorant companies and media looking to drum up attention (because as we all know, even bad press can be good press), but it’s not. It’s unfortunately happening in the home as well. There are still plenty of women who think taking pot-shots at their husbands’ competency, or lack thereof, is acceptable.

I recently read a post by author/blogger Toni Hammer that, in my opinion, continues to reinforce many of the ugly stereotypes dads are still facing, hiding behind the claim of it all being done in good fun or satire. To be honest, I’m uncomfortable even linking to it, but I think it’s important for people to see that much of the struggle many men/fathers are facing begins right at home, and is being perpetuated by the very people who are supposed to be their biggest supporters: their partners.

In the post, the author tries to relate a birth story from the point of view of a husband. Not her husband, I might add — just some random dude.

While still speaking as herself, Hammer equates women telling their birth stories to veterans comparing war stories and battle scars, saying, “We’ve all been in the trenches and wanna know what happened when a fellow solider was there, too.”

As an actual veteran, I was offended by that. She even went on to pretend the man in her story told his friends the birth process was “like going to war. It was awesome.” This is objectionable on so many levels. I have not given birth myself, so would never presume to know the difficulty and pain that can be involved – and I don’t think people should make assumptions the other way around, either. I would feel the same way about an announcer at a sporting event saying players are “warriors” or are “on the field of battle”; these comments are ill advised and, frankly, ignorant. There are some things in this world that you do not use as a comparison to anything else, and being a veteran with “battle scars” is right up there. You know what else is on that list? Giving birth!

The entire post was just one men-are-morons yuk yuk joke after another. Listing every single one would literally take up my entire post, but here are a few, just so you get my point:

1 – Husband says he was too busy to pay attention to his wife going through active labor at home because he was watching an abs workout infomercial.

2- Husband stubs his toe on the way out to the hospital and contemplates asking the doctor to check out his foot after caring for his wife because “all doctors are the same, right?”

3 – Husband falls back asleep after wife tells him baby is close to arriving.

4 – Husband talks about the size of his wife’s lady parts, calling them “huge,” and then refers to his wife as his “warrior princess” and his son as his “future linebacker.”

Each poorly-told joke felt like a kick to the face, pushing dads/men rung after rung back down the ladder of progress we have been working hard to climb. As a whole the article came off as closed-minded, marginalizing, and most of all overtly sexist towards men.

Of all the examples listed above, my concerns are best summed up in example 4. Because you know, all men talk about their wives’ downtown situation to their friends, call their wives by demeaning pet names, and envision their sons as a future linebackers. Hey, you’re not a real man unless you like football.

I would suggest that the next time Hammer wants to write a piece relating how the opposite sex would react or retell something as personal as a birth story, she should perhaps, I don’t know, talk to a few men to figure out how they remember their children being born. Had she done that, I’m confident she would have found more descriptive terms like “breathtaking,” “greatest moment of my life,” “pure joy,” or “no words could explain how awesome it was” — and less war, blood, vampire references, and all things Bro.
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I realize in the world of blogging and writing that being provocative, and even inflammatory at times, gets more views and clicks than actually being earnest and heartfelt. Many have even come to Hammer’s defense, saying men need to lighten up because it was simply satire. But this article was anything but satire; it was simply mean, and in my opinion, this is where Hammer and the site that hosted her article failed as a whole — because the topic of birth, and furthermore the role fathers play in the process, deserves better than to be treated as a punchline in an awful joke.

That Time My Marriage Almost Ended, And Why That’s a Good Thing

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In the fall of 2012, my 3 year marriage to the love of my life was moments away from being over. My wife and I had many heated arguments during which the dreaded word divorce was shouted with such anger that, to this day, I continue to wonder how we came out the other side.

But much like that dreaded first step into a cold swimming pool, I know it’s time I take a deep breath and step off the side of the pool if I ever want to enjoy the freedom and joy that comes from a refreshing swim. Yes, it’s going to suck at first, but in the end there is a much needed benefit. For me, right now, the benefit I’m looking for is the unblocking of my mind; a release from the baggage that continues to weigh me down and impact my well-being. Allow me to back up a bit before we move forward.

Like many first time parents, that first year of my son’s life was really hard on the Wife and me. For reasons we couldn’t pinpoint, our history of meeting in the middle and balancing out one another, was eluding us.

We dealt with a great deal of stress during October-December of 2011. My Wife sadly lost her grandmother, we had a scare at 20 weeks where we thought our son was coming early, family drama throughout the holidays, and finally a couple we associated with gave birth to their son about 5 weeks before us, and named him the same name we were going to name our son. Yes, it’s laughable NOW to think of how worked up we got over the whole naming situation, but try explaining that to an almost 8 month pregnant woman.

Having some distance, I am able to look back and recognize these were simply excuses for our troubles. The real reason we were having issues is because we weren’t communicating. Simply put, we weren’t talking, our communication was broken. At least not about the things that didn’t involve sleep training, feeding and diaper duty. We neglected to communicate about the stuff that mattered most: Us.

So fast forward almost a year later. Our son was very difficult in his first year. No, that’s not fair to him. He was typical baby, maybe a bit more cranky than others, but normal nonetheless. It was his parents that were not well.

Unresolved stress from the prior year, was now growing with the addition of new stress. It all continued to pile up – stress of a cranky baby, a very difficult bout of postpartum depression, my own person life-long struggles with depression. And thanks to the continued presence of social media, it felt as if all we saw were other couples with children the same age as our son bragging about how awesome life was, and how kick-ass they were at being new moms and dads. I swear to everything holy, if I saw one more “#Blessed,” coupled with a pictures of an angelic baby with smiling, seemingly well-rested parents, I was going to go on a homicidal rampage.

We spent more time sitting around hating the kind of parents/people we weren’t while being angry at each other, that we failed to invest even one second in our marriage and, even more importantly, ourselves.

We tried, on occasion, to be that better person and support one another, even in our supremely broken state. Most days, unfortunately it was an exercise in futility.

But, even in all our brokenness we knew we still wanted us to work. So we took steps to fix us. We sought outside help, and dedicated ourselves to being better with each other. Was it easy? No fucking way. But nothing good, nothing that matters ever is.

I bring all this up because the Wife and I were having a discussion while out to lunch recently – a discussion that floored me.

Wife: You know, I’m kind of thankful for all the crap we went through two years ago.
Me: How in the hell can you say that?!? What good can you possibly have gained from that? We threatened each other with divorce.
Wife: Yeah, but we didn’t do it. And besides, look at all the good in our life now. None of that would be here if we didn’t go through the dark times.
Me: Oh, bullshit. I just cannot agree. You don’t think we would be happy or in a good place if we didn’t almost ruin each other.
Wife: In a way, no, I don’t. Neither one of us would be on the path we’re on now without our rough time.

I left lunch in a fog of confusion and disbelief. How could she see what we went through as a good thing? Our son was almost a statistic of a broken home before he even knew what a home was. But as I sat with it for a while, I got to thinking that maybe she had a point.

Since her bought with PPD my Wife has worked very hard at changing her career/life path. She is now tirelessly working on becoming a birth educator and eventually wants to open a center for women that will focus on every need during pregnancy and post-natal; she explained that this is a path she most definitely would not have embarked on if we hadn’t experienced the rough period, especially if our experience was similar to the #Blessed people because the motivation to help others would have not been there. She also pointed out my renewed desire for writing as an example of how things have gotten better. Yes, I was writing/blogging before my son, but I had little direction. Now I have found that direction, started my own website (PapaDoesPreach.com) and have even formed relationships with other mom/dad bloggers. Many of those relationship have helped me see that parenting, as well as cultivating a marriage, is a rough and sometimes messy process, but at the end of the day both worth the effort.

From time to time friends have remarked how they think the Wife and I are the perfect couple, and how they one day hope to have what we have. They wonder how we do it, how we manage to be so great. I just hope after reading this, they now understand when I simply answer with, “it takes hard work” that I really mean it.

My Wife made the point during our lunch conversation that we should celebrate the fact that we’re better with each other. Are we perfect? Not even close. Do we still have room to be better? Of course – there is always room for growth. But all in all we are a team again. Before the pregnancy funk we made a promise to each other to always value one another the same way we did before we found out we were going to have a baby. Just as we did the day we said our vows to each other.

Because at the end of the day, “we were” before “he was”.