Father Figure’s founder sounds off on parenting.
*We've partnered with BabyBjörn to show how modern dads are redefining parenting norms.
Have you ever seen a dad walking down the street wearing his baby, and done a quick double-take? Or watched a dad walking into the bathroom to change his baby's diaper, and been infinitely impressed? We think we're living in the age of parenting enlightenment, and yet, it's often surprising to see someone other than mom taking on the primary caregiving role. It shouldn't be.
We know there's amazing dads out there sharing the load in parenting. But there's not enough amazing stories about them. So we've partnered with BabyBjörn to share some #dadstories of fathers who are not just talking the talk, but also walking the walk. Often literally...while babywearing.
Meet Andrew Bentley, primary caregiver to 20-month-old Booker and founder of Father Figure, a clothing line designed to empower new dads. The former Google exec was “transformed" by fatherhood; soonafter heading back to work from paternity leave, he felt the pull to return home as a stay-at-home dad. Below, Andrew gets real about parenting, the baby/business balance, and what you should know about stay-at-home dads.
What was your plan for fatherhood before Booker arrived?
Ever since I was a kid, I knew I wanted to be a dad. My plan was to be as active as possible in his life. To me, that meant sharing in all caretaking activities and taking as much leave and time off from work as possible in his first year. Fortunately I was working at Google when he was born, which gave fathers 12 weeks of paid paternity leave. And even though I had never taken care of an infant, I wanted to change lots of diapers and learn how to soothe him in an effort to be a big part of his early life. My wife, Betz, and I had talked about the two of us alternating in being stay at home parents but it was more theoretical and wishful than anything. Before he was born, I didn't know I was going to stay home with him but I was open to it. We didn't have a plan for either of us to leave our jobs.
What happened when Booker was born?
Going back to work after my paternity leave was difficult. I cried on and off the first day. Even though it got easier each day, I felt that my heart was with him. I went to an 80% role and spent every Friday with my son, and that gave me a taste for what it was like home with him on a consistent basis.
When did you ultimately decide to stay at home with him?
For me, becoming a parent was transformative, and I tried to listen to who I was becoming. I love being a father. In some ways it feels like a calling. After understanding that, it was a matter of trying to make it work, financially and logistically.
So...how did you make it work, financially and logistically?
I realize that it's a privilege to be able leave a salaried job to spend more time with my son. Thankfully we have some money saved, we have our health and we have a great relationship. It's much harder if you don't have that kind of stability. I remember a stay at home dad friend telling me that it's such a blessing and if you can do it, do it. Leaving that paycheck each month was difficult. I don't come from a family with a lot of money so the pressure had always been on my shoulders to create financial stability in my life. Now that my wife is working, that pressure has eased somewhat, but is still there. For a big life change like this, it's important to be on the same page as your partner. Betz has been incredibly supportive of my move to stay at home dad.
It also made sense to leave my job and spend more time with Booker because I wanted to start my own business, Father Figure. I spent the first few months with him full time while working during his naps and at night. I found that too difficult to get work done, and wanted him to get some socialization, so we put him in daycare part time.
How did your perception of "staying at home" match up with reality?
I knew it was going to be the toughest job I've ever had. It's physically draining and there are some gut-wrenching moments, when he gets sick. But almost every day, there's a moment where I am overwhelmed with love for him and my wife.
Was there ever a moment you thought: I made the wrong decision, this stay at home dad stuff is not for me.
The first few months I was having regular dreams that I was back at Google, in meetings and walking around the office. I miss the people the most. And I miss the free smoothies. But I'm very happy spending time with my boy and starting a business.
What are some of the challenges of being a stay at home dad?
A difficult aspect of being an active father is the lack of products and brands that include dads. I had to go out of my way to find baby books that are dad-centric. That's one reason the BabyBjörn #dadstories campaign is so great. They're trying to emphasize that modern dads are taking on active roles in their kids' lives, and redefining cultural norms. Our generation of dads is more active than our grandparents and parents, when it comes to taking care of babies. And sometimes we're excluded to the point of feeling like second-class parents.
Tell me about your dad friends.
I do have a lot of dad friends. I do dad fantasy sports with dads, and I'm in a dad's basketball league that's competitive but friendly. No one fouls hard because we all know the other guy has to race home to help his son or daughter eat some pureed sweet potatoes in like 30 minutes. I am a part of a few dad groups here in Brooklyn. The dads were encouraging when I was considering leaving my job.
It's great to see all types of dads as primary caretakers, loving their children so much. We don't fit the stay at home dad stereotypes. Most of the dads I hang with left or put on hold thriving careers. One of my dad friends is a huge ex-Division One college basketball player. He's taking care of two girls, has a boy on the way, a mother-in-law with health issues, and a bunch of dogs. He's kinda my hero.
How did your experience staying home with Booker help inspire the launch of Father Figure?
The goal of Father Figure is to strengthen the loving bond between fathers and their children with fashionable and functional products. Taking action to feel prepared for your child, whether taking a class or buying a stroller, builds confidence and correlates with the amount of time a new parent spends with their child. Yet, when my wife was pregnant, I felt excluded from the preparation process. All the products and prep activities were geared towards the woman's experience.
What's one piece of advice you'd give a father-to-be?
I recommend spending as much time with your newborn as possible. Even if you don't have a parental leave program, try to take vacation or sick time. And most importantly, get some time alone with your baby. If you can spend one or two weeks without your partner there, it will pay massive dividends. You'll learn how to listen to your baby and your baby will learn to trust you. That's one way to develop a strong and loving bond.
Original photography by Ren'ee Kahn-Bresler for Well Rounded.
*This post was sponsored by Babybjörn. Find out more about Babybjörn #dadstories here.