Nick Firchau always wanted to have kids but realised pretty quickly after having his first child that he didn’t necessarily know what he was doing.
“For as much enthusiasm as I had for that job, I was drastically unprepared, and I think a lot of men face the same challenge.”
So, he started a podcast called Paternal, about the brotherhood of fatherhood - a place where men can be honest about their feelings and fears about doing a good job parenting.
“The whole core of the podcast, of Paternal, it was to try and commiserate with other men who might be feeling the same way and to develop a community for guys who are looking for some answers for the questions they have,” Firchau tells Jesse Mulligan.
Much of parenting you learn as you go, he says.
“The biggest change to me was I started to ask questions of myself of like who I was and what kind of guy I was...and what I had been taught about being a man.”
The more conversations he had on Paternal, the more he realised a lot of men were asking the same things at this stage of life.
“You start to wonder who you are as a parent but first you have to figure out who you are as a person.
“A lot of the times, for men, they might be confused because they’ve never thought about that stuff before or a lot of expectations have been placed upon them because they are men, because of our social construction of masculinity.”
With more than 70 episodes, topics range from toxic masculinity to parenting as a gay man.
So, what are the qualities of a good dad?
It’s a big question, Firchau says.
“I think I have two answers. One is the willingness or ability to examine yourself a little bit when you become a father...the willingness to say here’s what I'm good at, here’s what I need to work at, here’s where I’d like to be different than the model that was set for me...
“But then also, when it comes to the kids, adaptability, flexibility. I really think that often times in life you’re given the kid that you were supposed to get.”
It’s really hard for a lot of guys to express vulnerability, he says.
“Again, it’s that social construction of what a man should be, how much emotion a man should show, how much emotional language does that man even have...I think a lot of guys are confused about how to express themselves when it comes to emotions and then they’re worried about how it might be perceived, usually by other men.”
Many of the guests on Paternal are trying to reckon with a new definition of what a man can be, he says.
“I think men are starting to reconcile with the fact that their role can change if they want it to change, they don’t have to be the breadwinner necessarily and it might benefit them ultimately to adopt practices where we’re talking about male vulnerability or at least being in touch with your emotions, that might actually benefit your relationship.”
As a dad, Firchau says, you can only control so much.
“I feel like sometimes I want to be in control of every move my kids make, well I’m not, as soon as I drop them off at school, I’m no longer in charge, it’s teachers, it’s certainly the kids on the playground that will shape them as much as I do.
“All that I can do when it comes to my son, is give him a safe place at home...to be himself however he wants to be himself.
“If you perpetuate the stuff that’s on the playground at home, like don’t cry, don’t do this, you’ve got to be tough all the time, I think it’s a recipe for disaster and candidly, those are the guys that end up coming on...Paternal, they’re the ones trying to figure out where they went wrong, they’re doing it at 35-40 years old, they’re trying to deconstruct what their fathers thought them.”