12 Dads on How the Pandemic Forever Changed Them as Parents

Most importantly, I learned that there is no such thing as a perfect parent, and that even when you’re doubting your abilities or decisions in the face of adversity (like parenting during a pandemic), doing your best is more than good enough. The pandemic was a testament to my own resilience as a father and served as reassurance that no obstacle can’t be overcome with patience, love, and a healthy amount of alcohol (kidding, sort of). —Ariel Owens-Barham, stay-at-home dad of a 9-year-old son

“Tuning into my daughter was a game changer.”

Our daughter was born early in the pandemic, so stay-at-home orders meant I got to spend a lot of time with her in her first few months of life. I was grateful for the extra bonding time, but at first, whenever she cried, I would get stressed out and immediately tried to figure out what the problem was. The problem was me. Babies cry and that’s normal. I just needed time to better understand her cues and whether she actually needed something. That was a game changer, especially for my wife. I think I stressed her out more than our daughter! —Arthur Mats, strategic projects director, father of a 2-year-old daughter

“It doesn’t have to always be work or family.”

I feel like I used to go 100% into work mode when I was at the office and put on blinders with all things family until I got home. Now that my work is at home and my family is around for a lot of it, I learned I can be a dad one minute and shift back to being a coworker the next. I’m more flexible than I gave myself credit for and, honestly, having the mental break to talk to our kids or my wife for a few minutes regularly throughout the day feels good. It also helped my relationship with my wife, since, despite my best intentions, I realized I’d been leaving her with more than her share of emotional labor when it came to the kids and home. In lockdown we had to get creative together fast, and that helped me see and appreciate how much she’d been doing the whole time solo and then make the changes to better balance the load. —Brendan Hay, television executive producer, father of 6-year-old twins

“There’s so much to learn from your children.”

Sebastian, my son, was my greatest teacher during the pandemic. His nimble mind and MacGyver-like skills showed me what was possible during lockdown. He created two albums of original music, working in a messy studio with borrowed instruments and collaborating through various apps and platforms with 60 musicians from around the world (in seven languages that he figured out via Google translate). I know it sounds like bragging but, wow, the kid nailed it.

Your children are not your children. It’s true. You’d think that during all that up-close time of being stuck at home, you’d wield more influence somehow as a father, but, lo, they really do their own thing. They go their own way. They have their own ideas and trajectories. They are in your house but not of your house. —David Hochman, freelance writer, father of an 18-year-old son

“It’s important to make space for feelings.”

Since being confined to the home, with limited travel and outings, was something new for us as a family, we had a lot of conversations with our kids about how they felt about our situation. We even developed an end-of-the-day sharing circle that we continue to do. It’s a place where we are free to express what happened in our day and how we felt throughout it. —Demond Jordan, digital marketer, father of 7-year-old and 5-year-old daughters

“Being a father is truly about spending quality time with my children.”

I learned that they are just as happy reading a book with me or dancing to the same song over and over again as they are going on some kind of big adventure. Really, though, I feel like I learned less about myself as a father than I did about the capabilities and strength of my children, which was really impressive and inspiring. Early on, they were very uncomfortable with isolated life, away from friends, and dealing with things like mask protocols. But they adapted and grew past those things in a way that really makes me hopeful about the people they’ll become when they grow up. —Elliott Kalan, television writer, father of 8-year-old and 3-year-old sons

“It became clear that my children are my purpose.”

My job used to take a lot of my attention, focus, and energy. During the pandemic, when everything slowed down and our health and mortality came into question, my relationship with my children took a huge paradigm shift. It became increasingly clear that they are my world, my purpose, my legacy, my reason for being, and my greatest source of joy. —Joel Santos, environmental engineer, father of a 6-year-old daughter and a 9-year-old son

“There’s plenty of adventure in our own backyard.”

Every day brought with it a new challenge. Either the remote-learning technology wasn’t working or one of my three children was having a meltdown about not being able to see friends. So during the summers I had a plan for the girls every single day. They loved our adventures. For example, we live near the Russian River in Sonoma County, California. We had never been there, even though we’ve lived here for 15 years. We went to the river more than 40 times during the summer of 2020. It became our playground and the kids loved it. —Matt Villano, freelance writer, single father of three daughters (ages 13, 10, and 6)

“My children deserve my presence.”

Before the pandemic, I saw all my clients in person at my gym. In order to give my kids the life that I never had, I had to leave home by 4:30 a.m. and come home at about 9 p.m. This meant that the kids would be asleep when I left for work and asleep when I got home. When the pandemic pushed me to pivot from an in-person business to a virtual one, it was a blessing because I could be more present in my children’s lives and get to know their routines. And they could finally see what it is that dad does when he’s away. I think it’s important for kids to see and feel the joy of hard work, but they also deserve my presence. —Ngo Okafor, owner of Iconoclast Fitness, father of a 7-year-old son and a 3-year-old daughter

“Make sure everyone keeps checking in on their mental health.”

My wife and I tag in and out with parenting duties so we can get our respective work done and needs met, and that often bleeds into the evening. I have found that writing actually has come easier during this time, and my therapist has identified that productivity is a bit of my coping mechanism. Writing at night while I’m alone in my head has been a stress relief because I don’t have to think about anyone else’s needs. If your family enters into prolonged extreme circumstances, it’s important to make sure everyone keeps checking in on each other’s mental health as much as possible. And whatever people need—time alone, sleep, comfort food—try to make that accessible because burnout and emotional collapse are very, very real. —Mike Chen, NYT best-selling author and tech marketer, father of a 7-year-old daughter

“I saw how absent I had been.”

The pandemic brought a seismic shift in how I work now, which is almost exclusively from home. Before I never worked from home but, now that I do, I can clearly see how absent I had been. If I still needed to go into the office, I’d basically never see my son outside of breakfast and that thought just terrifies me. For me, working from home means being there for as many meals and snacks during the day as I can, not being on my phone when we are eating or playing together, changing diapers as much as possible, and taking him out of the house so we can give his hard-working mother a bit of a break too. —Will Znidaric, documentary film editor, father of a 17-month-old son