Dads have made damn good progress. We’re more involved than ever; we understand the assignment. But let’s not pat ourselves on the back. Certainly not as we claw our way out of a pandemic that’s altered everything about the way we live our lives. It’s high time to ask the knotty questions about raising kids, the ones you’ve only dared to ponder with your partner or your closest friends or even just yourself. Because, let’s be honest, parenting is as terrifying as it is joyful, and sometimes you worry so much that you might just pee your pants. So we did just that. (Posed the questions, not peed ourselves—yet.) The answers we received, on the pages that follow, will teach you a thing or two—the good, the bad, the meconium-tinged ugly—about what it means to be a caring, supportive, badass dad today.
How does parenting change you when you’ve built your life around climbing rock cliffs without a rope? We asked Alex Honnold, star of the 2018 documentary Free Solo, who became a father for the first time in February.
Drew Magary is a dad, which means he’s a constant source of derision for his family. He provides memes to his household so reliably that you could chart them. This used to bother him, and occasionally it still does. But if you’re a dad who can’t take a light jab and is constantly demanding subservience from those you love, are you really that strong? Are you that loving? Who are you even trying to impress?
Dads are hot, says Allison P. Davis. It’s proven by science! And by her. Recently, among the many hot-dad varietals, she has homed in on her type: The Soccer Dad. But not the one you think.
Reynaldo Peña is the football coach at Northwest High in Clarksville, Tennessee. He served for thirteen years in the U. S. Army, rising to staff sergeant and deploying twice to Iraq. He’s thirty-seven now, with two kids—a daughter, twelve, and a son, nine. He spoke to Esquire about building a connection with your child even when you’re separated by great distance, starting with making sure they understand why you had to go away in the first place.
Rachel Syme has learned from her dad a kind of pragmatic hedonism: By truly diving in headfirst into your hobbies, you are teaching your children about following their passions down the rabbit hole. He has taught Syme a rare lesson: If you are going to become obsessed with something, do it all the way. Go so hard you almost crash. Then pick yourself up and do it again.
When it comes to paternity leave, ‘Murica lags behind much of the rest of the world. The federal government guarantees exactly zero days of paid time off (though it allows us up to twelve weeks’ unpaid leave, so…thanks?); a handful of companies and just ten states have risen to the occasion. The result is that only 5 percent of fathers in the U. S. take two or more weeks off after the birth of their child. Alexis Ohanian—a cofounder of Reddit, husband of Serena Williams, and, along with groups like the nonprofit PL+US, a tireless advocate for a federal family-leave policy—makes the case for why even the busiest dads should have the right to spend time with their newborns.
The actor Andy García, the new Father of the Bride, says yes.
Justin Kirkland loves his father, who lives in Tennessee, but they are about as dissimilar as two similar people can get. Same personality, but with totally different interests. Kirkland had always wanted to ask his dad how he’d reconciled his expectations of fatherhood and the reality of his son. Recently, he did just that.
Brady Langmann’s dad died this March after a long struggle with COPD. The morning after, Langmann sat down to write his obituary. He had a few hours to answer a question usually saved for decades on a shrink’s lounger: How will he remember his father?
Jeff Gordinier has four children, ranging in age from nineteen to four. Here’s something he has learned about parenting: No matter how open-minded you think you are, your kids will throw you curveballs that undermine your fixed ideas about the world. Which is why it was probably inevitable: He is a food writer who has traveled around the world in an endless quest for epiphanies of flavor, and somehow he fathered a picky eater.
Why do certain men feel compelled to continue procreating at an age when most of their contemporaries are puttering toward retirement? Esquire asked legendary South American chef Francis Mallmann, who has seven children from four different relationships.
Carvell Wallace is the father to a nineteen-year-old and a sixteen-year-old, which means he has endured adolescence three times over: once in the nineties and twice in the 2010s. What he’s learned is that Gen Xers like him are no better, or worse, than their kids. And this: His job as a father is to find out what kind of world his children want to live in and to see if he can stop his whining long enough to help them manifest it.
“There is, obviously, no shortage of excellent reasons not to have children; the possibility of their inheriting “an unlivable world” is certainly among them,” writes the nonfiction writer Mark O’Connell. “But a preemptive capitulation to despair feels intolerable, at least to me. The act of bringing a child into the world is always a gesture of hope—as much for the world as for the child. And hope, by definition, is uncertain. It also may be misguided, but I would not want to live without hope, any more than I would want to live without my children.”
This article appeared in the SUMMER 2022 issue of Esquire