Dad To Dad

New Dad Bootcamp with the NYC Dads' Group
New Dad Boot Camp with the NYC Dads’ Group

Editor’s Note: Five years ago, Lance Somerfeld and Matt Schneider—two stay-at-home dads who had first become friends as teachers at a Bronx public school—thought it might be a good idea for their social life (and sanity) to see if there were other stay-at-home dads around who might be interested in getting together on occasion for playdates and schmoozing. Though their effort—the NYC Dads Group—may have been born of personal need and modest expectation, it has accomplished something that, to my knowledge, no previous local dads group had ever done: it worked!

These days, NYC Dads has about 1,000 active local members—working dads and stay-at-home dads alike—who participate in their live events and enjoy their online offerings. Their group events include everything from dad-child museum visits to Dads’ Night Out fun; and their New Dad Boot Camps, in particular, have become a famously helpful rite of passage for new fathers around the city.

At the same time, Somerfeld and Schneider have helped start similar dads groups, not only around the New York Tri-State area, but also in other cities, including Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, and Denver. And they have taken on a high-profile media role as a combination educator/advocate/watchdog for fathers and fathering that’s been reflected in NYC Dads’ excellent blog and podcasts.

How did all this happen?

“Our timing worked out well,” Somerfeld says. “More and more families are making childcare and financial decisions based on what’s best for their families rather than being boxed in by outdated gender norms. More dads are active caregivers in their families, and we want to connect with each other to have fun, to be supported, and to learn.”

To continue to meet this growing interest among dads to be connected with other dads, Somerfeld and Schneider have decided it’s time to take a giant step forward in the life of their organization by launching a new national organization called City Dads Group that will serve as a national hub with information and content from all of their local groups.

“We’ll still have websites in each city that will include local content and Meetup experiences. But our hope is that will become a daily destination for dads—and moms—as they navigate parenthood,” Schneider explains.

With City Dads Group set to launch this month, we thought the timing was perfect to ask Somerfeld and Schneider to reflect on experiences, professional and personal, over the last five years, and share with us five important truths they’ve learned about dads. Fatherhood couldn’t ask for two better spokesmen!

-Eric Messinger, editor

1) Dads Can Hack It: Generally, we as a society still haven’t quite come around to the idea that dads are parents too. If a dad takes his child on public transportation, goes grocery shopping, or bakes the cupcakes for the school bake sale, he’s a rock star. We’re over-praised by strangers for displaying even the most basic level of involvement in our children’s lives. Recently, on a crowded cross-town bus, Lance was reading a picture book with his son when a kind lady complimented him for being a “great dad.” What about all of the other moms and caregivers riding the crowded bus with their children? Were they “great” parents too? The bar is still set extremely low for fathers, and we’re asking society to elevate their parenting expectations for us. We can deliver. Just give us the chance.

NYC Dads Group Founders Lance Somerfeld and Matt Schneider. Big Apple Portraits
NYC Dads Group Founders Lance Somerfeld and Matt Schneider. Big Apple Portraits

2) Dads Love Talking About Parenting: There’s a mystique and misconception that dads keep their feelings inside when it comes to important topics like parenting and relationships. We host parenting workshops covering topics like potty training, happy/healthy sleep habits, admission to preschool, becoming a new dad, and child passenger safety. We have heated conversations during these workshops and during Meetups where dads are champing at the bit to share their opinions and feelings surrounding all topics of parenting. Dads want to share best practices for wiping their daughters after a poop, what to do when their kid refuses to nap, or what app they can use to log feedings during the first few months. They also want to vent their frustrations on the lack of changing stations in public restrooms, lost spontaneity that comes with strict nap and feeding schedules, and not having enough personal time to pursue hobbies, see friends, or exercise. Dads want to talk parenting—they just need the right forum.

3) Dads Want It All: New and expectant dads are worried about how to be successful at work and successful at home. New dads share their fears and valid concerns about long hours, business travel, lack of paternity leave and/or flexible benefits, and a rigid corporate culture. Not surprisingly, studies from Boston College, the Families and Work Institute, and even Dove Men+Care show that most dads want to be successful both in their careers and as fathers. We encourage dads to figure out what benefits they have and use them, to be transparent with supervisors so they know that being a parent is important, and to carve out special time each week to tune in and do something you enjoy with your children.

4) Dads Want To Be On The Team: Parenting is challenging work whether it’s mom or dad in charge. We believe in the idea that dads can be just as nurturing, capable, and confident as moms. Our children need to be fed, cared for, brought to school, assisted with homework, and shuttled to practice. Domestic chores like laundry, cleaning the home, and paying bills need to be tackled, and we’ve drawn the conclusion that it’s so much easier as a high performance tag team of two. Dads need ample opportunities early and often to learn. Too frequently, moms feel as if they’re the only one that can properly care for their child and dads are pushed aside. Please let us fail miserably, pull ourselves up, and learn from our mistakes so we can be capable partners.

5) Dads Are All Different: Research shows that fathers are more physical with their children, that we might push them to take more risks, that we might do less housework, that we are the “fun” parent, and that we are more strict disciplinarians. Frankly, we see plenty of dads on all sides of the spectrum—from the dad who totes around a paring knife and cutting board so fruits and vegetables are prepared at the ready to the dad who doesn’t cook at all and is fine with store-bought snacks. We see the handy dad who turns a milk carton and popsicle sticks into a birdhouse, and dads who pay their building’s super to construct the new toy kitchen. We see the dads who hover over their child as they move from one rung to the next on the monkey bars and dads who encourage their child to scale a 10-ft-high park fence. In our experience, dads don’t really care about these misconceptions on whether we do it the same or differently. Bottom line? Children benefit from being exposed to a range of parenting styles, so feel free to find your rhythm, go with your gut, and embrace your differences.