Culture

What today's Dads across Canada worry about for their kids

"Will he have a stable planet to live on?... Will he be confident enough to let me know when he’s sad?"

"Will he have a stable planet to live on?... Will he be confident enough to let me know when he’s sad?"

(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

Driving my son home from the hospital was the most nerve-wracking experience of my life. Three long months passed before he developed neck muscles and before I'd feel safe holding him without risking breakage. Anxious years followed — worrying about too much sugar here or screen time there. When he started school, I was even worried that pizza day was unhealthy. Now it's that blessed morning I sleep in 10 extra minutes.

But rather than dissipate, my dad anxiety has evolved into existential dread about climate change and the boy's future of rising seas, deadly heat waves and deadlier storms. A climate scientist recently told me that the Endor-like trees I grew up with out west will become grasslands within his lifetime from "extreme fire weather." My kid is aging on the edge of an apocalypse.

So yeah, I still have worries. But I'm not the only one. So I reached out to other Canadian dads to find out what keeps them up at night.

Jesse Lipscombe, Edmonton, Alta.

I've always wanted to be a dad since I was a teenager; the fact that I now have three boys aged 11, nice and two and a half isn't a surprise. However, my worries for them have shifted. In the beginning, I worried about when they would roll over, walk and do their first backflip. (You know, the regular stuff). Worrying about bumps and bruises, screen time and curse words around my kids were not high on my list.

What I wasn't prepared for was the worry about my sons' mental wellbeing, how well their tool kit is equipped to deal with emotional trauma in the hours I'm not around them. Have I modelled behaviour that will put them in the best place to operate as a loving, respectful young adult? Do I have the tools to deal with things I didn't foresee coming? As they get older, my worries become more about my own abilities to create [their] healthy transition into mature life full of opportunities, rather than if they will be the smartest, fastest and quickest to do backflips.

Dimitri Nasrallah, Montreal, Que.

When my son was first born, I was most worried about keeping him alive. I would listen to his breathing at night or worry about a sudden fever if I went out at night for a couple of hours. Nine years later, he's the healthiest kid I know. Now that he's beginning to cultivate adolescent interests, I find myself pining for those moments of unmitigated attachment that … now seem like they could one day disappear as he discovers his own life and begins to want privacy.

I applaud his growing sense of self, but I'm also already missing being the centre of his world, even though that's still pretty much the case most of the time. But I can see the end of that era on the horizon. It's sad that it was there in abundance for so long, and soon it will transform into something less predictable. I guess it's a quiet form of neediness.

Johnny Issaluk, Iqaluit, Nunavut

My worries? I'm not a worrier but I always hope for them. I hope they work hard for the dreams they have. I hope they are always happy for the lives they live. I hope they respect themselves as they grow and understand to respect all else around them — people, animals, land and sea. I hope their hearts are filled with joy with each wake and each night of their lives.

Kenji Toyoöka, Ottawa, Ont.

When my twin boys were first born I was preoccupied with physical and tangible concerns like feeding them, making sure they were safe, and supporting their sleep habits as much as possible, as well as my own rest and nourishment.

As we've developed our routines around parenting, most of my real concerns have shifted toward the mental and intangible: negotiating their respective individualities, helping them cope with insecurity and nurturing their curiosity. But also my own emotional sanity. Like how my body adjusted to a new reality of constant fatigue, my mind has accepted a degree of crazy in my emotions as a recurring feature. How far can I take reverse-reverse-reverse psychology with my kids before I lose all sense of morals? Just how many arbitrary rules for invented games by my kids can I memorize before they bleed into my worklife? Is eating so much food off the floor shameful or efficient? It's pretty easy to build clear physical boundaries around your parenting, but the mental stuff is much harder.

Brett Chapman, Campbell River, B.C.

I worry a lot about my faults and shortcomings showing up in my six-year-old son's personality. I've spent a lot of my life suppressing emotion and not dealing with problems in a healthy manner. I've also struggled with undiagnosed depression — in silence, of course. I would say I'm extremely self-critical and have trouble loving or even liking my "self." I worry that he shows some of these traits or the potential to travel the same paths I have.

John Faithful Hamer, Montreal, Que.

When I was about 11, an older kid who I really respected told me that if he ever had a son, and his son went into ballet, he'd kick the shit out of him. If his son "went" gay, he'd kill him. He wasn't joking, either. He was dead serious. On this issue, and many others, we've progressed a great deal in a relatively short amount of time. In the early 2000s, when I became a father, it seemed like liberal progress on this kind, or other seemingly intractable issues, would continue more or less forever. It was a hopeful time to have kids.

I no longer feel hopeful when I contemplate my children's future. All of the gains made in my lifetime seem up for grabs. Climate change, automation, the decline of democracy, and the rise of authoritarianism make me worry about their future.

Ingus Wan, Toronto, Ont.

I am finding that cultural identity has become a big thought process for me as dad recently. Both my wife and I grew up speaking Cantonese to our parents, and kind of take for granted this fact that we ourselves are able to speak it. Our expectation for our daughter has always been for her to speak English to us and nothing more. But perhaps we should have her learn our native tongue, too.

Back when she was a baby, I would be ecstatic for her to say anything resembling Mama or Baba. Now at three-and-a-half-years-old, I've suddenly developed the idea that she needs to learn more. I've become my parents.

Harley Chappell, Semiahmoo First Nation, B.C.

Definitely [I'm worried about] the planet we're leaving, especially for us with coastal climate issues. Obviously, the big earthquake that is projected to happen in the future. Pretty much stuff out of my control.

Stuart Berman, Hamilton, Ont.

The moment I became a dad, I suddenly became more acutely aware of my own mortality in ways I had never felt before. The number one job of being a parent is to simply stay alive, and I pretty much avoid [any] activity that would needlessly put in me in any sort of peril. Not that I was doing any skydiving, white-water rafting, or bungee-jumping before this, but I sure as hell am never going to do them now. Even cycling — something I used to do every day for commuting — is something I do on a more limited basis these days because I see way too many drivers on their phones and don't want to be in their path when they take their eyes off the road to search for an emoji.

And aside from the occasional beer, I've pretty much sworn off any recreational substances for the sake of my long-term health. (Also, having to parent with a hangover suuuuuccks.) Being a parent means that your life is no longer entirely your own, so you can't be careless or selfish about what you do to yourself and your body.

Randy Gue, Vancouver, B.C.

My initial worries were around [my son's] seeming lack of motivation to do anything except watch TV and play video games. He struggled through school years and I spent a lot of effort to get him interested in outside activities and working on things like woodworking and mechanical things. Nothing seemed to work and I worried what kind of future he would have. Today he is almost the opposite. He loves the outdoors and bought a truck and a quad, he heads into the mountains every chance he gets and has done hikes around here that I have never done in the 28 years I have lived in BC. In my heart, I felt he would work things out but worried nonetheless as he was growing up.

Today, I have the usual concerns about our planet, the rise in populism and what feels like a general decay in societal morals. One thing I do not worry about is my son's future. He is happy and that is the most important thing to me.  

Jon Dekel, Toronto, Ont.

My son is less than a year old, and I had the benefit of being one of the last friends in my social group to have children. This meant that I spent much of my new-dad-worrying-allotment before he was born: speaking through many of my fears and getting tips from my close friends. As such, by the time the little guy came out I was pretty confident in his resilience.

Now, most of my big worries are existential: Will he have a stable planet to live on? Did I do enough to ensure that he does? On a smaller yet equal level, I'm worried about the person he'll become. Will he be kind, generous and empathetic? Will he be happy and healthy? Will he be confident enough to let me know when he's sad? And, moreover, will I be the kind of role model he needs to be all those things and will I know the right thing to say when I need to say it?

It's easy to get caught in a vortex of worrying as a new parent. Sometimes, I worry that I worry too much.

Buzz Bishop, Calgary, Alta.

My oldest would mess around with Garageband all the time when he had screen time on his iPad. And when we had him in soccer, he spent more time dancing to the beat in his head than chasing the ball. So he moved out of soccer and into dance, but once it got too competitive, he moved to guitar. He loves music, he loves creating, and that's become his thing.

You can stress about trying to find "the thing" your kids will love — and, who knows, maybe my son would have been a great luger or lacrosse star, but they just didn't fit into the schedule. I didn't need to give my kids "all the things." I just had to find the time to watch them, listen to their interests, and find appropriate ways to nurture them.

Aron Harris, Toronto, Ont.

When I was a new dad, I wasn't panicky, but I was terrified of dropping or inadvertently hurting my kids. All my love wrapped in that chubby bundle of fragility was almost too much to handle. Now that my children have reached ages where things like school grades, social life and peer pressure have come into play, I worry about my children in this way. I see so much positivity and potential in them but also think of myself in their situation and how there were times I made lousy choices. Maybe my greatest worry is that they're like me in this way.


Joshua Ostroff is a Toronto-based journalist covering everything from politics and parenting to dance music and dark matter to clean meat and climate strikes. He's contributed to outlets like CBC, Vice, HuffPost, The Walrus, Macleans and TheGlobe and Mail, and is currently senior editorial specialist at WWF-Canada. Follow him at  @joshuaostroff.

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