Redefining 'provider': 4 fathers reflect on parenting in a different age
Dads decide what aspects of parenting to adopt from their own fathers, and which to veer from
Rows of lawn chairs are set up alongside a soccer field in Regina. Children in oversized, brightly coloured T-shirts run up and down the fields.
On the sidelines are their parents: cheering, chatting, handing out high-fives and water bottles.
These parents grew up in different parts of the world: India, Nicaragua, Regina and rural Saskatchewan. They were born during the late 70's and 80's. It was a different time, and expectations of what it meant to be a man and a father have shifted dramatically over the decades.
Despite having different life experiences, these fathers are united in the act of forging their own paths as fathers — paths informed by both wanting to be like their fathers and also choosing to be intentionally different.
Four fathers slipped away from the soccer game to speak to me: to share their memories of their own fathers, to talk about what they are proud of as parents, and to confess some of the most challenging aspects of raising kids in today's world.
Kevin Perrey remembers his father running to the store late at night to make sure there was milk in the fridge for breakfast.
"I think it was something in his own childhood that he thought, 'I'm never going to let my kids live without that.'"
Perrey said his father was the kind of man that always made sure everyone else was fed before himself. Providing for his family was paramount.
"He worked a job he wasn't passionate about, but it was a good paying job and it paid the bills."
We always make sure that we tell them we're proud of them and that we're happy that they're in our lives and that no matter what they do, we're always there for them.- Kevin Perrey
Perrey carried that desire to be a good provider into his own experience as a parent, and that include's prioritizing his children's emotional needs.
"Me and my husband, having our kids grow up in a house that is affirming and inclusive no matter who they are or what they want to do is incredibly important," said Perrey.
"We always make sure that we tell them we're proud of them and that we're happy that they're in our lives and that no matter what they do, we're always there for them."
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Perrey is also aware he is raising children in a much different world than the one he grew up in. In some ways, he's seen the world become a safer space. His children's school has a Gay Straight Alliance and even held its own Pride march this year, yet "when you turn on the TV, the world seems to be going backwards a bit. It's a struggle for us, keeping them safe and making sure they know about some of those scary things out there."
That desire to create a safe and stable home is important to Chester Montano Espinoza.
He was born and raised in Nicaragua, and at the age of eight his father left their family in search of a better life in the United States. Montano Espinoza doesn't have strong memories of his father and he wants to make sure that's not the case with his children.
Using his wife, Angela, as a translator, Montano Espinoza explained how he loves raising children in Canada because gender roles aren't as strictly defined as they are in Nicaragua. He is a master of the swaddle and gently rocks his baby while he describes how grateful he is to have been able to attend the births of his four children, and how he appreciates being able to be home with them while his wife works.
He himself works weekend nights so that he can be home during the day. His wife said he's very hands-on in parenting, always coming up with new activities, taking the kids camping and teaching them how to ride bikes.
Prashant Bhutada also noticed a difference in family dynamics once he moved to Canada. Like Montano Espinoza, not only is he raising kids in a different time than his father, he's also raising them in a different culture.
He grew up in Maharashtra, a state in India most famous for religious pilgrimages. His father was a shopkeeper. "Strict" is the first word that comes to Bhutada's mind when he recalls his childhood. His father gave him responsibilities at a young age, like depositing money at the bank and sweeping the floor at the shop.
When Bhutada and his wife moved to Regina four years ago with their three-year-old son, their lives changed dramatically. They no longer had family support or maids to help with the housework. They had to figure out a way to share the work of cooking, cleaning and childcare.
Bhutada is most proud of his ability to keep a cool head. It's a quality he hopes to pass down to his children.
"There is patience to deal with each and every situation properly, taking things slowly and not rushing into thoughts of judgments without understanding the whole aspect."
He described his parenting as being on the opposite spectrum of his father's: "I give him (Ayaan) the chance to make his own decisions and do errors and I don't correct him right away."
Bhutada not so secretly hopes his now-seven-year-old son follows in his footsteps and has a passion for math, coding and technology. But his son's childhood in Canada is vastly different than his own in India, and the thing he appreciates the most is the freedom for his son to choose his own path.
"The culture is more free. It allows that individuality to be developed, which I like."
For Jay Kimball, spending quality time with his kids and supporting their interests is paramount.
His memories of his father were brief interactions before school or late at night after his dad finished his day job and farming.
While he appreciated how hard his father worked to provide for their family, Kimball wanted to structure life with his kids differently.
[Being intentionally present] is like a healthy meal, it sustains them longer during the day.- Jay Kimball
He chose to be self-employed so that he can be more available to his children, ages 10 and eight, before and after school. He coaches them in sports and participates on the parent council at their school.
Kimball said being a good provider starts with personal well-being, because if you don't have a good base you can't give. For him being able to be completely and intentionally present when his kids need him is the best kind of providing.
"It's like a healthy meal, it sustains them longer during the day."
He also highly values communication.
"We talk about the hard stuff all the time. So it's just normal, whereas even just talking about hard stuff with my dad right now is still hard as an adult."
That open and frequent communication has been incredibly important as the family has gone through a family separation and restructuring over the last five years.
"It was a long road of trying to untangle in some ways the life we'd built together and it was for a choice to have a better future for our kids ultimately and for ourselves," he said.
Kimball now co-parents, alternating weeks with the kids. He'll often sneak in additional visits, coming to watch a soccer game or attend a school function, even for a few minutes on his week off.
Despite not getting to be around his children as much as he'd like, he's proud of how his family has adapted to the change.
"I was worried about them and now they're still happy, healthy kids and they've maybe had to learn some things earlier in life than other kids."
Kimball said modelling good behaviour, kindness and respect is also important for him as a parent. It starts with how he treats his partner.
"How do I conduct myself. How do my friends conduct themselves? Are we good mentors and are we doing the best for them? There is this constant monitoring and vetting of our behaviour."
Being a good provider for these men means offering an emotionally and spiritually safe place for their children to grow. It means providing opportunities to learn and fail, knowing they'll have a soft landing.
As the final whistle blows and the kids walk over to their families for a hug or permission to go play with their friends in the park, I can't help but wonder how these children will describe their fathers when they grow up.
Note from the author: Beautiful Mess is a series that aims to glean wisdom from parents. If you have an idea for a future Beautiful Mess parenting story please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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