Our 445th Dad in the Limelight is Christopher Persley. I want to thank Christopher for being a part of this series. It has been great getting connected with him and now sharing him with all of you.
1) Tell me about yourself, (as well as how you are in the limelight for my readers knowledge)
My name is Christopher Persley. I am a native New Yorker and after 15 years in Brooklyn recently moved back to Harlem. I have spent 18 years as an educator and school administrator, 8 of those years working as a Diversity Director. Last year, I earned a Masters in Private School Administration from Teachers College, Columbia University. Diversity and its awareness and appreciation are an incredibly important part of my life. (As are pop culture and sports.) In September of 2012, I became an at-home father and began to blog about the experience as The Brown Gothamite. (http://thebrowngothamite.
blogspot.com) My observations and reflections usually focus on parenting through a diversity lens. I am developing a workshop for parents based on these observations. In addition, I decided that if I was going to be home with my child that I would truly live life to its fullest and do things I would never have done before as a way of hopefully inspiring my daughter to do the same when she is older. During my time as an SAHD, we have met and taken a photo with Hov himself, Jay Z, attended events with the NYC Dads Group, appeared in a Father’s Day spread in Time Out New York and a CBS News report about at home fathers, and taken part of a dad and daughter photo shoot with a very respected photographer. I have also been in a segment on the Dr. Oz Show with a group of dads, topless, and danced on stage with Luscious Jackson, not topless.
2) Tell me about your family
I have a blended family, as I am black, my wife is white, and our daughter is multiracial. I have been married for five wonderful years to my wife, Jenelle. She is from a small town in Pennsylvania and made her way to the big city, thankfully. Jenelle was an accomplished athlete who played two sports at the collegiate level. She is a scientist by training and seriously intelligent. Nearly three years ago, we welcomed our daughter, Camilla to the world. She is an observant, funny, and sweet young child, who is more often than not smiling. She loves music and dancing, Doc McStuffins, and soccer. My wife and daughter are two of the warmest individuals I have the pleasure of knowing. They bring me joy, hugs, and happiness. And they generally support my silly personality.
3) What has been the largest challenge you have had in being a father?
Dealing with the stereotypes that still exist about fatherhood. Being an at home parent is certainly tough. It was almost surreal to have a child in the first place. Then, I decided to take on a job for which I had no true training. I am so often faced with looks of presumption and confusion. I can’t tell you how often I receive unsolicited and unnecessary advice from people who feel as though because they either had a child or children they are experts on my child. I have to remind people just how competent I am. And all children are different. In addition, not all mothers and caregivers are comfortable with an at home father. I have been excluded from the social circles at the playground and classes we have attended. It has certainly been refreshing that this is not the case at my daughter’s current school.
My years as a diversity director has given me tools to confront these situations in a thoughtful and respectful fashion, but speaking up can sometimes be tiresome. I really thought the “at home” part of the job would be most difficult, but having to deal with people who don’t respect fathers and especially ones who are at home has been much more challenging.
4) What advice would you give to other fathers?
I usually focus on these four things.
A) You can not be perfect, so don’t fear mistakes. And let your child make mistakes as well.
B) Be engaged and involved in all aspects of your role as a parent, since you will have to make tough decisions routinely.
C) You have to be a parent and not a friend.
D) It is essential to lean into areas of discomfort.
5) How have you come to balance parenthood and outside life?
Honestly, we have been helped by using a joint Google calendar to keep track of all events. We debrief additions to the calendar. We are aware of work events, which has helped our respect for each other’s careers. It has been an amazing tool for us and allowed us to have time as parents, as husband and wife, as professionals, and as individuals. We have also created designated times for certain things we each need to be productive partners, professionals, and parents. Discussing the attendance of work meetings/workshops/conferences and how they might affect the one who is home with our daughter is mandatory for us. Respecting the need for down time might be the most helpful tool. For my wife, she often uses yoga. I don’t bat an eye when she tells me she needs to go to yoga. I can also read her well enough to suggest she attend a session. It is not always ideal to be apart, but we realize we need this time to strengthen our bond. For me, heading to the movie theater helps. My wife has been amazing. She has made it a big deal to find ways for me to have some down time doing things that bring me joy and relaxation. Last year, I was lucky to have a half season ticket plan for the Nets’ inaugural season in Brooklyn. This year, I have been spending Wednesday nights at the movies. It’s been helpful to have some time to unwind. Lots of communication and organization is needed to make all of this happen, but it is worth the effort. We are certainly better for it.
6) What have you learned from the fathers that you have interacted with?
The importance of being prepared. Folks often marvel at how I have everything at the ready for my daughter, but other fathers suggested being over-prepared. It helps your child and also prevents those unsolicited advice givers from giving that unsolicited advice. Best advice I have received, because it brings me great piece of mind. Not sure anything else has affected me so profoundly.
7) What else would you share regarding your experiences as a father thus far?
I often think about the work of Carol Dweck, who is a brilliant professor and researcher. Her work has very much influenced the philosophies of many educators. I studied her work during my time in grad school. Here is how Dweck explains her growth mindset theory.
“In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.”
I want to model the growth mindset, but also help develop this in my child. Adopting this as our family philosophy has led to some amazing conversations, opportunities for development, and wonderful activities for our daughter. How we speak to each other and our daughter will hopefully have a lifelong positive effect on her self-esteem and work ethic.
8) What have been the most memorable experiences that you have had thus far as a parent?
Not surprisingly, my daughter’s birth is still the ultimate highlight. The feelings I had the moment I first saw her and held her will probably never be matched. My daughter’s first day of preschool has come close though. As a long time educator, it was absolutely amazing to be on the other side of the fence. We had the opportunity to observe her first few moments in a classroom with classmates and teachers, and she looked so excited and so at home. It was difficult to hold back tears, so I didn’t. And Jay Z and Julianne Moore both said my daughter was beautiful. That’s pretty cool, too.
If you have any questions for Christopher, please leave a comment here and I will make sure that he gets them so that he may be able to respond!
Also, do you know a Dad in the Limelight? If so, please email me their contact information so that they too can be a part of this series!
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