Our 697th Dad in the Limelight is Ronnie Stephens of the Dad Arms Blog. I want to thank Ronnie Stephens for being a part of this series. It has been great getting connected with him and now sharing Ronnie Stephens with all of you.
1) Tell me about yourself, (as well as how you are in the limelight for my readers knowledge)
I teach English and English as a Second Language in Texas, and I’m a poet by trade. My first full-length collection was published by Timber Mouse in 2014, and my second collection is forthcoming this winter. I’m also writing a novel as part of my work in the Wilkes University MFA program.
My foray into blogging (www.dadarms.com) is recent, motivated by my experiences with my kids. I’m divorced, so I split custody of my identical twins 50/50 with my ex-wife, and I have a son with my partner.
2) Tell me about your family
My family is best described as a tribe. At the center are my kids, identical twin girls who will turn 3 in August and a 6-month-old son. My partner, Mallerie, also has a 6-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter. We lean heavily on our mothers, as well as Mallerie’s two sisters, in raising our kids. The result is something like communal childcare. We’re the primary caregivers, of course, but all our kids have access to several adults with diverse strengths and personalities.
3) What has been the largest challenge you have had in being a father?
The largest challenge has definitely been sharing custody with my ex-wife. We separated a few weeks after my daughters’ first birthday, and our divorce was finalized a month before their second birthday. Though the divorce was fairly amicable and we’ve learned to work together (to some extent), it’s painful to be away from my girls so often. Even sharing custody 50/50, I’m constantly aware that I’m missing out on literally half their lives. I actually just published a post on this going into more detail about this struggle.
4) What advice would you give to other fathers?
More than anything, I would advise other fathers to cherish the moment. Kids grow up incredibly fast, and nothing is more rewarding than memories full of laughter and love. I’d also advise them to wear their hearts on their sleeves. Say ‘I love you’ every single day, and tell your kids how you feel. Be mindful of your language. So much of what we say leans on stereotypes, especially with regard to gender, and it’s easy to alienate your kids unintentionally. I’m careful to raise my kids gender neutral, and to never use rhetoric that assumes anything about their identities. In this way, they’re learning to express themselves as they want to, rather than the way society expects them to.
5) How have you come to balance parenthood and outside life?
The hardest thing for me was learning to leave work at work. As a teacher, I’m naturally inclined to bring my grading and lesson planning home, but there’s no place for that on a daily basis. I’ve made a conscious decision to be fully present at home, both with my kids and with my partner. At the end of the day, work is meant to support family, so it should never detract from the family unit.
6) What have you learned from the fathers that you have interacted with?
Many of the fathers I’ve interacted with are online, and the thing I’ve most learned is to celebrate the oddities of parenting. What makes it so special is often the bizarre. Children can say and do the most unexpected things. Life is stranger than fiction and all that. From my own father, I’ve learned to be vulnerable and open with my emotions. He was never the sort to keep his love for family quiet, and I’m grateful for that. I don’t think there’s anything more important than your kids knowing how much your cherish them.
7) What else would you share regarding your experiences as a father thus far?
One thing I haven’t touched on is the natural politicization of fatherhood. So many parents try to censor or shelter their kids, but everything a child faces is mired by politics. From Disney movies to color-coding gender, society tries to shape our kids into something easy to categorize. We must resist that. With our daughters, we must be deliberate about messages of empowerment. With our sons, we must challenge traditional masculinity insofar as “manning up” and “being a man” correlate to dominance. I don’t want my son to dominate others. I want him to respect and empower them.
8) What have been the most memorable experiences that you have had thus far as a parent?
The most memorable experience with my daughters was a road trip to Disney World. They developed a phobia of water the morning we left, and here we were planning trips to the resort pool, the beach, maybe even Sea World. We couldn’t even get them in the bath! Over the next week, we gradually reacquainted them to water, first with sponge baths in the sink, then all taking a bath together (I wore a swim suit) and wading ankle-deep in the pool. By the time we got back home, they were splashing their way through bath time again. With my son, the experiences have been so different. He loves toys and coos constantly, and he’s such a social baby. My daughters weren’t like that at all. Of course, there’s a downside: he has a very weak stomach. Just yesterday, the little monster spit up right into my beard. I wanted so badly to be mad, but his toothless grin made it impossible.
If you have any questions for Ronnie Stephens, please leave a comment here and I will make sure that he gets them so that he may be able to respond!