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Daddy, read to me!

25 September 2019

A goodnight fairy tale for a child is a mom’s job. Or a dad’s? What if a dad is a writer himself? Ahead of the 26th Book Forum in Lviv we ask famous Ukrainian writers about their view on responsible fatherhood and how they combine it with creative work.

 

Volodymyr Ermolenko,

Philosopher, essayist, literary translator

 

I have three daughters. It is hard to imagine only one person taking care of them. If you have one baby, your wife might say: “I would like to go on maternity leave for a year and dedicate myself to the child”. But the more kids you have, the more obvious it becomes that the couple has to share family duties. I am assured that first of all men should become feminists. A man has to be proud when his wife grows as well. When she is successful both in the family and public life. In my opinion, those men who want their wives to only stay at home and bring up kids, do not respect themselves. But I do understand that every family has its own model. In our family it is a model of parenting parity.

 

Children will always be more attached to their mother. It is simply biologically so, and you can’t do anything about it. But a father should understand that parenting is his responsibility as well. I support the idea of sharing parenting equally or at least 60/40. And it is absolutely doable. Especially, when your kids do not require breastfeeding anymore.

 

My wife and I do not have strict division of family duties. But there are certain things that we took responsibility for. For instance, my wife takes care of our daughters’ clothes, while I take care of parents’ chats on social media. Our older daughter attends many classes besides school. Thus, these chats contain a constant information flow which one has to take care of.

 

I think that dads should not avoid those tasks in parenting that, for some reason, are considered to be exclusively female jobs. For instance, to wake up in the middle of the night, to change diapers or to bathe your baby. Our daughters sometimes wake up at 5-6 am, and in most cases it is me who wakes up to take care of them. Let my wife sleep a bit longer. Also, a father has to be knowledgeable about his kids’ food: who eats what and when. In fact, fatherhood is all about routine. One should just not get scared of it.

 

When I go outdoors with my children, I can see that at playgrounds there are only a few dads. It is a pity, because being with children is so much fun! For a kid father should not be associated just with one cinema visit per week, when they actually spend time together. No, responsible fatherhood is about switching in. The more a kid sees particular people, the more she gets used to them. So it is better for a father himself, when his child does not look at him with fear and reaches her arms out for mom, but can calmly stay with dad. I am particularly happy when it is just me and daughters at home. If there are two adults in the house, then children turn it into a game of “I want mommy!” or “I want daddy!”. But when it is just me, and I am the chief authority for them, everything is absolute peaceful.

 

Being a father, I learned how to work in very short time cycles. I do not need to go to the desert and meditate to start a new book. Not at all. I can write even when riding in subway. Let it be some twenty minutes. It is enough to open my laptop and note something down. Of course, such creation is a challenge in itself, because you do not have the same level of absorption.

 

Currently I write a new book. It is a collection of intellectual essays, something in my element. So I feel very comfortable to work using free minutes here and there. On the other hand, new themes and genres have to be postponed until daughters grow up a bit. I planned a novel that would require way more absorption and consciousness reformatting. Yet I don’t have time for it right now. But everything seems to pass quickly. When kids are 4-5 years old, they do not need that much of your attention, so you can get back to all the creative work you haven’t done.

 

 

For some reason everybody has an illusion that once you become a parent life changes radically. Nothing changes radically. If you are creative, you will stay creative when having kids as well. You will just learn to prioritize and spend your time in a different way. Yes, now we have to sacrifice a few things. But time flies and everything changes fast. If you have drive, then children won’t change it. Moreover, fatherhood opens up many new life stories. For some becoming a parent was a source of motivation to open a school or start a new business linked to childcare. For some it was a chance to rethink certain things. It is good to look at parenting as an opportunity. Children will never take away what you already have. They can only add to it.

 

Vadym Karpyak

Jornalist, TV host

 

For my second wife our kids were the first ever. I had experience from the first marriage. That’s why at the beginning I was leading the process, as I understood what to do with babies. I am used to take some functions to make it easier for my wife. It is no problem for me to to feed them, to bathe, to dress them up and drive wherever needed. Father is a half of parenthood.

 

I recall, once, when our daughter was breastfed, my wife suddenly got sick and was taken to a hospital. So in the morning mom and breast milk were there for our baby, and in the evening there were none. I rushed to buy some baby food for artificial feeding. My wife stayed at the hospital for ten days, and I took full care of our daughter by myself. I fed her, got her to sleep, took her out for a walk. I did everything.

 

If there is a family, a dad and a mom, then it is absolutely normal for both in the couple to do their half of family work. We do not have a strict labour division in our family, which would mean that certain things are done only by mom or by dad. But there are some nuances. For example, I like to read a lot. That’s why it is often me wo takes kids on tours to bookshops to search for some interesting books. On the other hand, my wife adores opera and ballet, so takes kids with her there more. Our children learn how to play chess with me, whereas they love to bake something with mom. Each of parents in our couple initiates something. Thus, we have equal parentage. Let me give you another example. Our kids were obsessed with an idea of sleeping in a tent. This summer I took them on a hike to the Carpathian mountains. I am from Kolomyia myself, which is very close to the mountains, so I have been on hikes from early childhood and know very well how to get around.

 

It is very important for a child to have both a mom and a dad. In my view, a family is a system. When one element falls out, it becomes deficient. A woman provides a child with her unique life perspective, whereas a man gives his. It is the best, when a kid can look at things from both perspectives and, as a result, to form her own vision. When there is only one available, she simply takes it over, not forms her own. A child does need a few views to see life in all its diversity.

It is often said that one has to set priorities and give the first one either to a family or a job. I do not agree. In my view, it is not that simple. Priorities depend on specific moments and life circumstances. I know my schedule very well and always plan it in such a way that there is room for my family. But I am also far from agreeing with the idea that one should constantly oversee kids. They do not need excessive care. What they do need is an opportunity to be with themselves and their peers.

We do not have a TV set at home. Children can watch cartoons only on weekends. A gadget can be used only by our daughter, twice per day for half an hour. The rest of their free time our kids have to occupy themselves with something else. I think, boredom is not bad for them. Do not force your children to do something. They can find what to do by themselves. Our kids build huts, go out, create home theater, play with constructors. Very often it does not require parents’ interference. They will come, ask for some advice, boast about what they have just done or drew, and then run away to continue. Excessive care is not about responsible fatherhood. You should give your kids free time and space. Let them even have their secrets. They should be aware of themselves as individuals, not only parts of their parents.

In order to be a responsible father, it is sufficient to love your children. Not in that sense though that you pamper or spoil them. Responsibility is an aware love. It means that you know how to pamper your children, but also realize where the red lines are, crossing of which is not allowed. You do understand what is good and what is bad for them. Kids do not have such understating yet. It is your task to teach them and give them this awareness. I think that it is easier to be a responsible father if you wanted to become a parent a the first place and if you are aware of what fatherhood contains. It means that both in the couple say: “We lived an interesting life, we enjoy it so much that we would like to give it to another human being.” When you think about parenthood this way, then your children grow up in such atmosphere as well.

Dmytro Lazutkin
Poet, journalist, TV host

I am assured that you have to take fatherhood with creativity. It is far from enough to just take your baby or ask her to come. A child has to be interested in spending time with you. To make it happen, you should always encourage her, generate ideas and make her follow. My daughter loves to listen how I read or tell her stories. Actually, I started to do it when she was in the womb. We walked a lot, I massaged her, talked to her. Back then our daughter attended quite a few concerts of modern Ukrainian singers and literary evenings.

Both me and my wife had finished our books before our child was born. They were published after her birth though. Therefore, our daughter travelled with us throughout the whole country – from Chernivtsi to Kharkiv during her first year. All thanks to our book presentations. Recently we came back from Hainan, which is an island in China. It was an eleven-hour-flight, and she managed such a long trip pretty well. All because she is used to travelling, and she likes it.

It was very important for me to switch into her upbringing from the very beginning, so that she knew that I am nearby and she can feel safe with me. She should know that she always has somebody who can provide advice, support and protection. After all, I think that there are things that could be transferred to a child only by father. For example, I will, undoubtedly, teach her self defense, because I have been engaged in martial arts for more than a decade. My daughter saw how I work on my boxing punches. Now she comes and asks to teach her: “Daddy, let’s go and play boxing.” She is only 1.8 years old, but you can understand her language very well. Or she could say: “Let’s do some sports together.” Sometimes it is more interesting for her than playing in the sandbox, which makes me very happy.

I have noticed, that when our daughter is with me, she is not that naughty as with mom. She accepts my rules of the game. On the other hand, it is not a big secret that perhaps nobody would pamper his child the way a father does it. A father’s heart is actually pretty soft.

Responsible fatherhood for me is not only about taking care and providing for a child. It is about understanding what she will need in the future, and giving her opportunities for development. Let her become herself by herself, without any coercion. Let her life be her own choice.

I’ve been writing less after our little one had been born. I need space and solitude for creative work. But, in the meanwhile, I want to be with my child. To see how she grows and convey my love to her. It seems to me that this presence is more important than a written poem or text. It does not mean that I sacrifice or neglect creative work. My child is also my creation. Perhaps the most important one. 

 

Yuriy Prohasko

Essayist, literary translator, psychoanalyst

 

I have two sons –17 and 12 years old. Father’s participation in upbringing varies depending on children’s age. But I have been with both of them from birth. To be more precise, before birth, even before pregnancy. It is very important for me to feel involved and united. When kids were born, we had no relatives nearby to give us a hand with them. Therefore, we are used to rely only on each other. I worked from home mostly, when my sons were very small. There was nothing that I couldn’t do. I took care of clothes, read to them and put them to sleep. These days I love to cook and go for a walk with my sons.

 

I do not want to deceive you, saying that it is easy to combine fatherhood with creative work. At every little opportunity I strive to note something down or translate. But a desire to create and a desire to be with kids are equally strong and, thus, conflicting. It depends on me to what extent I will dedicate myself to one or another. Very often life and circumstances impose this extent. There is one more thing, which I call ‘a dictate of life’. Before our first son was born, I had been a night man. I knew how to and wanted to stay awake and work at night. But with my wife’s pregnancy an interesting change happened. Perhaps on hormonal level. Suddenly from a night man I turned into an early one. I began to wake up early and go to bed early. It is still so, even though our kids have grown up.

 

We might have an ideal of responsible fatherhood, but very often this ideal is faulty. It is mistaken for excessive care or inability to give up on control. There is also an issue of children’s autonomy. They should feel that they have a right for their own version of living a life. How could they create this own version if not denying what is being offered by their parents? How could they become free without causing a conflict?

 

Notion of responsible fatherhood is complicated and contradictory. As an adult, you should be able to see and estimate what might be dangerous for your child’s life or soul. But in any case you will never be able to become perfect. Furthermore, this desire to be perfect is the biggest mistake. So I would say that responsible fatherhood is an effort not to create too much mess in your child’s life.

 

Everything linked to fatherhood brings me a lot of joy and is a great need. I have no idea how my fatherhood will impact lives of my sons. I might only suppose or feel intuitively. What I know for sure though is how much I want to be a father, what a great necessity it is for me. This is something I can talk with certainty about.  

 

Yuriy Zavadsky
Poet, publisher, literary translator

 

When our older daughter was born, there was swine flu pandemic. Nobody was allowed to enter the maternity hospital. So I could not become a birth partner. Yet, straight after the first daughter’s birth I was fully present with her. Back then I worked at a university. I would bring some sweets to my department in the morning, so that everybody knew that I am somewhere around, and go back home to be with my baby.

 

After our second daughter had been born, my wife often had to go on business trips. She would be absent for a few days. So, we had to switch to mixed feeding. At that point I felt very sorry that my mammary glands were useless. Feeding a baby is an incomparable pleasure. I recall what my father used to say: “Why are you worried? Those little ones do not need anything. Just give them a chance!” He was right indeed. It is a very natural process.

 

We do not divide duties in our family. Everything depends on a particular situation. For example, I cook more, because I love it. My wife could clean the house in the meanwhile. Putting our kids to sleep or entertaining them is very often my business. I am a bit softer than our mom. Sometimes she even complains that I overindulge kids, and afterwards she has to deal with it.

 

Both me and my brother were brought up by grandma. Parents were always at work. But even though our father was rarely at home, he played a special role in my life. His words, guidelines formed a sense of confidence and freedom in my mind. Regardless of conditions, parents remain carriers of the image of stability. Yet, I came to a conclusion that there is nothing steady. A society, a state, a human being are all processes. Family itself is such an unsteady unit that perhaps we should not even talk about it in the frame of stability. It is a moment. A moment of understanding. After all, understanding is also a process. But children look at their parents as some image of stability and reliance, opportunity for advice or conceal.

 

My wife grew up without her mother from fifth grade. The latter went to work abroad 17 years ago and is still there. Currently my wife and her mother have a tremendous misunderstanding. Perhaps this relationship is saved from serious conflicts only thanks to the fact that they do not communicate much. It is a common practice in the west of Ukraine for parents to go to work abroad to provide for their families. But regardless of money that could be earned there, here they are missing, maybe, the most important. It is insight into the everyday life of their children. Then suddenly they realize with shock that neither their children need them, nor they need anybody. They have weaned away from being in a family. Therefore, responsible fatherhood for me means being present in your kids’ lives.

 

Having a family is a job in itself. After a weekend it might be difficult to pull yourself together and start a new working week. The same with family. It is also difficult to get back to your family life after being absent for some time. Or, let’s say, I went for a literary festival for a couple of days and got a bit distracted there. When coming back home, I can already feel that I have lost my skills of being in a family. How about those that do not see their families for months, if not years?

 

Each of us, who was actively experiencing events of the Revolution of Dignity, realized and felt a profound personal responsibility for its development. That every single day something depends on you, not on somebody else. You cannot escape this responsibility. You have to take it. It is the same with a family. It is your personal responsibility. When a stranger is in need of something and you can give it, then you give. If it is your children who require your care and help, then how could you not give it to them?

 

With fatherhood I have less time for creative work. But I am not concerned about it. Vice versa: I am afraid to imagine how my life would look like if I dedicated all of it to literary work only. Destructive power of poetry is very strong. It does not allow you to live in a family and work; it affects your health. I have always tried to assure that it does not ruin me.

 

I do not write anything but poetry. And, in fact, it takes you whenever it wants. But, still, it does require some concentration and work. Once upon a time I could devote a week or two for compiling a book. I would close myself in a room, full of written off sheets, and forbid everybody to come in and touch anything. But it is in the past. Now I am used to work in the kitchen in the early morning, from 4 to 7 am. But this is for poetry translations. They require a lot of intellectual effort. My own poems are not written like that. They are written, for example, in a 2nd class train from Lviv to Ternopil. It is a kind of a 2-hour residence. Nobody distracts me, and I can dive into some meditation and write something. Therefore, I usually use trips for writing poetry. In general, creative work is always less important for me than my family. I do not give a lot of freedom to my creativity to make sure that it does not puzzle me. I know that it can do it very easily.