Tell us about the support group you founded
It’s called Dope Black Dads, and it’s an online male parenting community that supports fathers around issues such as masculinity, race and mental health. I started it as a result of my personal challenges after becoming a father and wanting to discuss these nuances of identity with people who made me feel safe and would help.
I remember, on Father’s Day in 2018, sitting in my bedroom after opening presents and having breakfast and not feeling truly present in the joy of having a fantastic family and wife. We have since discovered that 66 per cent of fathers in our community didn’t feel a depth of connection until their child was a toddler. If that sense of belonging to the family you have created is absent or reduced, you can start to pull away and act against the interests of your family. We went on to launch an award-winning podcast, in which we discuss the themes that come up in our Facebook group, and we’ve expanded into the United States and South Africa, as well as starting to establish spaces for other communities, from Dope Black Mums to LGBT+ people.
How has travel changed for you since becoming a parent?
My wife Nina and I were real wanderlusters before we had children and we would often travel more than 10 times a year. Our preferred destinations have always been Jamaica (including Grantham, where Nina’s family comes from), the United States (Miami, New York and Los Angeles) and South Africa (Johannesburg). When our son (Blake, five) arrived, we continued to travel but focused more on Europe for the convenience of it. Then, when our daughter (Ocean, two) was born, we went from being cool travellers with a child to a full-on family, and travelling became more laborious. We made more of an effort to see the UK, but we also took the children to Jamaica for two weeks, though it was expensive.
How did you find going on holiday without your wife?
Before Ocean was born, I took Blake to Paris – which was great, because we just went on the Eurostar, used the Metro and taxis, and that was easy to navigate with a baby sling. The hardest part was the lack of male facilities available. Men’s public lavatories are notoriously hellish and I don’t enjoy them myself, let alone with my son. I also found that people would either look at me with sad eyes, as though I was bereaved, or they would congratulate me for the apparent feat of being a father out and about with my child! I have also taken Blake to Naples, Rome, the Amalfi Coast, Barcelona, Marbella and Torremolinos.
Nina is much more comfortable taking the children away on her own, especially abroad, whereas I have always had an element of anxiety about solo parenting on flights – so I prefer to avoid this if I can. There have also been challenges around how to manage my time with the kids; my wife will do four or five leisure activities in a day (baking, slime making, art, spelling, baths, and so on), while my method is to allow lots of free time, then go for one big-hitter such as a theme park to tire them out.
I feel less comfortable handling two children without the safety nets I have at home. I remember being in a supermarket in Spain once and losing sight of Ocean for about 15 seconds. I was so scared. I always try to create an element of independence, but that can have quite significant consequences when you are not in familiar surroundings.
Fathers can be less confident parents than mothers. Why is that – and what can they do about it?
It all comes down to having a history of being a plus-one in parenting terms. Parenting is generally presented and received in society as being very female-normative, and we are only just beginning to celebrate the role of fathers in a meaningful kind of way. Dads often don’t get the chance to connect with their children in the same way as mums do, which can lead to them deferring to the mother’s experience. This is an unworkable situation in the long term, and both parents need to work hard to actively counter it, both at home and on holiday.
What are the rewards for fathers who travel just with their children?
When you are usually one of two parents, I think it is vital to have individual experiences with your children – not just one-on-one, but also, in my case, with both children. That way, they can really get to know you properly. A holiday is a great opportunity to do this, enjoying experiences away from the gaze of not just their other parent but also your wider family and community. There is a freedom in being fully in charge, once you have overcome your initial fear, discomfort and anxiety. You can develop a lasting relationship with your children by creating memories and authentic joy, not just for them but for yourself. I remember a day on the Amalfi Coast, playing a game of “scream as loud as you can” on the beach and it yielding such incredible laughter. Another great memory is of buying my son a Napoli football kit in Naples and people treating him like a little footballer – rubbing his head and cheering him on. His little face was overjoyed.
Which destinations or types of holiday are good for dads doing this for the first time?
I’ve found that big cities are not ideal because they force you into a rat race. All-inclusive holidays are a good place to start if you have children under the age of eight – bearing in mind that their main measurements of enjoyment are time spent with you and how much fun they are having. Pools and water parks are great for activities; in terms of destinations, try Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, Spain or North Africa. There you will get the memories, the joy, enough things to do – and there is plenty of culture to enjoy in all of these places, too.
When Blake and Ocean are aged eight to 15 is the time I am looking forward to most. That’s when they can play more of a part in deciding where to go and what to experience, so places like East Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean can be enjoyed in more detail and with more awareness to balance out the cost of getting there. I very much want my children to understand the truth about black and brown people, too, and to see how much of civilisation was developed by their nations and from their perspectives. For me, that’s very important.
The Dope Black Dads podcast is available on all podcast platforms; for more information and to join, see dopeblackdads.com.