I'm thrilled to bring you my interview with Danny Evans (better known to the world by his super-hot blog, Dad Gone Mad), my good friend of 15 years. Since 2003, Dad Gone Mad has offered a colorful glimpse into bona fide, in-the-trenches fatherhood. With sharp wit and a healthy sense of self-deprecation, Danny plods through the havoc and collateral damage wrought by his two young children. Danny lives in Southern California and is currently writing his first book.
Danny has a lot to say to parents, and especially dads. Becoming a good dad, or at least a “good-enough” dad, isn’t easy. But despite facing the challenges and demons that many of us share, he’s got Hot Wife (one of my best friends) their terrific kids, and a career that is certain to skyrocket beyond even his current success. Danny and I recently spoke about becoming a father, learning lessons from our own parents, and depression.
BabyShrink: Let’s start at the very beginning. Why did you start writing Dad Gone Mad?
Danny Evans: Dad Gone Mad was the lovechild of misery and self-preservation. In 2004 I was working for one of those enormous, Fortune 100 HMOs that everyone thinks so poorly of because their focus in revenue, not health. I hated it. I was a nameless, spiritless corporate drone and I frankly needed to distract myself from those feelings. So I just started writing. About my life, my kids, my marriage, my bowel movements and on and on. Somehow that struck a nerve with people and the site has become what it is now because of their support.
BS: How did becoming a father change you?
DE: It changed everything. Beyond the obvious chaos inflicted on one’s life by a wailing eight-pound shit machine, it thrust me into a period of hardcore self-reflection about my life, my choices, my general readiness to be someone’s dad. I always wanted to be a father, but the moment I became one I wondered if I had what it took to develop this little mass of pink skin and cradle cap into a respectable, confident and driven human being. He forced me to think about the world and the future from the point of view of someone other than myself. That’s an enormous change.
BS: So, you didn’t just start out as a confident father? There were times when you doubted yourself and your ability to be a “good enough” dad?
DE: I don’t think it’s hard for guys to believe they’ll be great dads when the child is just a concept. A fetus. A lot of us are so hard-headed and macho that we think we can do anything if we just decide to do it. We’ll run through a brick wall if we have to. But we're not a particularly emotional bunch, so I tended to believe that being a good dad simply mean warming up a bottle and installing the car seat and, when the child was old enough, teaching it to burp the national anthem.
That all disintegrates when the concept becomes an actual human life. I was intellectually prepared, but the boatload of emotional and spiritual ramifications that accompany such a drastic change in one’s life can be a bit overwhelming. It brought to the surface issues about my relationship with my own dad, my own aspirations in life, my own priorities and learning to live with the all-consuming love I had for this child. Like I said, it changes everything.
BS: So how did you get past the point where all your self-confidence about being a dad started to disintegrate? How did you build a real, not just intellectual, sense of confidence about being a father?
DE: I think it’s more a function of time than effort. As our son grew older and became more interactive, the bond between us began to solidify. He became human, as opposed to just this crying, screaming, pooping blob of skin. But I want to be clear on the difference between connection and bonding. I was connected to him and completely in love with him before he was even born. But like I said, I didn’t know what to DO about him. The connection came when things like eye contact and smiles and whatnot began to develop. Perhaps it’s a bit selfish to say I needed something back from him before I could feel that bond, but no one ever told me fatherhood was easy.
BS: What do you think society expects in terms of being a “good dad”? How are you different than the way your father was when you were growing up?
DE: I don’t know — or care, frankly — what society expects. I know there are certain standards by which people are judged, and by which their children are judged as well, but the bottom line for me is doing what I feel is right for my kids. That’s not meant as a cop-out or a cliché or as a sign that I think I’m better than other dads — because I certainly do not. But they’re growing up in a much more threatening time than I did and it scares me on their behalf. So I expect that I will do not what is popular, not what the dads on Disney Channel do, but what is right for my kids in their worlds. That’s a big enough challenge, let alone trying to fit into some giant cultural cookie cutter.
I think the father question touches on the most important issue in my life. My dad grew up in an environment where he wasn’t valued or shown love, and that certainly colored the way he fathered my sister and me. My dad and I butted heads a lot, and I always had a feeling that I was being controlled. I can understand that; having no control in his youth, he wanted to have all of it in his adult life. I see the opposite developing in my conversations with my own kids, and the challenge is finding that delicate balance of structure and freedom to explore the world.
BS: How would you respond to those guys who DO feel society’s pressure - whatever that may be - to parent their kids in a certain way? Say, in relation to their boys, and boys’ emotions. Just the other day, we saw a guy yell at his six-year-old son for being a “cry baby” when he fell and hurt himself. This guy really isn’t a jerk; he just was embarrassed that his son was crying. What do you say to guys like that who have a knee-jerk reaction to their kids’ feelings?
DE: I think the scenario you described about your neighbor is actually reflective of the kind of machismo and robotic behavior dads have tried to instill in their sons for generations. Boys aren’t supposed to cry or feel or emote anything but toughness, and if they do they’re labeled a “pussy” or some other such thing. It’s my personal feeling — based on my own experience — that this type of social stereotyping is why male depression has become such an issue in our society. Men are not robots; we DO feel hurt and sadness and disappointment. But because it’s not considered kosher for us to articulate those feelings, we swallow them. And for some, there’s only so much of that you can eat before it overwhelms us and makes us (clinically) depressed.
I’ll be honest: I’m not perfect in this area either. My son tends to cry over a lot of things that aren’t worthy of tears, and it does frustrate me. But I try not to call him names or make blanket statements about his maturity level just because he is prone to tears. I prefer to help him understand why he reacts that way, and to give him alternative tools to deal with disappointment. It’s NEVER easy, but I think it’s worth the extra time.
BS: I think that’s a really interesting statement you make about men, society, and depression. One thought in psychology is that depression is anger and aggression, turned inward. So as a father, how do you help your son to be appropriately assertive, but not aggressive, without totally thwarting him? What advice can you give other dads who struggle with the same problem - raising confident, strong and happy boys?
DE: I think being a respected and assertive dad requires knowing as much about yourself and your own biases as you do about changing diapers and replacing a detached arm from a Barbie doll. I think a lot of us tend to parent from the perspective of someone who wants to do better with his kids than our parents did with us. There’s nothing wrong with that idea, but when parenting becomes a competition with our own inner demons, the child is the one who suffers most. I saw those sorts of behaviors in my own fathering early on — the competitiveness and ulterior motivation — and it finally occurred to me that I was robbing my kids of something crucial by behaving that way. Fatherhood is almost never easy, but why make it harder by virtually forcing the kid to be something he’s not.
BS: Yeah, it’s easy to just be reactive to what our parents did: my dad did it THIS way, so I will take a 180 and do it the opposite, just BECAUSE. What do you say to other dads who are struggling with depression? About even recognizing that you had a problem, that this was not “status quo”? About the stigma and shame of getting help, going to counseling, trying meds? How did you get past that barrier?
DE: We talked earlier about the societal norms regarding fatherhood (which I believe to be sort of silly), but it’s obvious that our world’s expectations of men in general make a diagnosis of depression a serious spirit-crusher for men. We learn as boys that men must be stoic, rugged and emotionless. We must ignore pain. On the schoolyard, the boys who performed poorly in sports were labeled a “pussy” or a “faggot”, words intended to convey femininity, which in this context connotes weakness. But we are not emotionless, robotic beings; we are entirely fallible and completely human. We feel sadness, sorrow, fear, angst - but we resist it. It’s shameful.
That's all BS. The National Institute of Mental Health says six million American men -- almost seven percent of the U.S. male population -- are stricken with a depressive illness each year. Sadly, it’s in our nature to hide from it through compulsiveness and self-destructive behavior (e.g., alcohol, workaholism, infidelity, etc.). In my personal experience, the only way to get oneself “better” is to accept that we need help and attack the depression with a shock-and-awe type of assault. There are studies that suggest the best possible course of action is a combination of meds and therapy. That’s the path I chose, and I’m glad I did.
If you feel stressed or anxious or irritable, or even if you just think something isn’t right, address it. Swallow your pride and take an honest assessment of your life and your feelings. Contrary to what we most boys learned as kids, there’s no shame in asking for help. The shame comes from ignoring a problem so long that it becomes a detriment to your family.
For more on this and lots of other great stuff, visit Danny online at www.DadGoneMad.com.