Interview with Kelly Crull, author of “Becoming Dad”

Kelly Crull with BabyQ: Name, title and occupation?

KC: Kelly Crull, writer and pastor.

Q: You just had a third child. Congratulations! Now, with that in mind, what do you most like about being a father and what do you find the biggest surprise / drag about your new role?

KC: A friend of mine likes to say that life is about relationships. I agree. I think the kind of relationship a parent has with a child doesn’t come around that often. They’re the exception. The limited edition. I’ll spend more time with my family than anyone else. Whether I love my kids or hate them or ignore them, I will still be a central character in their story.

Ironically, since I’ve become a dad, I’ve also experienced quite a bit of loneliness. I remember my wife April was completely consumed with being a mother after my oldest daughter was born. I begged her to spend some quality time with me. Finally, I convinced her to watch a movie with me, so I got in the car and sped over to the movie rental place, and when I got home, she had already gone to bed with the baby.

The biggest ongoing challenge is maintaining a friendship with my wife. Our kids almost always “need” us for something, so we have to be intentional about spending time together that doesn’t revolve around scheduling or parenting issues.

Q: You identify yourself on the cover of your book Becoming Dad as having started out as a clueless husband. What made you clueless and share a bit about how you see modern culture and media portrays husbands and fathers in movies, tv, books, etc.

KC: April spent a lot of time taking care of her younger brother and sister while her mom was at work. She also had Sunday dinners with her extended family. I think she has like 50 cousins, so she was always surrounded by family, including children of all ages. In contrast, I was the youngest in my family by six years, and I didn’t live near extended family. I spent a lot of time by myself or with my peers until April and I had a baby, and even then, I wasn’t really interested in becoming a dad. I just didn’t want to start having babies when I was old. On top of that, we got pregnant only five days after April went off the pill. I assumed I would have more time to get used to the idea of becoming a dad, but it all happened very fast.

As far as the media, we’ve come a long way from Homer Simpson. A couple husbands and fathers come to mind from the media that I can identify with, and I would say have even shaped me as a father. Modern Family is interesting because, for instance, it compares and contrasts the “old school” father, Jay, from my parents’ generation with a value for working hard and being strong and tough. He’s firm, even intimidating, sees things as black and white, and is not in touch with his emotions. Phil, the son-in-law, is a younger dad who tries too hard to be friends with his kids and is extremely sensitive. He doesn’t seem like much of an authority figure, he’s even scared of his wife, but he’s involved and nurturing and prides himself on relating personally to his kids. Parenthood is another show that showcases a number of different dads and husbands, including a number of younger dads in different family configurations, including a breadwinner in a traditional family, an adoptive stay-at-home dad, a single dad with a biracial child, and a grandfather figure that represents the values of the older generation and how he comes to terms with these younger dads. I also highly recommend the documentary The Evolution of Dad, which probably shaped me more than anything.

Q: Your wife bought you books on how to change diapers. Did she read them too, or was she just “gifted” at parenting? 

KC: My wife loves to read, and she reads fast. When she got pregnant for the first time, she had a stack of books waiting for me on the nightstand with bookmarks in the chapters I should read. I was pretty intimidated by how much experience she had with kids and how many books she had read. I really followed her lead, and like you say, assumed she was more “gifted” at parenting because she was a woman. However, my experience, and later some of my own reading, showed me that I was just as capable as her, and I had to find my own way to parent because we’re two different people, and dads make their own unique contribution.

As I was doing my research for Becoming Dad, I found a statistic on fatherhood.org that said that 89% of fathers go to the mother of their child as their main source of help to be a better father. In other words, most fathers don’t read parenting books or talk to other fathers about fathering. At the time, I was one of the 89%, and I decided to start reading for myself and being intentional about talking to other dads. I read books like Fatherneed and Playful Parenting that have really helped me see the unique contribution I make to my family. As I read through Fatherneed, I discovered that many of the qualities I thought I should change about myself to make myself a better parent—like taking risks—were, in fact, qualities that were helpful to my kids and should be valued and promoted.

Becoming Dad by Kelly CrullQ: One of the bullet points on the back of your book is “find out what it’s like to send mom away for a few days to prove you and baby can survive a weekend together”. Doesn’t that just feed into the media messaging about how men can’t handle fatherhood, especially taking care of babies? (see question #3)

KC: I used to think moms had super powers. I even thought April had super powers at first. I thought she was engineered to take care of kids better than I was. I’ve changed my mind, though. I don’t think you need super powers to take care of a kid. You just have to be willing to do it, and you have to pay attention.

I didn’t know much about my oldest daughter when she was born. I didn’t know how to hold her, what clothes to put on her, when or how to feed her, or even how to change her diaper. I wanted her to stay alive, though, so I watched April closely and asked lots of questions. I read books. I watched others. I called my sister. I searched the Internet. When the day finally came that I spent a weekend with my baby daughter while my wife was in another country, this was quite an accomplishment for me because I felt confident and prepared.

Q: Okay, fess up now, has you wife done stupid things as she’s learned how to parent? Have you? What’s the difference?

KC: Don’t even get me started on the stupid parenting decisions we’ve made along the way. For example, we thought it would be a good idea to move from Spain back to the United States to live with our parents when our oldest was only six weeks old. We were only just starting to adjust to being new parents, and we had to coordinate a move across the ocean. I remember we couldn’t get a taxi to the train station, so we missed our train. When we finally arrived at the train station, we discovered we couldn’t take the train because we had too much luggage, so we rented a car, but I had never driven in Spain, so I didn’t even know what the speed limit was. I didn’t have a map, and my cell phone died, so we just followed signs across Spain to Madrid to the airport. On the flight, I stood bouncing the baby at the back at the airplane so the sound of the engines would cover up the sound of the crying baby. We finally reached the US and had to deal with jet lag and a weekend of Thanksgiving celebrations with the entire extended family.

April and I make mistakes with our kids literally every day, but I think the difference, especially at the beginning, was that April felt confident in her ability as a mom in spite of her mistakes, whereas I wasn’t sure I could be a good parent. Our culture and the media often suggest to us that women are supposed to be good parents. Men, at best, can support mothers and encourage them, but aren’t expected to be strong, independent parents who think for themselves and can care for their children on their own. I still have worried grandmas and mothers stop me in the street to “help me” parent my kids. I can imagine that many fathers give up on being involved fathers because they don’t feel capable or prepared to parent. I give my wife a lot of credit for believing in me at the beginning. It seems insignificant, but she gave me the space to find my own way to parent and make my own parenting decisions even thought she knew a lot more than me at first.

Q: Sex. Yup. You have three, so that suggests very strongly that you and your wife are still intimate after baby #1 showed up. Are those logistics tricky or is it easy to make love when you’re both exhausted and have zero personal space? 🙂

KC: Yes, the logistics are tricky, and no, sex is not easy these days. In challenging situations like having a newborn in the house is where our sexual differences are the most accentuated. We couldn’t feel more differently about sex right now, really. For my wife, feeling connected and quality time are what create a desire for sex. For me, it’s the other way around. Having sex is quality time and makes me feel close to her.

I have to admit I’ve been dreading the “sexual drought” after the baby is born, but I’ve learned some things along the way that have helped me too. For starters, I remind myself that it is possible to live without sex. It’s not essential for my survival as a human being, so I can exercise some self control for a time.

I also remind myself that the goal is not sex, but intimacy. Sex can be a great way to create intimacy with my wife, but it’s not the only way. We’ve discovered lots of other ways to be “intimate” outside the bedroom that have helped us stay close and connected through these challenging first months with a newborn. Holding hands or giving hugs or other forms of physical affection can go a long way. Taking the baby for a stroll or taking the kids to the park so they can play, and my wife and I can talk also creates intimacy. We’ve discovered that when we pursue intimacy, the result is more sex.

Q: In “Becoming Dad”, you refer to sex with your wife thusly: “I didn’t think it was possible for April to show so little interest in me, even if only for a short time.” Has anything changed since you wrote this sentence? I mean, you do have three kids now…

KC: No one told me my wife wouldn’t want to have sex with me after the baby was born. I was completely surprised by that. But I was even more surprised by the lack of intimacy between us. She didn’t even seem to notice me. At that point, I was pretty worried because I didn’t know if our relationship had changed forever, or if this was just a temporary phase. The situation got much better over time, so when our second baby was born, I was mentally prepared for the temporary shift in our relationship. I focused on the baby more than my own needs because I knew it was only for a short time. I’ve also learned to rely a lot more on friends and family during those first few months with a newborn because I realize that my wife and I are exhausted and don’t have much left to give each other. We need family and friends to support us and help us and provide companionship.

Q: One challenge for us fathers who write about parenting and our children and relationships is privacy. Did you find that there were certain topics and anecdotes that you ended up removing from your book, Kelly?

KC: My purpose in writing Becoming Dad was to allow the reader to experience first-hand my transformation from clueless husband to involved and nurturing father. It’s the only book I know of that is actually written during the proces of becoming a father for the first time. I wanted to capture my thoughts and behaviors and discoveries along the way.

However, at the time I was editing the book, I already had two kids, and it was hard not to supplement what I had written with the experience I had gained in even just a few years as a father. Instead of removing certain topics from the book, I wished I had written more about sleep and sex, for example, but at the time, I was so confused about these topics, I really didn’t have the words to write.

For me, being a writer is about being willing to say what others aren’t willing to say. I don’t mean over-sensationalizing a story to get attention, but I mean telling the truth as much as possible and making myself vulnerable. However, I did remove most of the photos of my family from the book. I used to publish photos of my family on my blog almost daily for years until I discovered that strangers had developed an emotional connection with my kids. I regret having been too open about my family and potentially putting my kids at risk. I’m still confused about how to write about my family on the Internet and respect my family’s privacy.

Q: Finally, what’s been the experience of having the book out there? Strangers now know a whole heck of a lot about you. Cool, or weird?

KC: Most of the dads I know don’t read parenting books, or at most, they’ve skimmed a few chapters of a pregnancy book. Very few have read a book on fatherhood. I wrote the book hoping that dads would read it, so the most rewarding experience for me is when I meet another dad who has read the book, found it helpful, and even passed it on to a friend.

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