The call came out of the blue, about a week prior to Father’s Day. Denver Post reporter Colleen O’Connor had been assigned to write a profile piece for the Father’s Day issue of the Post and wanted to know if she could interview me. We talked for about an hour, then she asked if she and Andy, one of the Post photographers, could come out to the house and expand the piece. To her surprise, the editors wanted to just focus on my story, not have other dads interviewed or profiled. The day they showed up, my oldest was in Florida visiting her boyfriend and my son was at a wilderness program, so it was just K-, 11, her cat, and me. The result of the interview and photographer’s work is this article, that I republish here for posterity.
Oh, and I was on the front page too, as you can see in this snapshot of the Sunday paper:
Without any further ado, then, here’s the article:
Dave Taylor comforted his 11-year-old daughter on that stormy night when a tornado slammed into Berthoud, just seven miles from his home.
“She was really scared,” he said. “I was cuddling with her and telling her, ‘It’s fine, we’re all going to be safe.’ But there was a little voice in my head saying, ‘Who cuddles with me when I decide that actually this is kinda scary?’ But this is what it is to be a parent. The buck stops here.”
Fatherhood is one of his favorite roles.
Taylor, 52, has been a dad for nearly two decades. As a single dad, he’s a successful tech entrepreneur whose primary passion is his relationship with his kids: Ashley, 18, Gareth, 15, and Kiana, 11. When he and his wife divorced seven years ago, he became part of a growing social trend.
The number of single-father households has increased about ninefold since 1960, from less than 300,000 to more than 2.6 million in 2011, according to a study from the Pew Research Center. Because the study is based on data from the U.S. Census or the American Community Survey, it’s not possible to determine whether these single fathers have full-time or part-time custody.
Taylor has joint custody of his children, who are with him half the week, from Wednesday through Sunday.
On his blog, “Go Fatherhood: Single Dad Under Construction,” he focuses on men who face the same situation. He is a fierce advocate for fathers’ rights.
“Divorce and single parenting is tough however you slice it,” he writes, “and I think it’s even more difficult for men because our culture assumes women are naturally good mothers while men have to struggle to be involved and good fathers.”
The study “State of the World’s Fathers,” released Tuesday at the United Nations, confirms the critical importance of fathers. Based on hundreds of reports, the 228-page report fills a gap in research on examining men’s role in caregiving and domestic work.
Key findings in the study include:
• Men are “as deeply wired for emotional connections to children as women are,” with new research showing that men’s bodies respond to physical contact with children — like holding their newborn — with a hormonal shift that allows them to be the calm, soothing presence that babies need.
• Playful and affectionate interaction with fathers can predict children’s positive socio-emotional involvement with others, particularly with peers, while harsh discipline by fathers is sometimes associated with later behavioral problems for boys and girls.
• Research increasingly confirms that in countries where the gender roles of men and women are converging, fathers’ involvement affects children in the same ways that mothers’ involvement affects children — whether the children are girls or boys.
The report also found that dads who are “involved in meaningful ways with their children report this relationship to be one of their most important sources of well-being and happiness.”
University of Denver psychology professor Howard Markman, an expert on family relations and the role of fatherhood, says: “For fathers, whether single or married, spending quality time with their kids is more important than just time. One of the most important things working dads can do is to decide to build in time with his children on a weekly basis.”
For younger kids, that might be reading. For older kids, it could be playing sports.
For dads who are divorced, spending quality time with children can be harder if the relationship between former spouses isn’t good. Conflict between the father and mother is a strong risk factor for a stressful or adverse childhood, according to “State of the World’s Fathers.”
Places such as the Resource Center for Separating & Divorcing Families at DU help parents create a healthy family environment as a stable foundation for kids.
“It’s not just about good parenting skills but also being able to communicate about what’s going on with each of the children,” said Markman, author of “Fighting for Your Marriage.”
Learning good communication skills carries over to the relationship between fathers and kids, he said, strengthening “the ability to listen.”
Single mothers have their own sets of difficulties, including insufficent incomes, which create problems buying food, paying bills and hiring people to make home repairs.
“But in some ways,” Markman said, “it’s harder for single dads than for single moms in terms of cultural support.”
After his divorce, Taylor committed to being the best father he could be. But he struggled.
“A big piece of my challenge was learning not to be so strict and rigid about things,” he said. “I think most parenting teams break down into one being more compassionate and the other being more strict and disciplinarian.”
He reached out for help, which included some group therapy and a support network at the Dad 2.0 Summit, which works to redefine cultural perceptions of masculinity.
He loves the camaraderie of these modern dads, a mix of married, divorced and single men. “When I was going through my divorce, … I felt like I was the worst person in the world, and everyone was doing better than me, even going through a divorce better than me,” he said. “Any time I’d have any slight argument with my child, it was like, ‘Oh, my God, I’m a monster.’ ”
But these guys gave him a reality check.
“One of the things we guys do badly is commiserate,” he said. “So going somewhere where there’s a bunch of guys from all walks of life, where their No. 1 or No. 2 identity is father — that’s big.”
These dads share feelings, trade tips, and listen to such speakers such as Keith Zafren, founder of The Great Dads Project, and Michael Kimmel, director of the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities at Stony Brook University, a leader in trying to recruit men for gender equality.
Still, for men such as Taylor, when it comes to gender equality, cultural attitudes about fatherhood often are stuck in the past.
He has often found himself in awkward situations, like when he’d show up to chauffeur a kid home from preschool.
“I’d walk into the coatroom, and it was all moms. And the whole conversation would just stop,” he said. “Like, ‘Why is a dad here? Is mom sick?’ It took awhile for them to realize that I’m a dad and I’m here. We’re all just parents together.”
Because he’s self-employed, he has a flexible schedule, working to provide for his family while making time to participate in most school events.
He’s a veteran dad whom guys such as Christian Toto, a Denver father, really respect.
“He’s super smart and super generous with his time, advice and resources,” said Toto, 46, who is married with two young children. “When it comes to business, he’s very entrepreneurial and aggressive, in a good way. But when it’s time to take care of his kids, everything winds to a halt,” Toto said. “If he has parenting responsibilities, they come first.”
Toto, who lives in Denver, writes a blog called Daddylibrium, about balancing fatherhood, marriage and leisure time. He belongs to the same Facebook fatherhood community as Taylor and says the dads often seek advice from one another.
“Often a fellow dad will say, ‘What do you guys think? I’m in this situation, and am not sure how to proceed. So what do you guys recommend?’ ” Toto said.
Because they spend so much time focused on being good dads, they always notice how modern dads are portrayed in the media.
“Lots of these dads get upset when they’re portrayed as bumpkins, whether in sitcoms, movies or ad campaigns,” Toto said.
The dad blogosphere erupted in 2012 when a commercial for Huggies diapers featured fathers so focused on watching sports TV that they ignored babies whose diapers needed to be changed.
The complaints on the dad blogs — along with a petition called “We’re Dads, Huggies. Not Dummies” — led Huggies to apologize, pull that ad and develop a new image of “real dads.”
Taylor watches the media with a sharp eye and believes fathers are “for the most part portrayed as fairly incompetent.” But he tries to keep a sense of humor.
“Sometimes it can be funny, and it can be poking fun at the fact there are plenty of dads that don’t really know how to put on a diaper,” he said. “But instead of making them the butt of the joke, why not celebrate the dads who do know how to do it?”
He’d rather emphasize the joy of being an involved dad.
“I think the vast majority of us would be happier and more self- fulfilled if we were more participatory dads,” he said.
“It’s a heartwarming experience, in a way that having your team win the Super Bowl or even the World Series really can’t be,” he said. These are your kids, and they’re out there accomplishing things.”
Colleen O’Connor: 303-954-1083, coconnor AT denverpost.com or @coconnordp.