Champion dads

Kevin Newman

Kevin Newman is a journalist and author who was born in Toronto in 1959. He was national correspondent for CBC and CTV News before moving to the US to work as a news anchor and correspondent for ABC News and co-host of Good Morning America. After that, he was the founding anchor and executive editor of Global National. Kevin won two Gemini awards for best news anchor (2005 and 2006), Emmy awards for his breaking news coverage and a Peabody award for ABC’s millennium night coverage. Before his retirement in 2019 he was the host of CTV’s W5, Question Period and Kevin Newman Live. Kevin has been married to Cathy since 1985 and they have two children: Alex, born in 1986, and Erica, born in 1989.

Words from Kevin:

When they become fathers, why is it that dads are not willing to talk about how awkward they are, how their lives have been turned upside down and how some of the time they’re completely overwhelmed? Women can talk about this, but for some reason men don’t like to admit it to each other, sometimes not even to themselves.

I want new dads to make sure they get something out of it rather than just provide, to get in there and have those intimate moments, put their babies to sleep themselves, learn what each sound may mean and how to soothe.

The relationship I had with my dad wasn’t the easiest. We were never that close. He just wasn’t equipped to handle communication in the modern sense at all, as is true for so many men of his generation. There were handshakes instead of hugs, and although he was around, I never felt that he gave me the attention I wanted or needed. I know it sounds really harsh, but the example of a father that he set was definitely not the man or father I wanted to be. I knew that was not how I was going to raise my children, take care of my emotional health, all those things. I knew what I didn’t want to be.

I knew he wished I was more athletic and outgoing. He was quick to point out what I had not done well and rarely praised what I did do well. I tried to avoid displeasing him, and fear of his rejection was a pretty strong motivator to achieve. I feared his disappointment and while attempting to avoid it, I became a bit of a perfectionist.

It was 1986 when I became a dad. I had badly wanted to become a parent, but I didn’t think through what it would mean to me, and how it would change my life. Men aren’t encouraged to engage in discussions about becoming a father before they actually become one.

When we brought Alex home, Cathy and her mum were clearly the experts. I should have trusted myself more with Alex. I should have tried harder and I should have asked for more patience from them when I fumbled. But after your wife has given birth, you don’t really want to ask for anything—it’s humbling. I acquiesced.

Men, we can talk about sports or current events or our careers, but somehow there is no meaningful discussion about fatherhood. It’s probably the biggest role you’ll fulfill in life, and to be so ill-prepared for it makes no sense. It took a long time for me to be able to tune in to Alex, to understand his language, what the sounds and cries might mean and how to do something to soothe him.

When the kids were little, I expected to be all the things I wished my dad had been. I did lots of things right: I was tender and caring, I played and danced with my kids, had dinner with them, I was physically affectionate… But increasingly I just wasn’t there. I had put my career first and continued to tell myself the story that I was doing it for my family, even when it was obvious that I was becoming a visitor in my own home. I had terrible work shifts. I uprooted our family several times. I remember on one occasion coming in the door and Erica screaming because she didn’t recognize me. I felt terrible, but when the boss called with even greater demands, I somehow couldn’t say no. It seemed impossible to be the man I wanted to be as well as the father I wanted to be.

I feel sorrow about Alex’s early years. I was the one conveying to him that strength, toughness and self-confidence were the defining characteristics of being male. He was shy, confused, angry, insecure and unable to talk to me about what was going on inside him. Much like I had been with my dad, Alex was feeling misunderstood and he was desperately trying to win my approval.

In 2004, when he was seventeen, Alex told us that he was gay. I became afraid for him. I had feelings of loss for a life I had told myself would be his, and I worried about what his life would now be like. I had work to do in order to accept his truth. I wondered if this meant I had failed as a father, and worried what people would think about me. I thought perhaps things would become easier between Alex and me after he came out, but it was the opposite. I wanted to show him nothing but support and acceptance; meanwhile he kept testing me for the smallest hint of censorship.

When Alex and I co-wrote the book All Out about our relationship (published in 2015), we wrote our chapters independently of each other, Alex writing half the book and me writing the other half. When our editor read our material she said to me, “Well, your son’s gone deep, but it’s an uneven book, because you haven’t gone as deep or dug as hard.” Oh fuck, I thought.

I started over. The book became the main conduit for re-examination of every pain point in my life. Just to remind myself of some of them, I’d return to the places I’d been, see the same people again, relive the moments. In the process, I reached a new level of self-awareness and certain aspects of painful memories shrunk in my life. A lot of the garbage I’d carried as a father turned to dust and it was easier to blow away.

Now, I’m a good dad, I’m the dad I always wanted to be. Baring my vulnerability helped me get it out there—being open and honest about what I didn’t know. I haven’t fully forgiven myself for the errors and omissions of fatherhood, but I’m a lot less harsh on myself. I’m improving.

Excerpted from “Forty Fathers: Men Talk About Parenting”, with permission from Douglas & McIntyre, 2022.

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