Dads Discuss Parenting Tips

In honor of Father's Day, three fathers discuss how they use the internet to exchange parenting tips. Bloggers Jeff Steele, Jason Sperber and Keith Morton share their secrets in this week's special Mocha Dads segment.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. They say it takes a village to raise a child, which is why we hear from the Mocha Moms every week, for their comments and some savvy parenting advice.

But today in honor of Father's Day we're putting a twist on things, you guess it Mocha Dads, specifically daddy bloggers. Now, you've probably heard about Mommy blogs, but you might not know that there are Dads out there blogging, too. They are a special fraternity of guys who are exploring the joys and challenges of fatherhood online.

We're going to meet three of them Keith Morton, who blogs as African-American Dad, Jeff Steele who blogs at DC Urban Moms and Dads, and Jason Sperber who blogs at Rice Daddies. Welcome to you all. Thank you so much for coming.

Mr. KEITH MORTON (Blogger): Thank you Michel.

Mr. JEFF STEELLE (DC Urban Moms and Dads): Thank you.

MARTIN: Keith, I'm going to start with you. When did you start blogging?

Mr. MORTON: It was about two years ago and a friend of mine just kind of called me what do you think we can do to really address this fatherhood thing. And we agreed that a blog would probably be the best way to go, just because we could reach so many people and in so many different ways. And it was just like an opportunity to reach out to people.

MARTIN: Well, what were you looking for? Is it that you wanted to share your thoughts and what you were going through as Dad or was there specific information that you were looking for? That you thought you might not be able to find.

Mr. MORTON: Oh absolutely, I mean...

MARTIN: All of that?

Mr. MORTON: Yes, all of the above, but the main thing was actually trying to dispel some of the myths about black fatherhood specifically. We just wanted to show more of a positive image and kind of get it out there that everybody is not absent. All black fathers are not, you know, not paying child support, and so on and so forth. So, the idea was really to start talking about this in a different kind of way.

MARTIN: Jason what about you, Rice Daddy?

Mr. JASON SPERBER (Rice Daddies): Well, I started blogging when my daughter was one. I was a stay-at-home dad for my daughter's first two years. And in Bakersfield, California I didn't really meet a lot of other stay-at-home dads. And so, I started like a lot of dad bloggers I've met, who started blogging as a way to reach out and meet people, and have a dialogue with other people going through similar situations when I couldn't really find those real connections offline.

MARTIN: How did you come up with the name, which I admit that I love?

Mr. SPERBER: Well, first I actually started my solo dad blog, Daddy in the Strange Land. And then right about the same time I did some outreach to the only two other Asian-American Dad Bloggers I could find and said hey you want to do a group blog by Asian-American dads? And Rice Daddies actually that name was devised by my wife when we were just sitting around trying to come up with a name.

MARTIN: OK. That's sounds great. Jeff what about you, you blog with your wife, correct? Your wife and you are kind of co-managers.

Mr. STEELE: We administer and operate the D.C. Urban Moms and Dads website and mailing list. But I don't really participate all that much, particularly I never really felt myself qualified to offer parenting advice. I never did. With the blog I started for the first time really addressing the issues, rather than just administrative side of things. So, now I make more creative contributions to that.

MARTIN: But wait a minute why do you think you're not qualified, I mean the whole concept behind the listserv is that everybody kind of helps everybody else.

Mr. STEELLE: Well, I say if we didn't need the advice we wouldn't have started the mailing list. We started the mailing list because we were kind of lost as parents. So, getting the things operating, and learning from it was more important to us. Now, though our oldest son is seven, so we've learned a few things luckily, and have some advice to offer now.

MARTIN: Jason, I was interested in what Keith said about how part of his mission is to dispel myths about African-Americans fathers. This negative imagery that I'm sure that we could all recite with no trouble at all, unfortunately. Is there something similar going on in with Rice Daddies is that part of your mission?

Mr. SPERBER: Yeah, I think that Rice Daddies exists to give a variety of different pictures of what it means to be an Asian-American father, and what it means to be raising a new generation of Asian-American kids, many of whom are multi-ethnic and multiracial. And how the definitions and the struggles that we went through as young people are really changing. And by the time that my daughter and her friends are teenagers some of the questions and struggles that we went through are going to be very different if not, nonexistent.

MARTIN: Give an example if you would.

Mr. SPERBER: Well, just the very idea of race and racial identity and ethnic identify for the children that are my daughter's age, and she's three right now. You know, I, as a multiracial Asian American, that's been one of the predominant themes of my life just figuring all this out, and as a Filipina Japanese Jewish American young woman, when she's coming up, it might not even be a question to her.

MARTIN: Or it might be.

Mr. SPERBER: Right.

MARTIN: You know, in ways that you haven't even thought about. You know, it's interesting to contemplate how these things change over time. Jeff, I'm dying to know how you have the time for this. My first year as a parent, you know, I've told this story to people. I once poured smoothie on myself because I was so tired I thought it was lotion, so the idea that - I mean I was literally walking into walls. So I'm just dying to know how you managed to make time to do this?

Mr. STEELE: Well, frankly we started everything when our son was not quite a year old so our first year we didn't have the energy for it either, and things just got started off slowly. Now it's like anything - learning to manage resources. We do a lot of the work when the kids are asleep and in a way it's one way to relax really.

MARTIN: Keith, what about you? How do you do it?

Mr. MORTON: I probably don't post as much as some of the other people do because I do have this theory that, you know, if I'm spending every single day blogging, when am I spending time being a dad? So sometimes when I come home, you know, I really have a post on my mind, but then I have my son standing in front of me, and I just kind of want to play with him.

MARTIN: Jason, what about that? How do you manage that?

Mr. SPERBER: Well, I'm sort of in a really lucky situation because my dad blogging actually led me to stop being a stay at home parent and now I actually have come full circle and am the content manager of raisingbakersfield.com which is an online community for local parents in my area, and so I get to basically do parent blogging for a living now.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to Tell Me More from NPR News and I'm speaking with Keith Morton, Jeff Steele, and Jason Sperber in honor of Father's Day, Mocha Dads and their blogs. One of the newer members of the Mocha Moms panel, Leslie Morgan Steiner, writes a parenting blog for the Washington Post. Now I don't know whether this is a function of the fact that this is the Washington Post which can be a target of a lot of, I don't know, nastiness whether it's because she's a woman or what it is, but I am struck by how many - how nasty some of the posts are that come to her blog. People are very dismissive like who cares what you think, you know, get a job, that kind of thing. Really diminishing and some of it has to do with this whole mommy wars thing like whether you - if you are perceived as middle class or upper-middle class, the idea that you might have any anxiety about being a parent in your life means that you are whining.

Anyway, I'm just sort of struck by the kind of hostile fire that's directed at her. Now she doesn't complain about it, but I'm noticing this and I'm just wondering for each of you, has that happened to you? Does anybody say get over yourselves, you know, you yuppies didn't invent parenthood, that kind of thing. What kind of response do you get? Keith?

Mr. MORTON: I'm actually very lucky. I mean I get a lot of positive feedback. Early on, maybe a couple of years ago, it was very difficult. I got a lot of - I would say even racist posts or comments on the blog, but those kind of started to fade off as time progressed.

MARTIN: Well, give me an example, like what?

Mr. MORTON: Well, someone blatantly called me the N word in a comment. I had to remove it from the site early on. And this person kind of lingered for a little while, and left absurd comments when they were possible.

MARTIN: Sort of harassing you?

Mr. MORTON: Yeah. Absolutely.

MARTIN: Jason, what kind of response do you get?

Mr. SPERBER: Well, echoing what Keith was saying, I think when you're writing at the intersection of parenting and race and culture, you get a lot of that kind of response. On Rice Daddies we get it both ways where people like, you know, you're writing about Asian-American stuff, what does that have to do with parenting or you're writing about parenting, what does that have to do with Asian-American stuff. And then on another blog I contribute to, Anti-Racist Parent, we get a lot of comments where people, you know, we're trying to share our experiences and people are, you know, sometimes very dismissive of the experiences that we're trying to share.

MARTIN: Jeff, what do you think - what do you think people get out of these blogs, these listservs? Do you think it's comfort, is it hard information? What do you think, Jeff?

Mr. STEELE: Well, I've heard over and over again, especially from new parents, that they're dealing with so many new pressures, things that they weren't prepared for and they often feel in the beginning that they're the only one's dealing with this. Everyone feels other parents handle things very well and they're handling it terribly so they are just looking for someone to say that happened to me to, you know, I lost my cool and yelled at my child one day or I put a smoothie on my face because I thought it was a lotion.

MARTIN: You hadn't heard that before? That wasn't as unique as I thought it was. You know, and also I am on D.C. Urban Moms and Dads, as you know, Jeff, and one of the things I've also noticed is that people bring some real stuff there. People will say look, I have a friend who's going through some very difficult issues and can you help me find someone, you know, abuse situations, things of that sort, can you help me find somebody. And I've been depression - postpartum depression, I think that some people have shared that they were in real trouble and that people have really reached out to them in ways that I have found very moving, so I've seen that. And now, Jeff, we've been talking about kind of a psychic benefit that a lot of people get from these blogs and parenting listservs, but there's also a - I don't know what to call it, maybe some kind of community reaction that develops around parenting issues. Why don't you tell me about that?

Mr. STEELE: Well, there's the one story that's pretty well known of one of our list members was leaving Dallas airport to fly to I believe Las Vegas, and was held up at the security inspection because she had water in her baby's bottle. They don't allow water. They allow only breast milk and formula, and there was a conflict between the security people and our list member over what should happen with that water and it resulted in her getting kicked out of the area and missing her flight, I believe. So when she finally got to where she was going, her first thing she did was post a message on D.C. Urban Moms and Dads mailing list. The members there started to talk about it, and I think it got picked up by the AP and eventually the Washington Post and the TSA reacted by posting a full video of the incident on their website just so that everyone could see the whole incident from start to finish.

MARTIN: But it became a huge story and it started on D.C. Urban Moms and Dads.

Mr. STEELE: Right. And that's where I think reporters learned about it too, from that list.

MARTIN: And there are other issues that have surfaced on the listserv like around that mother who was kicked off a Delta subsidiary flight, a commuter jet, because she was trying to breastfeed on takeoff as a way to soothe the baby, and this also became a huge national story posted on D.C. Urban Moms and Dads where the moms basically got their dander out.

Mr. STEELE: Sure. Yeah. And anything that involves violating someone's ability to breastfeed always causes a ruckus on the list and people will react - the list members take it very seriously and will react to it. And we've had in fact - D.C. has a new breastfeeding law which was written by one of our list members.

MARTIN: Jason and Keith, what of your - what has evoked the most response on each of your blogs? Jason?

Mr. SPERBER: It's hard to say. On Rice Daddies, you know, when we've tackled race issues. I can't think of a specific topic right now, but, you know, sometimes that'll elicit a lot of response. You know, people come to the blog expecting different things, and bringing their own definitions with them and sometimes that can cause conflict.

MARTIN: OK. And Keith, what about you? What's been the most response that you've gotten to something or what has evoked the most response on your blog?

Mr. MORTON: Well, I'd probably say two things. One is always the race topic. People tend to chime in a lot on that. Specifically, it was I think a post I did I'd like to say on Michael Richards around the time of that whole debacle with him.

MARTIN: The former "Seinfeld" comedian who was photographed at a comedy club making some pretty outrageous comments.

Mr. MORTON: Exactly. That evoked a lot of emails and comments. And then my son, when I write specifically about him and some of his antics, especially when he was going through some of his - he had a rough patch a couple of years ago where there was some language, and some things that he was picking up from God only knows where, and that evoked a lot of response. He was, yes. He dropped the f-bomb a couple of times.

MARTIN: Oh dear.

Mr. MORTON: Yeah. He definitely had a moment in time and people were kind of trying to figure out how we were getting through that and he's evolved so much over the last two years that now he wouldn't even think to utter such a word, you know, at all. You know, he's matured. I mean, and just kind of going through that process with all of the readers.

MARTIN: What do your wives think of you - do you have a deal? Does any of you have a deal with your wives about what you can say or not say? Do you offer them prepublication review or anything like that? Jeff?

Mr. STEELE: Yes. If I mention our sons I always run it by my wife before I publish it to make sure there's not something there that she doesn't think should be there.

MARTIN: Do you always listen?

Mr. STEELE: Yeah. Of course.

MARTIN: No fool you. Keith, what about you?

Mr. MORTON: Well, actually I think to avoid that my wife stopped reading the blog. Part of it is that she says hey, she lives it, she knows the stories, and she doesn't have to read the blog. But I think another part of it is that she doesn't want to know exactly what I'm putting online so she doesn't have to be upset or, you know, angry about it, if she doesn't know. Plus her mother reads it all the time and reports back.

MARTIN: That's funny. Jason, what about you?

Mr. SPERBER: There ease some things I just, you know, things that I deem too personal that I just won't write about. We don't really have an agreement about things that can or can't be broached and she actually, you know, started blogging herself, too.

MARTIN: Oh man. You're not tempted to win an argument online that you didn't win in person?

Mr. SPERBER: Oh no.

MARTIN: Like, let me tell you what really happened, you know? What a good guy. All of you. What good guys. Well, I can't let you go without asking either, you can answer this anyway you want, what is your ideal Father's Day, or what are you going to do for Father's Day or what would you like to do on Father's Day? Jeff?

Mr. STEELE: I think my older son and I are going to go to do some go-carting together.

MARTIN: That sounds excellent. Jason?

Mr. SPERBER: Well, every year my grandmother has everyone over for a barbecue and that includes my in-laws, and so we're all just going to get together and hang out.

MARTIN: OK. That sounds lovely. Keith, what about you?

Mr. MORTON: Well, my ideal Father's Day is a little bit different then what I'm going to do this Sunday. The ideal Father's Day is me, my son, and my wife, on a beach in Key West with a barbecue and just kind of, you know, hanging out and enjoying, you know, the sunset and everything else. What I'll probably do this Sunday is just barbecue and, you now, hangout with the family and, you know, just enjoy it.

MARTIN: Well, hopefully Key West next year.

Mr. MORTON: Yeah. That's what I'm shooting for.

MARTIN: All right. Keith Morton blogs at African-American Dad. He joined us in our New York studio. Jason Sperber blogs at Rice Daddies. He joined us at NPR West. And Jeff Steele blogs at D.C. Urban Moms and Dads. He was kind enough to join us in our Washington studio. We will have links to all of their blogs at our website, npr.org/tellmemore. Thanks, Dads, and happy Father's Day.

Mr. MORTON: Thank you.

Mr. STEELE: Thank you.

Mr. SPERBER: Thank you.

MARTIN: Remember, at Tell Me More the conversation never ends. Father's Day, as we said, is this Sunday, so we want to put the same question to you that we put to the Mocha Dads. We'd like to know what are you doing for Father's Day and what would you like to be doing? You can tell us more and read what others are saying by going to our blog at npr.org/tellmemore. You can also call our comment line at 202-842-3522. That number again is 202-842-3522, and Happy Father's Day in advance. And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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