by Diana Hembree
While working in journalism, Mike Rothman watched many of his peers become parents. There was an irony he noticed early on: The dads on his team worked online, but the internet wasn’t necessarily working for them. While moms had all sorts of sites devoted to them, dads were largely left out.
It was then Rothman decided to start a parenting website for fathers. “Men were becoming much more public about self-identifying as fathers,” he recalls. “’Dad’ was sort of a badge of honor on Twitter,” he recalls. “You’d hear everyone talking about being a dad. But there wasn’t any digital or social [platform] on anything about fatherhood, from personal finances to the daily how-to’s of starting and raising a family.”
And for a while, it looked like fathers weren’t going to get one. Potential funders told Rothman it couldn’t be done: Men were not interested in a parenting website. He was turned down by no fewer than 130 funders, but he refused to give up.
Rothman proved the market was there by consulting and developing a popular newsletter for fathers. Investors soon followed, and dads can now enjoy the result: Fatherly, a smart, provocative website whose mission “is to empower men to raise great kids and lead more fulfilling adult lives.”
The mission comes through in Fatherly’s in-depth coverage of parenting issues. It offers solid, practical parenting advice about everything from solving kids’ sleep problems and helping boys avoid a social avatar that will haunt them later to empowering daughters to deal with mean girls.
But it doesn’t stop there. Fatherly features essays and well-researched pieces on serious challenges such as childhood trauma and bullying. It also delves into positive parenting, including steps to build resilience and encourage a sense of self worth – all important steps to healing from toxic stress from Adversity Childhood Experiences such as abuse, neglect, divorce or a parent’s addiction, mental illness or separation.
“Fatherly is about all kinds of families, not just the nuclear kind,” Rothman says. “When we write about relationships, we’re not just looking about the relationship of fathers to their wives or children, but to their own parents and relatives, their friends and their community.”
Among Fatherly’s most extraordinary projects is its “Letters to Boys” initiative. “Manhood is an uncomfortable, unwieldy mantle for boys first trying it on,” the editors of Fatherly explain by way of introduction. “Letters to Boys offers guidance in the form of heartfelt advice … The men behind these letters show us how to take that crucial first step in confronting seemingly unsolvable issues – by offering honest words.”
The collection includes reflection on famous fathers. In “My Father, The Activist,” Paul Chavez, the son of farmworker leader Cesar Chavez, writes a poignant letter about continually missing his father while he was on the road and later electing to join him in his work. The letters have a diversity of voices, including those of rapper Common, actor and former football player Terry Crews, and comedian Roy Woods Jr., who writes his son a heartfelt letter on how to be funny without being cruel.
But Fatherly is also a beacon for women and daughters – in fact, half of its readers are women, and many write for it. As Rothman puts it, “The fight for gender equity and workplace equality means men have to be much more involved in the day-to-day caring for young children.” And from diapers to college and beyond, Fatherly aims to be there for them – and their partners.
Diana Hembree is a science writer for the Center for Youth Wellness. She is an award-winning journalist who has worked at Time Inc., the Center for Investigative Reporting and the Energy Bioscience Institute and has written or edited for Forbes, HealthDay, the Washington Post, PBS Frontline, Vibe and many other places. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.