Doug Derda began blogging in 1997, just to update family and friends on his life.
“Then five years ago, my youngest was born, and that changed everything,” he says. The child, whom Derda calls Teaspoon in his blog, spent his first month of life in neonatal intensive care. The couple had gone to only their first parenting class when Teaspoon arrived prematurely, at 32 weeks.
Derda’s first major child-centered blog update came when his son was released to go home. “First I asked my wife, ‘Do you mind if I do this?’ She said, ‘No, go ahead and do this. If it can help another preemie in the NICU, let’s put it out there.’”
Ever since, blogging has helped him figure out things going on with his kids, who are now five and three. “There’s a lot of mommy bloggers but there’s not a lot of dad bloggers out there,” he says. “Is everything I’m going through normal? It’s been a real relief to find out I’m not alone.”
While the most famous local father online may be the satirical Pittsburgh Dad–his Twitter bio says, “Quit screwin’ around on the computer and help your mum carry the groceries into the house”–Pittsburgh dads find value in blogging online. Putting serious fatherhood issues on Facebook, Twitter and their blogs helps them exchange worthwhile advice, form a kind of fraternity and realize they’re doing okay at the job of raising their children.
Derda is still careful about what he puts out there. “In 20 years, when my kids come back and read this, what are they going to see there?” he says. “So I think of my kids reading my blog.
“We try to limit documenting every moment,” he adds, “trying to keep in mind that down the road when they’re 13 and 14, one of their friends would see the site. Do you want them seeing a picture of your kid running around without his pants on? I tried in the past to keep my kids out of my blog for privacy reasons. Then I realized there were too many fun things that were happening.”
Derda was laid off in December, which has focused his blogging even more on his family. “Since I’m now a stay-at-home dad, I’m realizing a lot of stuff my wife was doing as a stay-at-home mom,” he says. Where he had previously taken the evening parenting shift, the couple have now switched roles, with Derda’s wife moving from part-time to full-time at her health-care post. “It was quite a shock,” he says, but he has adjusted; now he has plans to get his kids involved in sports this spring.
Meanwhile, he says, “I consider myself a connoisseur of mall parks. I get picked on, on Twitter, by the mommy bloggers because I spend so much time at mall parks.”
A fraternal connection
“If I’m not talking about my kids, I try to share a lot of articles about parenting,” says Eric Williams of Greenfield, who blogs and tweets about his three kids ages 5, 4 and 3 (and another one coming in September) at Funky Dung (which is not a diapering reference but an ancient Pink Floyd song). He also joins other dads, local and otherwise, for Twitter chats through Dads Roundtable and Dads Talking which can cover everything from school choice and discipline to cognitive development.
“My interaction with other dads on the ‘Net is sort of fraternal – knowing that there are other folks out there who see the world in a similar way,” Williams says. That’s partly because it is taking longer for stay-at-home dads like himself to gain acceptance, he believes, compared to acceptance long-ago won for moms entering the workforce.
“Sometimes other men look askance, or some women don’t care for it,” he says. “They’re kind of weirded out when men show up at places with their kids.” He remembers getting stares as he sat on a park bench one weekday afternoon – the only dad watching his own kids at play. He also recalls the time he took one child to the grocery store and the kid was loudly unhappy, but Williams kept shopping, prompting unsolicited comments from moms. “They asked ‘What did daddy do to you?’ like I’m some bumbling Homer Simpson character. It can’t be because the kid is just over-tired!”
He also believes dad bloggers are looking for something slightly different from their online associations than their mom counterparts.
“If a dad asks a questions like, ‘I want some variety in school lunches,’ he’s looking for something nontraditional but easy. We’re not looking for Martha Stewart. A dad wants to get from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible.”
Social media can be the ultimate mass connector, but Williams also finds it potentially isolating: “You choose your own community … and you run the risk of getting stuck in an echo chamber, which can blind you to other possibilities and other people’s opinions. I try to interact with other people who live a different kind of life. I’ve had my own point of view challenged and had to rethink things.”
“I want the kids to lead that,” Rainaldo says. “I want it to be topics they want to talk about. This way they can try to express themselves and hopefully it leads to other conversations.”
Bullying has been a topic, “a big one lately,” he says. They’ve talked about the meaning of Memorial Day, and planned a new one about the movie “Son of God.” “A lot of times it’s more about goofing with the kids, staying involved with them, learning from them. It’s a way of connecting with them, and it’s something we can do together.”
A full-time computer programmer, Rainaldi doesn’t always blog about being a father; lately his blog has been all about his weight loss efforts. But that’s still part of parenting, he says. “I’m trying to be a better role model to my kids. They’re going to follow more what I do than what I say.”
Josh Aronoff’s Super Dad Show podcasts are not strictly about the kids, but Aronoff, of Franklin Park, says it’s a way for him and partner Shaun Noon to get together and talk about parenting.
“I jokingly say that it’s like therapy,” Aronoff says. “We want to help first-time dads and other dads to realize that they’re not alone with what they’re feeling or going through by sharing stories and things we are proud of, or not proud of.”
Recent podcast topics have ranged from spanking to how cold is too cold for the kids to wait outside for the bus. (Seven degrees? Okay. Minus 20? Not so much.)
Begun in May, 2012, the podcast was inspired, Aronoff says, by not knowing his biological father – he was adopted at 12 – and realizing that, when he and his wife were about to have their first kid, he didn’t know enough about the father’s role.
Today, the podcast is still a way to “work through what we really think about parenting issues,” he says, “challenging ourselves and our preconceptions or maybe misconceptions of how things are or how we thought things were.”
The podcast has helped his parenting skills, he believes, and created helpful discussions with his wife: “… we talk about how I sometimes get things wrong on the show, or how we have differing parenting styles. It’s been interesting to see different schools of thought on parenting, discipline and schooling, etc. I’d have no idea about those topics unless I sought them out for the show.”
The motto of Jim Walter’s Just a Lil Blog is “The true life adventures of an autistic little girl, and her struggles raising her two parents with only a big sister to help her.”
“There’s a need for a father’s voice in the blogging community,” says the Shaler dad. “We have a different voice, and sometimes a dad wants to hear about parenting from other dads, or is less receptive to similar advice coming from a mom.”
What began as a diary, he says, evolved into a way “to provide my daughters when they were older and had their own parenting problems sort of a ‘been there done that, search for potty training’ guide,” and finally a way to connect with a larger dad audience.
“I think I’m a better father as a result of it,” he says of his blogging efforts. “I’ve used my posts to recall things I wouldn’t have been able to remember without it. I’ve used it to reach out to others for support. I’ve used it to solicit advice. I’ve used it to fund-raise for charities that benefit my children. I’ve become a more informed father.”
Walter recently wrote “A Letter to My Autistic Daughter to be Read at Her Graduation” for Huffington Post and has definite plans for his blogging future.
“I’ve recently started thinking about an online parenting magazine from a father’s perspective, but it’s very preliminary, and of course, every bloggers dream … a book!” he says. “But that’s getting way ahead of myself.
“My goal of logging my journey has never changed,” he concludes. “Without readers or followers, I would continue writing for my girls. As long as I’m a dad, I’ll continue to write about being a dad…”
All photos by Brian Cohen.