Mike Adamick has a message for his fellow dads: Sexism exists, and if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. In his forthcoming bookRaising Empowered Daughters: A Dad-to-Dad Guide, he zooms in on how the seemingly innocent myths, tropes and sayings that fathers often pass on to their kids can coalesce into something much more damaging. The good news? You don’t have to let these things slide. Adamick, who is raising a 13-year-old daughter, shared with us how he parents.
Name: Mike Adamick Location: San Francisco Job: At-home dad, writer Family: Wife Dana; daughter Emme (13), dog Zorro, horses Flor and Birdie, and mouse Athena.
Why did you decide to write a book on raising empowered daughters?
It always sort of struck me as absurd that my job was to raise a “strong, powerful daughter” because everyone knew what was ahead. Like, if we know we’re throwing kids into an absolute bullshit soup of sexism and misogyny and abuse, why do we have to empower them to fight it? It didn’t make much sense. Instead, why don’t the adults — the dads in particular — have a good talk among ourselves about how to make their path easier from the start?
Tell us a little bit about your family and your career. Did life happen mostly as planned or were there surprises?
My wife is a lawyer, and I’m a newspaper reporter turned at-home dad and writer. We got a sense pretty quickly that once we had kids, basically anything I made as a reporter would go straight to childcare. And I’d always been sort of a “kid person,” so we decided to give it a try. I’m really fortunate and grateful to be able to fill this role.
Take us through your morning routine. What are your best tricks for getting out the door?
My morning routine is straight from Dolly Parton: tumble out of bed, make my way to the kitchen, pour myself a cup of ambition, yawn and stretch and try to come to life. I’ve given up being ashamed of my coffee addiction and realise I’m just not fully human for the first five minutes every morning. But then the caffeine kicks in and the morning begins.
I meditate (usually through the Calm app) for 10-15 minutes every morning, and then my wife and daughter start to stir. When Emme was younger, the morning routine was a little more chaotic: cook breakfast, prepare lunches, good God where are your shoes? Now she’s in middle school and if she can’t do that stuff on her own by now, I’ve sort of failed as a parent.
How much outside help do you get as a parent?
We have a housecleaner who has been coming weekly and I’m particularly grateful to be able to afford that. Just having the floors done and the laundry and the dishes is worth the expense for sure. As for parenting help, when Emme was little, I couldn’t live without her playgroups. She got to mess around with her buddies, and I got to connect with parents in the same boat and dealing with the same toddler issues at the same time. I’d recommend regular playgroups for everybody.
What’s your favourite parenting hack?
When Emme was a baby, I had a backpack carrier I could stuff her in, and then carry around formula and diapers and a change of clothes and little snacks and toys. Then I switched to a baby swaddle carrier thing. It looked like a flat turtle with extended arms and legs that you’d wrap around your waist and shoulders. I loved that thing. I sewed a pocket into it for milk and snacks and a spare diaper. It was great. As she got older, her needs changed. I no longer carried formula.
She no longer needed to be carried. She no longer needed a change of clothes. At some point, I just put some Band-Aids in my wallet and that was all I carried around any more. Now I have some Band-Aids and some thin maxi pads just in case. So that’s my hack. Be aware that the needs are constantly changing and your role as a dad is a little bit different year to year, and then carry some Band-Aids and some ultra thin maxi pads in your wallet because you never know.
How do you decompress?
I used to think meditating was some hippy dippy bullshit on a mountaintop or whatever, but once I got a sense of what it really was and how much you can really tap into your body, it was a game changer. Not in the sense that I’m a completely different person, but that I’m a little bit different, in a good way, and that’s enough. I speak to myself much more kindly than I used to, and ain’t that a relief. And I’m not so hung up on mistakes. I make them, sure, and try not to, but I’m much more forgiving to myself when I make them, and I’ve noticed that’s helped me move on much, much faster to do better things, whether in writing or in my relationships.
What do you want your kid to learn from your example?
We’re a family of wild overachievers and strivers and doers, I think. My wife works her butt off, and I try my best to do the same, whether it’s with writing or parenting or just keeping the house up. But I think it’s critically, critically important that our daughter see us just absolutely fuck up from time to time. That’s high on the list, to make sure she knows we’ll all make mistakes and that you can be kind to yourself about it and move on and then boom, the next day, another one.
Kids, and I think especially girls, are expected to be these perfect little achievers as they get older. Good grades, good at sports, good friends. There’s so much pressure and I wanted her to know, and I think I make a compelling example, that everyone messes up all the time and it’s ok.
Is there something that your parents did that you’d like to pass onto your child?
Extraordinary freedom. I had two brothers growing up, and I’m not altogether sure my parents knew where we were on a given day. I guess I remember having to check in with phone calls every now and then, but we could have been checking in from a friend’s house or Las Vegas. “Hey mum. Yeah, we’re four towns over. All is well. See you at dinner.” It’s definitely been more difficult to accomplish that in a big city than a rural suburb for my own daughter, but the attitude remains: teach self reliance and let her go, at least a little bit at a time.
What’s been your proudest moment as a parent?
I remember we just had a nice dinner and played a family game of Yahtzee, and for some reason we were gathered by a window looking out at the moon. It really wasn’t a special night for any reason; just a random weekday. And my daughter just out of the blue said something like, “I’m really grateful for you two and our family and I’m really happy.” It wasn’t an “accomplishment” or an award or her doing something super cool and we basked in the parental afterglow of it.
There’s no real “end game” in parenting. Your kid doesn’t reach 18 and get into a “good school” or reach 30 and get a good job and you think, “Finally, I did it! Parenting is done and I’ve succeeded!” You just sort of hope you raise a kind, confident adult who can cope with all the bullshit thrown at her, and this moment gave me a sense we were doing something on that track.
What moment are you least proud of?
Ugh, how long you got? Any time I lose my cool and snap at my kid is a moment that pains me, and that’s actually part of the reason I started meditating. The feeling of shame is really quite profound, and I don’t really have any doubts it’ll happen again. Living with humans is hard. I noticed I was losing my cool most of the time when we were all trying to get somewhere: a sports practice, a doctor appointment, a meeting, whatever. My wife and daughter would be nonchalantly picking out shoes and I’d be calculating routes and traffic times and parking and did we bring snacks and a change of clothes for the thing after the thing.
What should have been a fun outing often turned into me steaming about being late, and it occurred to me one day that I think was seeing any tardiness as a reflection of my role as a stay-at-home dad and that I was sort of letting all dads down. Maybe we were the dopey dunces from all those TV commercials—like, dude, you had one job and you couldn’t even be on time for the (checks calendar) … princess bounce house party? Once I realised there was a lot going on behind the scenes for me, those moments of losing my cool and snapping started to fade, but they sort of punch me in the gut each time I recall them, or repeat them. I’m also least proud of basically anything that happens when I’m hangry. So I bring my own snacks and water basically everywhere.
What are your favourite funny/weird/special family rituals?
My daughter has all my OCD crap and it’s so strange to see a little mirror of yourself walking around. I sort of feel guilty that she’s going to have a life of checking the stove four times before she goes to bed or saving the entire aeroplane by repeating a certain phrase at the right moment before takeoff. But there’s this one thing where she makes me move her bedroom fan just so before I turn out the lights. It’s either the dumbest game between us or it’s something that’s going to cost her a second mortgage in therapy, but we get a kick out of it. It’s such a small part of the day, but I know when she goes off to college some day, I’m going to miss moving that stupid fan a fraction of an inch while we giggle.
Also, we used to be a super anti-TV, anti-screen time, anti-technology family of DIY-crafting hippies. But binge-watching The Good Place together as a family is probably the best forking parenting decision we’ve made in years.
Has anyone ever given you a piece of parenting advice that has really stuck with you?
I feel like I could just quote all of Blessings of a Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogel, because it really helped shape how I wanted to parent. We put so much pressure on kids—to be special, to be the best, to be whatever, and you know, the best parts will probably just be staring out the window or remembering what it was like to hold your daughter’s hand as her whole arm reaches upward for yours.
The one thing I would tell other parents who are juggling a career:
I love this question so hard. Dads rarely get asked questions like this, from my experience. How does he do it all? Oh my God, work and bake cupcakes for the PTA sale? I have so much respect for single parents who really do have to “do it all.” If you’re on this ride with a partner, I’d say to frequently reassess expectations on roles and duties—from everything from childcare in the afternoons to who is going to do the dishes or remember to pick up Tide. Dads are doing more around the house and with kids—much more. But we’re not quite equal when it comes to the second shift. So I’d tell dads to do a frank assessment of who carries the emotional load and why and then perhaps adjust accordingly.
What’s your favourite piece of practical advice for raising a confident girl?
You’re in charge of your circles. You get to decide what’s acceptable around you, and don’t for a second think your kids pick up on it. Sociologist Allen Johnson, who wrote The Gender Knot, describes us all as actors in the patriarchy. That system exists and we play a part in it whether we like it or not. The thing is, we can’t decide whether to play a part, but we can decide how our parts are played. We can prop it up or tear it down a little from the inside.
That’s really the advice I want to offer dads: Play a better role. Don’t let sexism slide in your circles. Don’t just laugh off stupid sexist jokes because you’re afraid to make waves in your man circles. Call out abuse or harassment and help stop it.
You get to define what your circles look like, and you can do tremendous good in your social, work, and family circles by playing a more active role in helping our girls not have to navigate a sexist society and by helping our boys to access their full emotional selves, not just a one-size-fits-all masculinity that can so easily slide into anger and entitlement. We’re all in this together, and we have a lot more power than we imagine we do.