What To Read: Ariel Foxman on what it's like to be a dad

This week, we interviewed Ariel Foxman, a father who writes ABBAPAPA, a newsletter about what it means to be a parent today.

What’s your Substack about in one sentence?

ABBAPAPA examines the collective parenting experience and aims to support fathers, nontraditional families, and all of us who are trying our best to make sense of our roles as parents, mentors, guides, protectors, and even friends.

You made your career as a fashion editor. What made you want to pursue a different kind of project on Substack?

ABBAPAPA was born from my experience as a new, gay dad (three years now, with the arrival of our son Cielo Rimon), and as an uncle to incredible nieces and nephews, and as someone who is thinking deeply about how we might promote and inspire anyone who has taken on the job of raising, teaching, and nurturing our next generation.

Media about and for parents has long been conditioning caregivers to think in very traditional ways: moms do everything, dads are dolts, and parenting boils down to keeping kids fed, out of harm’s way, and regularly gifted and indulged. I wanted to examine what I was experiencing to be so much more than that.

You write that ABBAPAPA is partly about exploring the parenting experience “beyond the commercial”. How do you navigate when ‘good parenting’ is conflated with ‘buying more things’?

I believe all parents believe deep down that when it comes to having a positive impact on your kids it’s not really ever about things. Sure, there is room for treats and presents – but I am curious about how we can make those indulgences more meaningful and more intentional. Do the books and toys you give your child represent your values? Do they reflect the world around us? What else does your child need to feel loved and seen and respected?

Have you experienced loneliness as a parent, and how do you find or build community to counteract that?

I wouldn’t characterize it as loneliness, but I have experienced parental isolation – the one that can result from a certain myopia new parents seem to have, where every thing and every plan is about or for the kid. I counteract that by reading other Substacks about parenting, whether funny or informative. And I love following #dadsofinstagram and #gayswithkids on Instagram to see what other nontraditional families like ours are up to. It reminds me that there are so many of us and that also, it’s important to find community not just for my family but for myself as an individual.

Whats something that you’ve learned from your son?

To ask ‘why’ again. Cielo is always asking why so that he can confirm or clarify – but I am learning to do the same in my own world, as a parent and teacher. Why am I saying no? Why do I believe this conventional wisdom? Why did this make me so frustrated or sad or anxious? I used to tell Cielo he’d run out of why’s and we’d have to pour some more in him, and I have realized that we never run out, we just stop using them as much.

Who’s another Substack writer you’d recommend?

I love Parent Data by Emily Oster. It’s so satisfying to read about the science behind what we do as parents, and it upends so many assumptions I have made about nurture, nature, preference, and conditioning. Check it out!

Subscribe to Ariel’s newsletter, ABBAPAPA, or follow him at @arielfoxman and @itsabbapapa on Instagram, or @arielfoxman on Twitter.