The month of June ushers in Father's Day and to celebrate all the incredible dads out there we caught up with a dad of two, Mike Rahfaldt about how he has stayed connected with his family and navigated parenting in the time of lockdown.
How has life under lockdown changed or affected your relationship with your daughter and son?
Lockdown has been a mixed bag for us. I'm sure other people are experiencing similar things, where some days seem like a total drag and where the restless lights are burning very brightly, and others feel like really amazing quality family time that we wouldn't have had if we didn't experience lockdown. I raise my two kids (age 10 and 16) with a lesbian couple--yes, three parents and two children (I'm convinced that anything less than three parents is a human rights violation). Typically we live in two houses, and the kids go back and forth between the two. But for lockdown, I moved in with them and we've been together since then. So for us, this has been an exercise in reimagining our co-parenting framework, and it's been a lot of fun. Sure, we get on each other's nerves every once in a while, but for the most part I think lockdown has slowed time down, made us more connected as a family unit, and perhaps a bit more vulnerable together. There's so much worry around what COVID-19 will look like in South Africa long term and how it will play out, concerns that kids carry about what going to school will be like when and if they go back, and the stresses that come from working at home. Sure, we have a bit of all of that, but I do think we've created a new normal together, and have made the best of it. When it comes to our strategies regarding how to deal with our kids' education during lockdown, our philosophy has been keep 'em alive, keep 'em happy, and allow them to do new and different things. If they get a bit behind in Math, English, or aren't feeling like they can cope wtih yet another Zoom class, then so be it. Life will move on. This is hard on all of us, so keeping them happy is keeping us happy. And that's worked pretty well for us, I'd say.
What technology do you find yourself using the most with your kids?
Netflix has been the water we drink during lockdown, if that can be considered to be a technology. I like to watch with my kids, what they want to watch. I think that's important to bond with your kids over their media. We've definitely watched a range of thoughtful, trash, and everything in between. Right now we're watching Keeping up with the Kardashians Season 1. Don't judge, it's been fun!
I'd be lying if I say my daughter hasn't sent the occasional WhatsApp from bed to test my boundaries to see if I will bring her some food or something to drink, but deep down, she knows that is not going to work.
For my son, he's found a new normal with his friends where they play video games together (like Fortnite) while on Zoom, so they see each other on one screen while playing on another. He would do it the entire day if he could. I also play video games with him, if he lets me. Apparently I suck at them all, well at least compared to his friends on the other end of the screen.
What have you found to be the most challenging aspect of parenting since your kids were born?
I think it's really hard to find that balance between protecting my kids from the big bad world and enlightening them at an early age to the realities of a range of social issues that define their lives. The racism they witness and experience on the day to day, crime and safety and how that curtails their movements and activities, and the debilitating inequality that permeates South African society--we have made a decision to have "real talk" about all of these issues at an age that some might say is too young. But at the same time, their savvy in discussing these issues impresses me. I was completely unaware of the larger forces of the universe at their ages. During the Black Lives Matter protests in the US, it's been brilliant to have a discussion with my kids about what it all means, about the legacy of segregation and white supremacy in the US, and how it doesn't look that different in South Africa. It's great to hear their questions and to see the analytical wheels turning in their heads about these difficult issues.
Do you have a set routine each day, with regards to education, quality time etc?
Not really. As I said ahead, we've been quite flexible. Operation Keep 'Em Alive, with little pressure to live our best lives. These are COVID times, and we need to be nice to ourselves and each other. We try to get some exercise, get some school work done, and then dinner and watch something together. That's about it.
What is your favourite part of being a dad?
I love it all. Honestly. I like how it changes all of the time, and there are always surprises. Among my friends, I have a reputation for encouraging people (including complete strangers) to have kids and to get on it sooner rather than later. I was 28 when my daughter was born, and that felt just about right for me. I had youthful energy to run after them, without being young and dumb and making bad decisions. I'm the baby whisperer for many a couple, who weren't necessarily thinking about having a baby right then and there until they had a random conversation with me at a party.
Looking back at your past Father’s Days, which one stands out the most?
To me, Father's Day is not a big deal. I am much more interested in the day to day moments where we double over in laughter over something one of the kids said, or where I all of a sudden notice one day that my son has gotten super tall, and getting lost in my thoughts about what it all means. That's much more meaningful. And please, never buy your father clothes for Father's Day. NEVER! No one wants that.
Do you still need to find a gift for your dad? We’ve put together some great ideas for you. Check them out here.
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