I live in Daddyland.
Yes, this is a state of mind. But it is also a real place, otherwise known as Sweden. And over 18 months of paid paternity leave between 2008 and 2010, I both transcended a dying industrial-era masculinity and mastered the Tao of the sandbox.
I’m back at work now, but in many ways, I’ll never leave Daddyland
It started about six years ago when my wife, then one-year-old daughter and I fled a gritty small city in the New York City exurbs, crushed under the weight of social isolation, career cul de sacs and a drafty old house filled with lead paint, dead rats and lots and lots of bats. It was gentrification gone horribly wrong, literally at the end of the train line in a place where no one takes the train.
We fled to Sweden, where my wife is from, landing in a 450-square-foot apartment with another baby soon on the way. After a mere six months at my new job, I ventured into Daddyland.
This is not an exotic trip to take here in Stockholm, where ever-growing packs of dudes push strollers down the street every day. And my journey began with the basics, like mastering the snack and diaper bag. But eventually, it led me into a confusing swamp of feminism, guy culture, “child-centered” masculinity and how I want to raise my son.
But here’s the cool part, at least for a professional guy: Daddyland is not forever. I’m back at work, more creative, more successful and with a more confident work/life balance. Caring for toddlers turned out to be a career – and life – saver not a career killer.
No one knows what a transformed masculinity will look like. For me it was going from corporate in the office to grunge in the sandbox. It was about introducing my daughter daily to Prince and The White Stripes, along with nursery rhymes. It was about not owning a car, about running in barefoot shoes and about reading a stream of books about ancient myths and modern innovation. For other guys, it could be anything.
I want to show that men, in fact, can change and still be “men,” whatever that means to us in this moment in history. I still like sports, rock and roll and shots of whiskey. I’m still ambitious and competitive. I want to show that the shifts brought on by globalization and the digital age do not have to be existential threats. We have reached the frontier of masculinity, and there is nowhere left to explore but the nursery, the most “other” room of them all.
You can reach me at natehegs (at) yahoo (dot) com
I am a writer, journalist and communications consultant living in Stockholm, Sweden with my wife and two small children. I graduated from Swarthmore College and from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and also spent three years in rural war-torn Croatian towns working first in grassroots peace projects then for an American non-profit.
I currently contribute regularly to Quartz and The Morning News, and my writing and photography have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Slate, Salon, the Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor and lonelyplanet.com, among other places. I also spent five years as a reporter and editor at the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, New York covering the expanding edge of the New York City exurbs.