Hopes, fears & fatherhood: Dads tell what makes a good parent on Father's Day 2022

James Brown

On today's episode of the 5 Things podcast:

Whether you have fond memories of time spent with your dad, time spent with a father figure in your life or you remember back to the time you first became a dad. This episode is for you.

USA Today’s James Brown and Music Journalist Saby Reyes-Kulkarni sat down to discuss the ups and downs, hopes and fears and expectations versus reality of parenting; including becoming a father after 40.

Reyes-Kulkarni shares the eye opening moment when he saw himself in his four-and-a-half year old daughter for the first time and what it was like 'arguing with yourself.'

Reyes-Kulkarni said of his daughter, "She's very particular. And I like it! Because I have an instant kinship with it, even though it's mostly directed at me."

James and USA Today's Tim Gardner discuss what it's like to have and raise twin boys, how priorities shift with children and how his father was a good example of fatherhood.

To follow James Brown on Twitter, click here.

You can find articles written by Saby Reyes-Kulkarni in Spin, Billboard, Paste, Pitchfork and Bandcamp.

To follow Saby Reyes-Kulkarni on Twitter, click here.

You can also subscribe to Saby's substack by clicking here.

To follow Tim Gardner on Twitter, click here.

Podcasts:True crime, in-depth interviews and more USA TODAY podcasts right here.

Hit play on the player above to hear the podcast and follow along with the transcript below. This transcript was automatically generated, and then edited for clarity in its current form. There may be some differences between the audio and the text. 

James Brown:                  Hello, and welcome to 5 Things. I'm James Brown. It's Sunday, June 19th, 2022, Father's Day. On Sundays, we do things a bit differently, focusing on one topic instead of five, and this week, it's for the dads.

                                          For the most part, I grew up without a dad. The details are complicated and more than I'll share here, but suffice it to say that I have no idea what Father's Day is like or supposed to be like. I know what I've heard from friends or seen in TV or in the movies, but as I get older, it's clearer and clearer that that's only part of the picture.

                                          To get some understanding on what it's like to be a father, we're talking to two dads about the ups and downs, hopes and fears, what they expected from fatherhood and what it's actually like. We'll also talk about some moments they'll never forget, including what it's like to have twins.

Tim Gardner:                   Our boys are very similar, but very, very different, and so when they were babies, one would sleep through the night, but the other would scream incessantly. And so the second one would always wake up the first one.

James Brown:                  More on that later. But first we'll meet Saby Reyes-Kulkarni, a music journalist whose work appears in Spin magazine, Billboard, Paste, Pitchfork, and many other places. He tells us about becoming a father, after 40.

                                          Saby Reyes-Kulkarni, welcome to 5 Things.

Saby Reyes-Kulk...:         Hey James. Thanks for having me.

James Brown:                  Saby and I have known each other for quite some time, and something I would say kind of shocking happened about five or four years ago.

Saby Reyes-Kulk...:         Four and a half.

James Brown:                  Saby became a father at like 45 years old.

Saby Reyes-Kulk...:         Oh my goodness, how shocking.

James Brown:                  So tell me, did you think it was ever going to happen for you? Did you want it to happen?

Saby Reyes-Kulk...:         I always wanted it to happen. Since I was eight years old, maybe even younger than that, I would sit on the end of my grandmother's bed and pretend that I was coming home from work to my kids, and oddly enough, I was a bald guy with a briefcase. I don't know where I got that from, when I'd picture this.

                                          I had doubts that I could pull it off, and then right after I turned 45 or no, right before... I was like, I'm going to be 45 this year, which was 2017. Had never done the math in my head. I said, oh my goodness, if I have a child at 45, I will be 63 when that child is graduating high school. Whoa, and suddenly that hit me. And I was like, well, it's good. It's now or never, and then it happened.

James Brown:                  What makes a good parent?

Saby Reyes-Kulk...:         Well, I wonder whether my answer would've been different prior to actually being one. The most important thing is just being present. That's the primary thing that at least my daughter cares about. I've heard other parents say this, but I realized it before I heard someone else say this on a radio show. There are obviously other aspects to it, but that is the primary one.

                                          The answer that comes to me now that I had never really thought of is being able to live with your own imperfections at the process will make it easier for you to modify yourself as you go along with the process. Because it's a very, very, very constant in your face sense of what you're not, where you feel you're falling short. And that compounds, at least for me, very quickly.

James Brown:                  So you're constantly critical of yourself. You're thinking that you're not doing enough.

Saby Reyes-Kulk...:         It's not so much that because oddly enough, not exactly because the thing for me, the things that I end up doing right are so... I'm so aware of those too, and I'm like, oh wow. I actually did that. That's amazing. It's almost like watching somebody else that you didn't have high hopes at being able to, and you're like, wow, I actually pulled this... This person pulled this off, and that person is me. Whoa.

                                          It's a constant awareness of what's needed and where you are relative to what's needed. Let's put it that way. At least that's how it works for me.

James Brown:                  She's four.

Saby Reyes-Kulk...:         Four and a half, almost exactly.

James Brown:                  Four and a half. My mistake.

Saby Reyes-Kulk...:         She wouldn't have corrected you. She would've said she's four too, anyway. Sorry.

James Brown:                  Do you see yourself in her?

Saby Reyes-Kulk...:         We had, yes, and it's very timely that you asked me that because I just had that moment. I think it was two days ago, as we're speaking. Where it was that proverbial instant, where you're arguing with yourself, where you totally see yourself in your kid and they're sort of telling you, what's what, and you're like, wow. I had seen myself in her before, but this was really pronounced, and this was like, I'm talking into a mirror here.

                                          She told me that when she gets, the term she used was stressed out. But when she has a lot of feelings or she feels very strongly about something, she goes over to be by herself. She climbs up into her loft to be by herself and sits quietly in what looks like a meditative pose and sits with this thing, that we have this kind of like a glitter snow globe kind of thing.

                                          What she said to me was, so I was like, oh, okay, this is totally news to me. I'd never seen her do this. She says, but when you were talking to me just now, it took me out of my concentration. I really need to concentrate. All I could do was give her a high five and say, I know where you're coming from. I hear you.

                                          Then we were pretending, we were sort of play acting that I kept messing it up for her, but then she got serious and said, oh, and she raised her finger, like to give me the silence gesture and was like, okay, that really took me out of my concentration. Now I have to start again, which is exactly like me.

                                          So yes, most definitely. It's amazing because you see aspects of the other parent and you see aspects of all these other people in the resemblance. But you also get the sense that this is a completely unique person. I get the sense that yes, there are aspects of both of her parents and who knows who else, but that the mold was shattered when this person came into the world. I definitely get that sense. Because there are other things where I'm just like, where do you get that from? Or who are you?

James Brown:                  That's the thing that came to mind as you were painting this picture of your daughter, waving her finger at you. Do you think this is more nature? Do you think this is more nurture?

Saby Reyes-Kulk...:         I think it's both. I think she's definitely seen me do that and other adults do that in films and stuff, but I did get a strong sense of while my peeves, my particularities, my nitpickiness is most definitely in this person's DNA. I mean, it just like radiates off of her. She's very particular and I like it because I have an instant kinship with it, even though it's mostly directed at me.

James Brown:                  What are the fears?

Saby Reyes-Kulk...:         Of mine?

James Brown:                  Yes.

Saby Reyes-Kulk...:         Wow. That is hard to put into words because it's such a primal, all-encompassing, gigantic, monolithic. I mean all the words you can use, that's just all infused into your system. There are many, some that I find unmentionable. Obviously physical harm is constantly a low thrum that you just learn to ignore after a while or it just gets more moderate. For me, that was quite severe when she was in the first year of her life.

                                          There's the fear that I have always had, which is that I will inflict whatever it is that I haven't worked through onto her. Now the wonderful thing about this that I did not expect at all, is that as terrifying as this can be at times, it's also oddly reassuring because anything you do that's right or falls into place as you stumble your way through this, it gets magnified.

                                          It's like when you were in kindergarten and you got a star on your macaroni art or whatever, and you felt wonderful and that was like the greatest feeling you'd ever had. This is like that, but bigger because you are, or I was a novice. I was a baby at being a parent when she was a baby. So we get to learn in the same classroom at the same pace.

James Brown:                  That's interesting. I hadn't really thought about that. You're learning from scratch. I guess, no matter how much preparation you have, other than having another child, maybe. I don't know. I am childless. You're learning as she's learning.

Saby Reyes-Kulk...:         I'm four and a half years old as a parent. As this new organism, I'm also four and a half years old.

James Brown:                  Just circling back. Do you wish you would've done this sooner?

Saby Reyes-Kulk...:         No. Nope. Absolutely not.

James Brown:                  Why not?

Saby Reyes-Kulk...:         Because it just felt like the right... There's nothing... I wouldn't have been ready for it and I certainly didn't even feel ready for it as it was happening. And that cliche, that you're never going to be ready enough. It's just going to happen. That really is true.

                                          I think I freaked out for a few hours when I realized this child was on the way, and then I happened to be on the way to visit my dad that same day. I got to talk to my dad in the wake of this nuclear bombshell going off in my life that, oh my God, I've got a child on the way. So no, I wouldn't have been ready or I wouldn't have been as ready as I was.

James Brown:                  Well, Saby Reyes-Kulkarni. Thanks for joining me.

Saby Reyes-Kulk...:         Of course. Thanks for asking me. This was a pleasure.

James Brown:                  One of the most memorable moments I've had so far at USA Today was doing a video conference call with a number of my colleagues, including our resident SEO guru, Tim Gardner. I don't recall the point that Tim was trying to make, but I won't forget his twin boys barging in on that video and the joy I saw in their faces, and on Tim's face. So I had to ask Tim, what's it like having twins?

Tim Gardner:                   When you're expecting your first, there's lots of folks that like to offer advice, and the advice is always catch up on sleep. Make sure you get your sleep now. Certainly you take that with a grain of salt. You know you're not going to get much, but with two and especially two that were... Our boys are very similar, but very, very different.

                                          When they were babies, one would sleep through the night, but the other would scream incessantly. The second one would always wake up the first one, and so we could never get to that point. It took us a while to figure out how to manage that, where one didn't always interrupt the other, which then in turn interrupts both parents. It was never like dad can go take a shift and mom will get a couple hours of sleep. It was always both at the same time.

                                          It was that overcoming. It truly was a lack of sleep and then a lack of clarity the rest of the day. Like, did that happen? And how am I going to get through today to go through it again tomorrow or tonight?

                                          But once you fall into that routine and sticking to a routine, it helps the kids certainly become accustomed to what they're supposed to be doing, but it also just helped us as parents take a deep breath and know that certain times were for certain things, and what we had once claimed as maybe a priority before the boys arrived, was much, much, much further down the list. Yeah, that routine really helped us turn a corner and just get going.

James Brown:                  It sounds like you had to be operating in some sort of fog.

Tim Gardner:                   To say the least, and so for me, working at USA Today, the odd part about my history is that in 2015, USA Today Sports launched a new app for mobile users. It was, not to get too into the weeds, but it was like a unique, engaging look at sports scores and telling sports stories. The app launched the same day that my twins were born.

                                          I had twin boys in the hospital and I had PR interviews that I was supposed to be doing for the app launch, which I had been working on for like 18 months or two years. My wife, God bless her, but there were certainly times where we were in the hospital, and I was like doing interviews for work from the parking lot while she was getting help from nurses. Then I would scurry back in and try and help.

                                          I like to say that I almost had triplets because of the app being born that same day, and it was just a crazy experience. To say it was a fog is an understatement. I had absolutely no idea what was going on, even if on the exterior, it appeared that I had some grasp of reality. But no, I was lost for sure.

James Brown:                  These two young men start moving around, they start walking around and eventually they get to school. Tell me about that process. Do you feel like you've had to let go some?

Tim Gardner:                   Certainly, yes. A key factor for us too, was letting them go of each other just a little bit. For the first five years of their lives, they were never apart. They were always with parents or a nanny or a grandparent and they were always together.

                                          When they went to school, it was like, okay, we're going to get back a normal work schedule. We're going to... For the parents, for my wife and I, it was okay, we're going to get some semblance of normalcy back to our lives, but the boys are going to be together.

                                          Their first year in school, we kept them together in the classroom. They had one another to lean on, if something was going on. But now, they're in first grade now, and so this year we went into separate classrooms to hopefully allow them to spread their wings a little bit too, and meet new friends and have one-on-one identities with their classmates and their friends so that it wasn't always Alex and Will. It was, I want to play with Alex or I want to do this with Will, and they weren't always one entity that were following behind the parents.

                                          So yeah, school was a big step for them. They're doing great. They love school, which is awesome. They love reading, but it certainly was a challenge trying to figure out. One, how to let go. How are we just going to let them go and be alone as we think for six to eight hours a day. But also, two, how are we going to let them build their own identities through school and through their friends, and so they're not just the twins. They're Alex and Will.

James Brown:                  What scares you about fatherhood? Is it like you thought it would be?

Tim Gardner:                   It's what I hoped it would be. I've been fortunate enough that my dad has been very active in my life. When I was younger, he was my little league coach. When I was in college, he was bringing out supplies. I went to school somewhat close to home. He's the kind of dad where if we were just talking on the phone and I was like, I was at the store the other day and I forgot to pick up this. My dad would like go to the store, pick it up and deliver it, just to make my life a little bit easier.

                                          I've been really fortunate to have that kind of support system for me, and it has been a great blueprint for how I can do it for my boys, even though it's a little bit different with two at once, and it's hard to be there for both at sometimes when they both need help. But having that roadmap that my dad kind of laid out for me, and being able to leverage that.

                                          I coach little league now and we're in coach pitch and we're all about making the kids want to come back and play more. It's not necessarily about, are you the best player in the league? I just want you to come back to practice. Because I remember when I was a kid, I loved going to practice with my dad, with my friends.

                                          So I'm trying to leverage what my dad taught me for my kids. I get a little bit emotional thinking about it. That's a pretty cool thing. So yeah, that part is exciting to me. It's not scary because I've had such a great blueprint from a great dad.

James Brown:                  We were exchanging some messages about this prior to talking, and you shared some photos of you and your kids golfing. What's that experience like? And obviously going from I'm sure doing the kids swing to maybe actually making contact with the ball had to be an interesting thing to watch happen.

Tim Gardner:                   It was, I am a golfer. I've liked golf since I was in high school. I play it as much as I can. It's a place where I can go where I can't get mad at anybody else. The only person I can blame for a bad golf shot is me, and so I've always loved that challenge.

                                          When my kids were really, really young, they were probably like two, I had a golf tournament on TV and they really started watching it. They were like, what are these guys doing? They're trying to hit a ball in a hole.

                                          We got them a little putting mat and they did putting in the house, and then we would go to the driving range and believe it or not, they learned the swing just from watching it on TV. At one point in their lives, in the 2018 Masters, I had recorded the final round on our DVR. I'm not kidding that at two and a half years old, they watched that every single day for six months. That was instead of watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, they were watching the Masters and it was hilarious. I know you're supposed to limit screen time, but as a dad, when your kid says, I want to watch the Masters. Go for it, buddy. I was all about it.

                                          Over time, they enjoyed the driving range, and then we would go to the little par three course and they enjoyed that. Then it was the big course and they were so excited to play on the same course that I was. They've really taken to it. It's something they're passionate about. It's not the only sport. They play baseball, they play basketball.

                                          But for two little dudes to be that into golf and understand the rules and be quiet in your back swing and respected and walk with their own clubs and carry their own things. There's a lot of things in golf that are takeaways for life, and I'm just thrilled that they're into it and that they have good swings. It's a cool opportunity for me to spend three or four hours with the boys, just hanging out in the golf cart. And there's nothing like it. I love it.

James Brown:                  Here's hoping you have many, many, many more years of that, and who knows, maybe they'll be on the Masters.

Tim Gardner:                   Hey, no pressure.

James Brown:                  Tim Gardner. Thank you for joining me.

Tim Gardner:                   James, thank you so much. Happy Father's Day and all.

James Brown:                  If you like the show, write us a review or give us five stars on Apple podcasts or wherever you're listening and do me a favor. Share it with a friend, every little bit counts. What do you think of the show? Let me know at jamesbrowntv on Twitter or email me at jabrown@usatoday.com.

                                          Thanks to Saby Reyes-Kulkarni and Tim Gardner for joining me, and to Alexis Gustin for production assistance. Taylor Wilson will be back tomorrow morning with 5 Things You Need to Know for Monday.

                                          And for all of us at USA Today, thanks for listening. I'm James Brown, and as always, be well.