Dear Dads

Craig Melvin: An Open Letter To Dads On Father's Day

The reporter, Today show co-host, and father of two has a message for all dads out there: It’s going to be alright, thanks to you.

by Craig Melvin and James Grebey
Craig Melvin, wife, Lindsay Czarniak, and kids.
Craig Melvin

For nearly a decade, Craig Melvin was on TV every morning delivering the headlines But, a little less than three months ago, Melvin officially stepped back from his 11 a.m. time slot on MSNBC. He’s still a regular fixture on the small screen, co-hosting the Today show, but it’s a markedly different work-life balance. Melvin, who is a father to an 8-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter, and who wrote a book about his strained relationship with his own dad, says part of the reason why he left the job was because of something he learned through the pandemic and the resulting lockdowns and shift to working from home: the importance of presence.

With Father’s Day coming up, Melvin has some thoughts for dads everywhere — sage advice on how we can be better dads to our children, or fellow dads, and each other.

The pandemic changed fatherhood for a lot of dads, and I would maintain, probably changed it for the better. Fathers of small children, especially, were forced to step up and help out in a way that we've never seen before, with virtual schooling and much more. As a result of that, dads got to spend a lot more time with their school-age children. In 2022, fatherhood has, I would contend, come farther over the last couple of years than it had in the previous 20 — by force. We all just had a lot more time together, which I think ultimately is going to be beneficial.

Being present is a substantial part of fatherhood. This means physically present, but also emotionally present, spiritually present, and mentally present. That's something that I really learned during the pandemic when I was, like a lot of dads, spending a lot more time in the house — some of that time working and some of that time, not — and it was just easy to not be as present as I wanted to be. But, as the pandemic dragged on, I'd like to think I focused more on achieving that presence. That's something that I've worked to maintain. In fact, I'm about to get changed and head over to my 5-year-old's graduation from preschool. That's not something that I would've been able to do just a year ago because I was doing a show that came on at 11 o'clock every day. I realized that I was missing a lot of the most formative years. And so I stepped back from that daily cable show. And, it's quite frankly about the best thing that I've done professionally — ever.

Not every dad out there has the luxury to shift their work around like that, but there are still ways that any dad can be more present for their kids. One of the easiest ways, I have found, is to put down the damn phone. That was one thing that I was really guilty of, spending a lot of time on my phone for work or just doom-scrolling. Beyond just putting down the phone to make yourself more available to your children and to be more present, we know that children mirror behaviors, and I do worry that we're gonna have an entire generation of kids in this country that, because they've seen mom and dad on their phone for 12 hours a day, they are going to assume that that is normal behavior. That should worry all of us. So, the one piece of advice I would give is just, let's make a concerted effort to not use the phones this much in front of our children.

I'm a firm believer in therapy. I have been for years. I encourage all dads, if you can afford a therapist, to talk to a therapist. And, if you can't, lean on other dads. We've got this great fraternity that we're all a part of, and I've spent a fair amount of time talking to other dads about challenges that all dads have. The challenges change — the old adage "little kids, little problems; big kids, big problems."

I have found in my friend group that talking to other dads helps me deal with some of the anxiety and stress. It's not just for dealing with the anxiety and the stress of being a dad, but I find sometimes that it's just good when you can talk to someone who's going through something that you're going through or something that you've gone through. Someone you can relate to, someone you can relate with. I find strength and solidarity in that.

That's something that's taken me a couple of years to understand. If you're out on a golf course, or you're in the backyard at a cookout and you start talking to your buddy about his 8-year-old or his 5-year-old, and some of the challenges that maybe you're having. Then you discover, "Oh, wait a minute. He's either having the same challenges or different kinds of challenges." And you can sit there and you're spitballing ideas.

That it took me a while to really see and value conversations with my fellow dads is perhaps a function of when our dads were young fathers. I don't think there was a great deal of talking about fatherhood. But now there are, there are so many resources available — for instance, publications devoted entirely to the celebration of fatherhood. I think that it's made it a lot easier to talk about fatherhood because it's cool to talk about being a dad now. When we were younger, when we were kids, I think it seemed like more of a job.

To all the dads reading who have just started this journey, know that it only gets better. It's funny because when both of my children were very little — I'm talking about under 6 months — I actually felt kind of helpless, to a certain extent. My wife was breastfeeding and, from a physical standpoint, they relied on her more than they relied on me. That took some getting used to, but as they get older, you realize you're just as important.

Every age so far has presented new excitement for me. Now, I can go out, I can shoot hoops with my son and we can throw the football in the yard. I coached his basketball team last season. And with my daughter, I go to the soccer games now and I'm on the sidelines and I've become that dad that I used to mock who's screaming at the girls to follow the ball. Every year there's something new that they're into. And as a result, you're into it. That's very cool. It's like I get to be a kid all over again in some ways.

Father’s Day is upon us again, I do think there's something different about the holiday this year, because, finally, we're on the back end of this pandemic that has consumed us for the past few years. Part of this Father's Day should be celebrating that, but also celebrating what I mentioned earlier, how the pandemic has forever changed fatherhood. We've developed, in most cases through no choice of our own, closer bonds with our children, because we were forced to spend so much time with them over the last few years. So I hope this Father's Day, we relish that time and commit to making that the new normal. Commit to being just as present as we were forced to be during the pandemic. If we all commit to being that present, moving forward, that's gonna be pretty awesome.

As we go into the rest of the year, we should remember fatherhood is a marathon. It's not a sprint. We're all doing the best we can do. Mom Guilt is real, but so is Dad Guilt. We're all doing our best. Every day, just showing up is 75% of being a dad. Fatherhood is the greatest gift I have been given. Enjoy it because the day will come when kids move out and they only call when they want something. So we should enjoy these days where they need us and want us around. And, we should make sure to be present for them. Take what we’ve been forced to learn and make it last until the kids leave the house — and even then, stay as present as possible when they continue to grow up.