Modeling Wellness and Self-Care with Full-time Papa, Dan King
We are so excited to shine light on our community member and Father’s Day feature, Dan King (@frontrowpapa). The proud papa to newly-one-year-old Kian and husband to Aja Naomi King, Dan is sharing his perspectives on fatherhood. From supporting and further developing a well-balanced and healthy lifestyle throughout his and Aja's pregnancy journey to modeling self-care and sharing rituals with his son, Dan expands on his commitment to being present with his family and creating a life based on wellness, self-care, and keeping an open-mind when it comes to parenthood.
Matrescence: Backtracking a bit to when you first learned that you would be a father. What was your initial feeling, and how did you prepare yourself to be a father (e.g., reading books on fatherhood, adjusting your lifestyle, talking to other dads about their experience, etc.)?
Dan King: When my wife showed me the positive pregnancy test I was flooded with feelings of excitement but also with lots of fear. We had two miscarriages prior to that so at this point I knew staying present would be essential for our wellbeing.
My way of dealing with these fears was making it my daily mission to do everything possible to help her. Our lifestyle was already very dialed in, since we were actively trying to get pregnant, so when we had the positive pregnancy test that’s when we took it to another level. Every day I focused on preparing meals with the optimal micronutrient profile for the specific stage of the pregnancy, finding ways to help Aja stay very active, and prioritize movements that would prepare her for birth and creating opportunities and space to care for the mind.
As you’ve shared on Instagram, you were very mindful of supporting your wife, Aja Naomi King, in her transition to motherhood. What was your method of finding and incorporating healthy and wholesome nutrients to include in both your and Aja’s meals? In what other aspects did you support her throughout pregnancy and postpartum?
Dan: We decided early on that if we were going to embark on this journey that we didn’t want to be apart from one another. Aja does not cook, at all, ever. While I am very passionate about cooking and fascinated by the impact nutrients have on our bodies and overall health so when we decided we wanted to have a baby I was focused on locking in practices that would not only enhance our health and well being but also be the foundation for creating new life. That’s where I knew I could be of the greatest support. So wherever we were I made sure to find the freshest, most nutrient dense ingredients to craft meals that I knew she would love. Not only did I focus on nutrition, I understood the value of doing everything as a team. For example, I eliminated alcohol out of solidarity, we meditated together, went on walks and continued working out together so she never had to feel like she was doing this alone. I have never done so many squats in my life before. For me that’s what being a true partner means.
On the subject of how you helped Aja, what advice can you give to other soon-to-be fathers in how they can support their partners during their transition into parenthood? Are there any resources you recommend for fatherhood and wellness for the mind and body?
Dan: Everybody’s journey is going to be different, very personal and unique. With that in mind though I would encourage partners to be very curious. Read, educate yourself and take a deep dive into the miraculous transformation it takes to create new life. The better you understand what is happening before, during and after pregnancy, the better you will be able to figure out ways to support. I do want to highlight nutrition. From my understanding this can be one of the greatest gifts you can give to your partner and child. I understand this can be very tricky sometimes and even a controversial topic. I encourage everybody to read "Real Food for Pregnancy" and decide for themselves after reading what approach to take.
You’ve also shared that you practice and model self-care to Kian. Can you tell us more about the reason for this approach to parenting? How do you develop these rituals, and which one is your favorite to share with your son?
Dan: Our lactation consultant said something that really struck a chord for me in the first couple days of Kian’s life. Instead of leaning into the idea that you have to sacrifice yourself for your child at all costs, model for them boundaries and self love by taking care of yourself. If you sacrifice your own well-being for their sake, then your baby will internalize that sacrifice equals love, but if you take care of yourself and demonstrate boundaries and a care of your own well-being as well as theirs then they can learn how that can be a healthy way to express love for themselves and others. When you model these things, your baby learns taking care of themself can be an expression of love versus the opposite which has them internalize that sacrifice is love. This is really important to us and is an invaluable opportunity for our child to grow up and experience that self care is an expression of self love.
I had to learn which rituals would be easy to impart as well as impactful for him. Obviously, there are some limitations, I learned it's challenging to meditate with eyes closed with him crawling around me, but he has always demonstrated a keen interest in what I’m doing as well as a desire to participate. So when I go work out, I can give him a little 3 lbs weight and he will mimic my actions, whether I am squatting or doing reps. He can hang out with me when I do a cold plunge (not going in the water, of course) but watching his Papa take care of himself. I was amazed when I did breath work and he would sit there mimicking my inhales and exhales, and it was the cutest thing seeing him trying to do the super ventilation type of breathing. I love sharing all of this with him, I hope I’m helping him to establish a framework for connected, peaceful living.
How has your life changed since becoming a father regarding lifestyle (e.g., traveling, fitness, and home life)? What have you learned about yourself as Kian’s father?
Dan: It has been turned upside down. Everything has changed. It feels as intense as it is rewarding. I am a proud full time father now, trying to do as much of the heavy lifting at home as possible without burning the candle on both sides. It took me a while to realize that asking for help when needed will actually allow me to give my family more. Everything now requires detailed planning and efficient execution. But even in the midst of that I’ve learned two key words: flexibility and improvisation. I’m a detailed planner, I like to have everything thought out and taken care of in advance, but with a child you have to expect the unexpected and instead of allowing myself to be thrown by things not going to plan, I’ve learned to improvise. Being open and up to the challenge of thinking on my feet has allowed me to not miss out on staying present with him and remaining joyful. Our son is very adaptable and open to changes in our plans because we remain calm and easy around him. We prioritize his needs but we don’t try to neglect ourselves in the process. We’ve learned to ask for help so that we can also spend some time alone together. The better care we take of ourselves, the better we can show up as parents.