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2 years ago, I had the spotlight for being a good dad. My message would be different now.

Does becoming famous for fatherhood actually help fatherhood?

In late 2013, a simple fatherhood moment changed my life forever.

I was working in corporate America and took paternity leave to bond with my three-month-old daughter (my second child). One morning, my wife was worried about being late for work while she was in the middle of wrangling my older daughter's wild hair.

While changing my baby's diaper in the other room, I simply told her, "Go ahead, I got this."


Skeptical that I would be able to keep the baby happy while simultaneously playing the role of hairstylist, my wife looked at me and said, "I'll believe it when I see it," and she went off to work.

After she left, I set my camera on its timer, took this photo, and emailed it to her.

A simple photo ended up being not so simple after all.

We both got a good chuckle out of the photo, but once I shared it with the public a few hours later, everything changed.

Once I put the photo on social media, people lost their minds — and the reactions were predictable.

Some thought I was the sexiest dad alive, some threw racial slurs my way, some thought I was cool for demonstrating what fatherhood looks like, and some wondered why a guy who takes care of his kids is trending on their news feeds.

Sure, it was a cute photo, but was it really that big of a deal? I received my answer when mainstream media found it a few weeks later, in January 2014.

Before I could blink, the heavy hitters contacted me to discuss "the photo."

The "Today" show.

Giving Al Roker a shoulder rub on national television was, um, interesting. GIF from the "Today" show.

"Good Morning America."

I'm not a fan of the "Mr. Mom" label at all. Image from "Good Morning America."

HLN.

Fist bumps to the dads of the world who take their jobs seriously. GIF from HLN.

Katie Couric.

Being interviewed by Katie Couric was great, but did it really help? Photo from "Katie."

And dozens more.

It was quite a whirlwind. But it was a conversation I had with a female college student on a flight home from one of those interviews that really made me think.

"I'm sure you had a message to share while you experienced all of the viral stuff," she said. "Do you think it was heard?"

Good question.

Any idiot can be interviewed on national television, but few can use that opportunity to make a lasting, positive difference.

Was I one of those idiots? Or did I move the conversation forward about what it means to be a modern dad in America?

I still don't have the answer two years later, but I realized it's more important to focus on the future instead.

So here are three simple things I want for fatherhood in 2016 and beyond.

1. We have to raise the bar for what it means to be a good dad.

Men expecting props for handling rudimentary child-rearing tasks are no different than men expecting props for staying out of jail. Because as Chris Rock once said, we're supposed to stay out jail, and we're supposed to take care of our kids.

That's right, Chris. GIF from the HBO special "Bring the Pain."

Most moms aren't asking for statues to be erected in their honor for taking their kids to the park, giving their babies baths, or waking up in the middle of the night to comfort their children. And neither should any dad.

It's very simple. If we see a dad doing something adorable with his children, we should pause and ask ourselves this important question: "Would I offer praise to a mom for doing the same thing?" If the answer is yes, then fire away. If the answer is no, then it's probably a good idea to keep it to ourselves.

Any idiot can be interviewed on national television, but few can use that opportunity to make a lasting, positive difference. Was I one of those idiots? Or did I move the conversation forward about what it means to be a modern dad in America?

2. Let good dads be good dads.

In my experiences, the one thing that new dads complain about the most is being unable to interact with their kids in their own unique way.

Maybe he is provided pointers on how to brush his daughter's teeth when he really doesn't need them.

Because sometimes personal hygiene takes teamwork. Photo from the Daddy Doin' Work Instagram feed, used with permission.

Or maybe his Neanderthal buddies poke fun at him for choosing to open his "daddy nail salon" for his daughter instead of opening a few beers at the local sports bar.

That is one happy customer. Photo from the Daddy Doin' Work Instagram feed, used with permission.

Either way, it isn't OK.

These guys are doing their best to navigate through challenges of fatherhood and shouldn't be demotivated. Just because the way we (dads) do things isn't the way others may choose to do them doesn't make it wrong. It makes it different.

3. I want people to look at my photo and think it's not a big deal.

Right now, there are thousands of dads across the globe doing something infinitely more difficult, cooler, or heartwarming than what I did that morning. We change diapers, we can braid our daughters' hair, and we are always there physically, emotionally, and spiritually for our children.

But here's more good news: If a photo similar to mine made the rounds on social media today, I doubt it would create such a stir. That's because it's not only cool to be a good dad, but it's expected to be one.

Gone are the days when a dude can get away with believing his fatherhood responsibilities begin and end with bringing home a nice paycheck. Fatherhood is evolving because we're finally demanding more of the men who are responsible for raising our kids — and that's the way it should be.

Now when we discuss viral fatherhood experiences, it will mean dealing with the flu bug that our kids shared with us.

And I highly doubt that will trend on social media.

Sponsored

Three women, three MS journeys: How multiple sclerosis looks different for everyone

Gina, Nathalie and Helga share their reactions to being diagnosed with MS and how they stay informed and positive in the face of ever-changing symptoms.

Courtesy of Sanofi

Helga, Nathalie and Gina all have MS, and their experiences show how differently the disease can manifest.

True

It’s been 155 years since neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot gave the first lecture on a mysterious progressive illness he called “multiple sclerosis.” Since then, we’ve learned a lot. We know MS causes the immune system to attack healthy tissue, including damaging the brain and spinal cord. Resulting symptoms can be debilitating and include fatigue, blurred vision, memory problems and weakness. Huge advancements in our understanding of MS and its underlying causes, as well as treatment advances, have been made in the past few decades, but MS remains a complex and unpredictable reality for the 2.8 million+ people diagnosed around the world.

Ironically, the only real constant for people living with MS is change. There’s no set pattern or standard progression of the disease, so each person’s experience is unique. Some people with MS have mild symptoms that worsen slowly but sometimes improve, while others can have severe symptoms that drastically alter their daily lives.

All people with MS share some things in common, however, such as the need to stay informed on the ever-evolving research, find various lines of support and try to remain hopeful as they continue living with the disease.

To better understand what navigating life with MS really looks like, three women shared their MS stories with us. Their journeys demonstrate how MS can look different for different people and interestingly, how the language used to talk about the disease can greatly impact how people understand their realities.

woman with horse, woman riding horseGina loves riding her horse, Benita.Courtesy of Sanofi

Gina—Hamburg, Germany (diagnosed with relapsing multiple sclerosis in 2017)

When her youngest son was 4 months old, Gina started having problems with her eye. She’d soon learn she was experiencing optic neuritis—her first symptom of MS.

“Immediately after the diagnosis, I looked up facts on MS because I didn’t know anything about it,” Gina says. “And as soon as I knew what could really happen with this disease, I actually got scared.”

As her family’s primary income provider, she worried about how MS would impact her ability to work as a writer and editor. Her family was afraid she was going to end up in a wheelchair. However, for now, Gina’s MS is managed well enough that she still works full-time and is able to be active.

“When I tell somebody that I have MS, they often don't believe me the first time because I don't fulfill any stereotypes,” she says.

Overwhelmed by negative perspectives on living with MS, Gina sought support in the online MS community, which she found to be much more positive.

“I think it’s important to use as many positive words as you can when talking about MS.” It’s important to be realistic while also conveying hope, she says. “MS is an insidious disease that can cause many bad symptoms…that can be frightening, and you can't gloss over it, either.”

To give back to the online community that helped her so much, Gina started a blog to share her story and help others trying to learn about their diagnosis.

Though she deals with fatigue and cognitive dysfunction sometimes, Gina stays active swimming, biking, riding horses and playing with her sons, who are now 11 and 6.

Cognitive dysfunction is common in MS, with over half of people affected. It can impact memory, attention, planning, and word-finding. As with many aspects of MS, some people experience mild changes, while others face more challenges.

Gina says that while there’s still a lot of education about MS needed, she feels positive about the future of MS because there’s so much research being done.

woman in wheelchair holding medal, woman rowingNathalie is an award-winning rower with multiple international titles.Courtesy of Sanofi

Nathalie — Pennes Mirabeau, France (diagnosed with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis in 2002)

Nathalie was a teenager and a competitive athlete when she noticed her first symptoms of MS, but it would take four years of “limbo” before she was diagnosed.

“Ultimately, the diagnosis was more of a relief, than a shock,” she says. “Because when you have signs and you don’t know why, it’s worse than knowing, in the end, what you have.”

However, learning more about the disease—and the realities of disease progression—scared her.

“That glimpse of the future was direct and traumatic,” she says. Her neurologist explained that the disease evolves differently for everyone, and her situation might end up being serious or very mild. So, she decided to stop comparing herself to others with MS.

She said to herself, “We’ll see what happens, and you’ll manage it bit by bit.”

By 2005, Nathalie’s MS had progressed to the point of needing a wheelchair. However, that has not dampened her competitive spirit.

Nathalie began her international rowing career in 2009 and has won multiple world titles, including two Paralympic medals—silver in London and bronze in Tokyo. Now, at 42, she still trains 11 times a week. Fatigue can be a problem, and sometimes hard workouts leave her with muscle stiffness and shaking, but she credits her ongoing sports career for helping her feel in tune with her body’s signals.

“Over the years, I’ve learned to listen to my body, letting my body guide when I need to stop and take breaks,” she says.

Nathalie explains that she used to only look backwards because of the initial shock of her diagnosis. In time, she stopped thinking about what she couldn’t do anymore and focused on her future. She now lives in the following mindset: “Even when doors close, don’t miss out on those that open.” Instead of focusing on what she can’t do, she focuses on the opportunities she still has. Right now, this includes her training for the 2024 Paralympic Games in Paris, where she will compete for another rowing medal.

“I only go forward,” she says. “Well, I try, anyway…It’s easy to say, it’s not always easy to do. But that’s what I try to do.”

woman exiting water after swimming, woman with great daneHelga's Great Dane has become a helpful and beloved companion.Courtesy of Sanofi

Helga—Johannesburg, South Africa (diagnosed with relapsing multiple sclerosis in 2010)

When Helga first started having balance issues and numbness in her feet, she chalked it up to her training as a runner. But when the numbness moved to her face, she knew something was wrong. She never guessed it was MS.

“When I was diagnosed, I felt completely overwhelmed and clueless,” Helga says. “I felt that I had nowhere near enough information. I did not know anything about the disease…I had no idea that it was going to be a process of continually monitoring and adjusting your lifestyle.”

In the beginning, Helga’s symptoms developed slowly, and she didn’t appear ill to others. She was even able to run for a few years after her diagnosis, but she couldn’t do marathons anymore, and she began to fall frequently due to balance issues and right-foot dragging. Then her cognition issues became more problematic, especially in her job as a trainer in a printing company.

“My executive function, decision-making and short-term memory were affected to the point that I was eventually medically unfit for work,” she says. She stopped working in 2017.

However, she didn’t stop living life. Even though she could no longer run, she continued to swim competitively. She got a Great Dane puppy and trained him as a service dog to help her walk. She also serves as vice chair of the patient support organization Multiple Sclerosis South Africa, and she advises others who have been diagnosed to join a patient advocacy group as soon as possible to get reliable information and meet others with MS.

Helga says she is “hopeful” about the future of MS. “I must say that I am so grateful that we have all the new medications available, because my life would not be the same if it wasn't for that,” she adds.

Part of how she manages her MS is by looking at the positives.

“If I could tell the world one thing about MS, it would be that MS is an incurable disease of the nervous system, but it's also the greatest teacher of valuing your health, family, friends, and managing change in your life,” she says. “My life is diversified in a way that I never, ever thought it would, and MS has been honestly the greatest teacher.”

Each MS journey is unique – with each person impacted experiencing different struggles, successes, and feelings as they manage this unpredictable disease. But the common thread is clear – there is a critical need for information, support, and hope. We are proud to participate in World MS Day and share these incredible stories of living life while living with MS. To learn more about MS, go to https://www.sanofi.com/why-words-really-matter-when-it-comes-to-multiple-sclerosis.

MAT-GLB-2301642-v1.0-05/2023

This article was sponsored by Sanofi. Participants were compensated when applicable.

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