Curtis Webster, Jr. needed community. It was 2014, and he wanted to find other parents like himself, men who were married to physicians: Webster’s wife, Allison, is an emergency room doctor. So Webster went on Facebook and created a group called “Dads Married to Doctors.” It turned out he was far from alone; the group has attracted thousands of fathers in 25 countries since its inception. That was before the coronavirus pandemic. These days, life has a host of new challenges.
For fathers like Webster, who are married to front-line doctors, caring for their children during the pandemic has forced them to expand the role of fatherhood. Webster — who works as both a stay-at-home father to his daughters, ages 5, 7 and 11, and as a remote business owner in information technology and support — found comfort in knowing others are experiencing similar home-life balance challenges. All of them are trying to be supportive husbands and parents as they cope with uncertain times together.
“I try to be more creative as a father during this time and figure out new ways to entertain the kids, new ways for my wife and I to date, new ways for us as a family to interact,” Webster, 38, told NBC News from Cary, North Carolina.
The mothers, he says, “have this whole decontamination process. Like here at our home, my wife will come into the garage, she’ll change out of all her clothes. We have a first-floor shower, so she’ll hit the shower, and then at that point she’s ready to come and re-interact with the family and re-engage,” he said.
One of the challenges in 2014 was finding fathers in similar roles to Webster's so he could better understand his responsibility as a father married to a doctor. In 2020, his challenges grew. Caring for his children now meant answering tough questions about the pandemic and explaining new safety rules put in place for interacting with family and friends. It wasn’t easy, but it was necessary.
“We’ve been able to talk about why it’s important that when we go out, we wear our mask. We would see our friends, we would go out for our evening walks and we would see our friends and their first thought process, as we would always do, is run up and give everybody hugs, and then we’d have to be, ‘Oh, hold on, hold on. Wait, no, no. Social distance, give them space,’” he said.
At the start of the year, Webster and his wife were working on how to spend more time with their children and building a better work-life balance. The pandemic threw those goals off course, which made parenting both harder but newly meaningful.
“I was already in the process of learning about my girls and their different personality traits and how they handle situations and how they best learn, but I never had to see it firsthand," Webster recalled. "I would go to the schools when I could. I would go and visit them for lunches and volunteer, but seeing them firsthand and being that teacher and having to jump into that role was definitely something I had to rise to,” he explained.
For Webster and his wife, spending time with their children shifted dramatically, due to unforeseen challenges like home schooling and being together all day, every day, but they’re also coping together.
“I think during this pandemic, celebrating fatherhood might look a little different,” Chris McGilvery told NBC News from Canyon, Texas, about Father’s Day 2020.
McGilvery — a 35-year-old father of two young boys, ages 1 and 5 — works as an instructional designer for online courses. He also co-founded the educational nonprofit Give More HUGS, which works with students in underprivileged areas so they can have equitable access to leadership development and learning.
McGilvery has been the primary caregiver at home during the pandemic. His plan was to transition back to full-time work this year after his wife, Taryn, completed her residency in family medicine. Then came COVID-19. As the pandemic hit, McGilvery continued to spend more time at home with his family but is transitioning back to work next week.
It wasn’t easy. Residency, McGilvery noted, “is probably the most grueling time for physicians. The training hours. You barely get to see your spouse, and you’re barely around each other.” He had been looking forward to seeing her more and getting into a new, more normal, routine. That didn’t happen. Yet McGilvery said the pandemic has shown him the importance of family life and supporting his wife and children.
“I think the pandemic really helped me see that it’s really important to be balanced and to be present, and to be there for your kids and your family, and I want to continue to strive to do that every day for my boys and my wife,” he said.
But there have been opportunities found here, as well. McGilvery, who has a Filipino mother, is reading a Spanish-language book with his children and has made a concerted effort to broaden their reading selections.
“They are Filipino, they are German, they are Irish, and I want them to understand who they are and who the world is. And so, we read diverse books to the kids,” he explained.
For Chris Murdock, 42, in Nashville, Tennessee, spending more time with his 7-year-old daughter, Ella Grace, means doing so while juggling his work for the executive search firm he co-founded, IQTalent Partners. Murdock has been managing his team from home while two-thirds of his employees are on furlough to keep his business afloat.
His wife, Dr. Jennifer Andrews, works as a pediatric hematologist-oncologist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. "She's always been about taking care of kids, taking care of patients, doing what's best for her co-workers, and so Ella has gotten to see this," Murdock said.
But now that his wife is working remotely, from home, Murdock noted, referencing the telehealth that many physicians now practice, “which was very rare before, I’m still in charge of child care for the most part,” he said.
Murdock discussed the pressures put on him as a dad and a remote business owner in the pandemic. “I’ve been at a zero salary for over a month now. We’re doing everything we can to make sure we still have a business in three, six, 12, 18 months,” he said. Doing so means keeping his team safe, but also making sure his daughter is supported. He even tried to make his daughter’s birthday in May memorable by having a socially distanced celebratory drive-by with her friends and family after he cancelled her big birthday party.
“We took pictures of every car that went by. We took pictures of her sitting in her birthday throne, and it was the first time she’d gotten to see these friends of hers in person. It was just such a magical moment and sad at the same time, because she couldn’t play with them,” he explained.
As Father’s Day approaches this weekend, these fathers are practicing parenthood to its fullest expression: tough, not always balanced, but always trying their best.
But the challenges aren’t limited to the pandemic, because 2020 hasn’t only raised questions about the coronavirus. As Black Lives Matter demonstrations spread nationally in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, the conversations turned to identity and race in Webster’s home.
“We’ve been able to talk about how we can best prepare them to live as young black girls in this world and be the best that they can be, but also navigate the norms and the perceptions of society. So, we’ve been able to have some amazing, deep and fine and interesting conversations and go through the whole gamut during these times, as we’ve had more time together,” he said.
All in all, Webster sees this as an opportunity to learn more about his daughters and not have to miss out on meaningful moments throughout the day.
“I think that we just need to take a moment and just be like, ‘Hey, these moments have been hard during the pandemic, but, hey, I’m here. My kids are here. My wife is supported. Here we go. Let’s just continue this journey,’" Webster said. "So cheers to all the dads."