A father reflects on what he’s learned about parenthood from his non-verbal, autistic son. A dad shares success strategies, heavily dependent on humorous YouTube videos, to cope with difficult days of kid care. The father of a kangaroo-loving child wonders how to empower the boy beyond making a donation to an Australian wildlife rescue in the midst of devastating fires.
These are the types of essays you’ll find in the “Voices” department of Fatherly, a 5-year old online publication packed with parenting articles, videos, and personal narratives. It’s one of the few publications devoted to all things Dad. “Women read more on the internet,” explains Andrew Burmon, editor-in-chief at Fatherly, about the prevalence of mother-related publications in print and online. “Being a mom is an understood cultural value. Being a dad is a bit more ambiguous.”
Contributors to the “Voices” department of Fatherly offer readers clarity on what it means to parent children in this age – culturally, politically, and environmentally. They share complex narratives about life-altering events and successful parenting strategies. Contributors include parents, people who hope one day to become parents, and those writing about their own parents.
Tone, editorial content of Fatherly
Fatherly editors look for honest accounts of the challenges and joys of raising children – stories that incorporate humor, candid testimonials of embarrassing moments, and accounts of stark difficulties that mark the parenting experience. Submission guidelines note that potential contributors should “use the same language you’d use to talk to a friend.”
Craig Olson’s essay “‘Little Women’ is a Lifestyle Brand. I Bought In.” particularly resonated with Burmon. In the piece, Olson – a rare book dealer – reflects on how he and his wife raised three daughters on an island off the coast of Maine.
“The piece was pegged to the Oscars, when the film version of Little Women was a contender this year,” Burmon explains. “It spoke to something in the news and provided insight by someone who had made an attempt to provide an experience to his daughters and was met with resistance. It wasn’t an ode to his own success as a parent. He had to grapple with some harsh realities and provided an honest reckoning with the decisions he’d made and their ramifications for his daughters.”
Burmon finds submissions about being a good father less interesting than conflict-rich stories. “We also get a lot of submissions from people discussing their emotions, but these emotions are completely unmixed to such a degree that it’s hard to believe the story is true,” he says. “People don’t want to be perceived as having mixed feelings about their children or being ambivalent about the decisions they’ve made as parents, but they should be honest.”
Fatherly editors look for “stories with conflict and resolution, in the way that all good stories are about conflict and resolution,” Burmon explains.
He also urges writers to ground their stories in physical settings. “People live in specific places, with common values and certain physicalities that define them day to day. We’re always delighted when someone describes something like a tree in their essay,” he says. “We live in emotional and physical landscapes.”
Comedy Writing Secrets author Mark Shatz is a frequent contributor; a single dad, he’s written about what he calls “fast food shame,” about the weirdness of teen sleepovers, and an essay titled “The Specific Joy of Stealing Your Kids’ Candy.” Freelance writer Zachery Román has also published multiple essays in Fatherly, including “It Took a Near-Divorce for Me to Understand What It Means to be a Dad.”
However, contributors don’t need to be professional writers. Mike Valliere, who wrote “How Fatherhood Helped Me Overcome Childhood Abuse and Trauma” is a full-time dad in Massachusetts, where he’s training to become a community health worker. Christian Czerwinski, who wrote “As My Wife Delivered Our Child, I Vomited and Vomited and Vomited” is a public relations professional in New York. And Ken Malatesta, who wrote “Is the Tooth Fairy Real? Absolutely, Just Ask My Son” is a middle and high school writing teacher in Illinois.
Advice for potential contributors
Burmon gravitates toward essays that do more than offer funny dad anecdotes. “I want to give readers insight, whether they choose to act on it or not,” he explains. A perfect example, he adds, is Jake Malooley’s forthcoming essay about how the author came to know his father after inheriting his clothing.
“Now, the author has a son,” Burmon says. “He’s thinking about him when he buys clothing and how what we wear can help us to understand family. We all shop. We all buy things. He’s introducing a radical notion about a way to consider that process. There’s a big insight at the core of it – it’s not just a cute story.”
Burmon asks for completed essays – not pitches – between 700 and 1,000 words. He also requests a two-line bio identifying the author’s name and location, as well as a mention of children or jobs or personal interests.
“Write about money,” he suggests to potential contributors. “A lot of parents are generally concerned about money. Write about money and the way we budget. The way we think about money provides deep insight into our values. I want to be able to tell those stories.”
—Contributing editor Melissa Hart is the author of Better with Books: 500 Diverse Books to Ignite Empathy and Encourage Self-Acceptance in Tweens and Teens (Sasquatch, 2019).Twitter/Instagram: @WildMelissaHart
Fatherly at a glance
“Our mission is to empower men to raise great kids and lead more fulfilling adult lives.”
Genre: Personal narratives and essays describing parenting wins.
Reading period: Year-round.
Length: To 1,000 words.
Submission format: Via email.