Questioning Dad Culture with Professor Jordan Shapiro
Jordan Shapiro is a professor at Temple University, a senior fellow for the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, and Nonresident Fellow in the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution. He’s also author of two books, “The New Childhood: Raising Kids to Thrive in a Connected World” and his newest book, Father Figure: How to Be a Feminist Dad,” a new take on “dad-psychology” that challenges our assumptions of traditional parenting roles.
But what are traditional parenting roles anymore? How likely are we to fall into stereotypes and habits driven by our culture? These are the masks we wear like armor and they define how we relate to one another in our families and beyond.
About Jordan Shapiro, Ph.D.
Jordan Shapiro is a globally celebrated American thought leader. He’s senior fellow for the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, and Nonresident Fellow in the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution. His Forbes’ column (2012-17) on global education, learning through digital play, kids and culture was read by over 5 million people around the world. He is an international speaker and consultant whose fresh perspective combines psychology, philosophy, and economics in unexpected ways. His book, The New Childhood: Raising Kids To Thrive in a Connected World (Little, Brown Spark 2018) changed the cultural conversation about parenting and screen time.
In Father Figure: How to be a Feminist Dad (Little, Brown Spark 2021), Shapiro offers a norm-shattering perspective on fatherhood, family, and gender essentialism. This thoughtful exploration of dad-psychology—presented from an archetypal perspective—challenges our familiar assumptions about the origins of so-called traditional parenting roles. There are hundreds of books on parenting, but when it comes to books about parenting identity, rather than the nuts and bolts of raising children, nearly all are about what it’s like to be a mother. Father Figure fills that gap. It teaches dads how to embrace the joys of fathering while guiding toward an image of manliness for the modern world.
Learn more about Jordan Shapiro at jordanshapiro.org.
Pete Wright: Welcome to How to Split a Toaster, a divorce podcast about saving your relationships from TruStory FM. Today, how to be a parent and a feminist toaster.
Seth Nelson: Welcome to the show everyone. I’m Seth Nelson and as always I’m here with my good friend Pete Wright. Today on the show, we welcome Professor Jordan Shapiro to The Toaster. Jordan is a professor at Temple University, a senior fellow for The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, and a non-resident fellow in the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution. He’s the author of two books, The New Childhood: Raising Kids to Thrive in a Connected World, and his newest book, Father Figure: How to Be a Feminist Dad, a new take on "dad psychology" that challenges our assumptions of traditional parenting roles. He’s here today to explore some of these ideas through the lens of divorced parents. Jordan, welcome to The Toaster.
Jordan Shapiro: Thank you so much. It’s great to be here although I’m not … We’re in the age of Zoom, so I’m not anywhere. I’m home in Philadelphia, you might hear thunder behind me, but I’d suggest that what the listener should do if they hear the thunder is imagine like I’m either in heaven or like that scene in Lord of the Rings where it’s just constant thunder and lightning behind me, yeah. Really mythical, imagine me like a mythical wizard.
Pete Wright: Totally, if you can time the most important things you say to the thunder, that would be amazing. Let’s see if we can nail that. Look –
Jordan Shapiro: I’ll do my best, I’ll do my best.
Pete Wright: I have to say, there are a lot of great things that you’re doing right now in that introduction. But as a university professor myself, I have to say the highest accolade that you have is your ranking of four and a half on RateMyProfessors.com and people are calling you really nice things about your day job. So congratulations on being a classroom rockstar, Professor Shapiro. That’s hard to do.
Jordan Shapiro: I was a little disappointed when they took off the chili pepper. Not that I ever got one, I mean but … It’s my goal.
Pete Wright: Let’s start, before we dig into some of the divorce stuff, let’s … I’d like for you to give us a little bit of a setup on this book. A little background on what it is that got you to write Father Figure and how your research led to the latest.
Jordan Shapiro: Yeah. I mean what got me to write Father Figure, that’s a really big question, right? There’s a lot of things. I mean any book like this which is so personal in some ways, there’s a lot of different threads that come together in order to make it happen. In this case, I always did want to write a book about feminism for men. I thought that was an important thing that should happen. I had no idea, even though that was something I imagined for a while that it would come out as a fatherhood book, that was a happy surprise. I think I decided to write a fatherhood book because when I was promoting the new childhood, it became very clear that there were a lot of presumptions about what it meant to be a father that made me uncomfortable. I’ll give you an example. Most of the people who write about parenting who are men, you’re supposed to do it as like a doctor or a psychiatrist and you don’t talk about your own family, you keep this nonsense distance where you pretend that I’m only speaking as a clinician. Where mothering books, it’s by a mother, it’s sort of the expectation is that it’s going to be memoir mixed with research. So once I realized that people –
Seth Nelson: Yeah, let’s jump right into stereotype what we think people should be doing.
Jordan Shapiro: Yeah, exactly.
Seth Nelson: Right?
Jordan Shapiro: Yeah, absolutely, and I didn’t like that. So I wanted to write what’s in fatherhood that makes people assume that I fit or don’t fit that mold as I traveled around and met people and had them respond. The reason it became Father Figure: How to Be a Feminist Dad is really I thought we were living at a time … If you look at what’s going on all over the world, not just the U.S., politically and culturally, it is the way we are thinking about gender is starting to change and I realized that there was a lot of men who didn’t really know how to imagine themselves outside the old models of patriarchal dominance and what we were getting because they –
Seth Nelson: Oh. Jordan. Jordan. I was waiting for you to say patriarchy. I’ve been like waiting for you to use that word, because I’ve got a great story about it, okay? You have this whole thoughtful thing about why you wrote this book which I really do appreciate. But as you may know, when kids these days get their wisdom teeth pulled, they video themselves when they’re coming out from the anesthesia because it’s hilarious and they post them on whatever social media that they’re using. So this is a thing where the friends in high school will say, "Hey, are you going to videotape yourself or have your parent videotape yourself?" And it’s hilarious. Why am I mentioning this? Because my son –
Jordan Shapiro: I’m going to find out.
Seth Nelson: My son did that when he had his wisdom teeth pulled recently and he comes out just bashing patriarchy.
Jordan Shapiro: Your son?
Seth Nelson: Do you know about patriarchy? It’s so bad? My son did this because he was taking an AP world history with an amazing teacher who was talking about all these issues. He really understood them and got fascinated with them and would look for areas in the world where it was happening and we would discuss it all the time, and that’s how he came out. So I’m convinced he’s going to write a comedy routine about this, which gave no thought since he was coming out from anesthesia, where you have a very thoughtful reason on why you wrote this book.
Jordan Shapiro: Yeah. But basically I wrote the book because I thought we all needed anesthesia while we dealt with patriarchy because it’s so painful. How’s that, right?
Pete Wright: That’s kind of what it feels like, yeah. Like you could have written the book in 1972 but nobody would have read it. That I think is … There’s some fascinating things in there. First of all, I think you’re right, the book is absolutely of its time, and it challenges a lot of things I think … I’m only going to speak for me but Seth, feel free to jump in. Don’t let me be out here on this limb alone.
Seth Nelson: Thanks.
Pete Wright: What really hit me is about the masks that we wear. I want to talk a little bit about the masks because that leads to some of my thoughts on the separation process. This idea that we put these masks on and for me they feel very much like an armor. They’re protective, they’re this thing that I get to be without having to be judged at my very core, and as a parent, I often need these, and I think you hear this, like, "Oh, the other kids want you to go do something reckless. You can’t do it, go ahead and blame it on me." You can use that as a tool, and blame it on me. Well, I just sent my 19-year-old for the first time off to college, she did her freshman year at home and now she’s off to college and I was wholly unprepared for the emotional Mack Truck that drove over me this weekend. Like it was disastrous, and I am sitting here, fighting between needing to demonstrate who I am to my daughter and demonstrate that yes, this grief, I’m going to miss you, and also being a tough guy. Being a guy who fits –
Seth Nelson: The mask, right? We’re not talking about mask, not the mask to cover up for COVID, right? Let’s be very clear on the mask that we’re wearing here.
Pete Wright: Right, no, no. We’re talking about like … The internal struggle that … And I even feel myself as somebody who thinks about these things, about taking off the mask and demonstrating to the people closest to me who I really am, and if I’m struggling with it, I have to imagine I am not alone. Unless I’m alone.
Seth Nelson: It’s only you, Pete. It’s only you. Everyone else in the world is fine.
Jordan Shapiro: I mean yeah, absolutely, I mean we’re all struggling with it and I guess the idea … I get to the idea of talking about masks really because I’m talking about the psychological idea of persona, which literally means mask in … I don’t remember if it’s Latin or Greek, but it literally means mask and so … But I like the armor example you gave. I mean that’s sort of a great one because if you read say The Iliad, what you see is that every time someone, a warrior beats another warrior, they take their armor and they wear it as if like I’ve taken your identity, I haven’t just beaten you, I have to now show up as you, I incorporate a part of you into me and I perform that. So when you’re talking about it in terms of gender, this is a pretty normal thing. It comes from Judith Butler, this idea that gender is performed. We learn all these things that we’re supposed to do, we learn the things that are associated with manliness like tough man, and then we perform them regularly to show that we are that identity and so that’s what I’m talking about. But it’s not only bad things that are masks. I mean a lot of people go, "I want to show the real me." I don’t know that it’s possible to not be performing something because even … You could go to a weekend masculinity retreat or a spiritual retreat or yoga retreat or any, and you’re going to have this whole thing where you then have to like wear the mask of authenticity, where you have to prove to everyone that you’re authentic.
Pete Wright: I’m so pure.
Seth Nelson: I was talking to my cousin who’s a PhD in communication. She says, "We’re always performing. That is what communication is at its essence is a performance." Whether it’s for ourselves or others, so absolutely, and it’s just what role are you playing?
Pete Wright: That’s what I’m getting at is learning, right? That practiced skill of learning when I’m performing to stereotype or performing for communication.
Jordan Shapiro: Yeah, so there’s two different … I mean there’s probably more than two, but the two primary ways of talking about this in either sociology or psychology are either that we are only our performance, so that our entire identity is just a combination of lots of performances and the feedback that we receive from those performances in a sort of loop where I decide who I am in a combination of I try different … I try an improv and I see how the audience responds, and if I like it, that becomes a bit I do over and over and over again and there’s nothing but performance, and then there’s another side which believes there’s some kind of essential unique authentic self and we use the performance to both express what that is and also to hide part of it. So it’s both armor that protects us from getting too vulnerable but it’s also the way we do authentically express who we are. I don’t know that I have the answer for which one of those they are and I don’t think it makes really … To me when I was writing Father Figure, it didn’t make any difference. To me, both of them are the same. We don’t have to solve that problem right now but in either case we have to acknowledge that a great deal of what we do is a choice, conscious or unconscious, but a choice to be certain ways and not something essential, and that’s what I’m trying to express –
Seth Nelson: Let’s talk about that for a moment. Like this kind of works both ways though, right? Like you have a couple that are married and have taken on certain responsibilities in the household, including raising children. Now then they split up and now that child is going back and forth, but initially, both parents now have all the responsibilities. When you’re parent on duty, that child’s with you, you’ve got to make sure lunch is made, you have to be the one to take them to their extracurricular activities, you’ve got to pick up the dead cockroach, you’ve got to make sure they get to bed on time and do all the child rearing when they’re with you, and still maintain your role as a parent and if you are a guy and I’m going to use the stereotypes that Pete and I work hard to avoid but this is the conversation we’re having today, and you’ve never learned how to do your daughter’s hair into pigtails, you’re learning. That’s not on you.
Pete Wright: Right.
Jordan Shapiro: Thank goodness for YouTube. Aren’t you excited, there’s YouTube, right? Imagine, if you had to do it before YouTube.
Seth Nelson: But don’t both parents ultimately, when they split and the child goes back and forth, have to play both roles even if it was just typical 1950s stereotype?
Jordan Shapiro: I mean I think it’s true in terms of the practical kind of things that you talked about. My guess is, I mean I know this is true with my own kids, but my guess is that this is true across the board although I haven’t done any research to back it up, so take it with a grain of salt, is that there still is some … Kids are very good at what’s called code switching, so they start to learn not just the different rules in the different houses and the different attitudes but my guess is they still expect different parents to do different things. I know for example that my kids wait until they’re at their mom’s to do their math homework because they just don’t think I’m good at helping them. So they still do some level but they’re doing that themselves. I’m not playing the full role of sort of emotional support. She’s doing some of that and doing it in different ways than me. But yes, I think absolutely in terms of things like laundry, in terms of things like cooking, in terms of … Although you know, I’m sure you’ve talked about this on the show before, there’s a lot of research, and I can also speak about it anecdotally, that shows that a lot of the typical gendered things still even after divorce stay separate. So for example, wives still end up responsible for most of the organization of pediatric appointments and dentists. I think I’m pretty good at that as an ex-husband, trying to take it on, but I will say for the first few years of my divorce, my ex had to text me and go, "They need a dentist appointment. Will you please organize it?" Which while I still organized it, she had to do the mental labor of remembering it was time.
Seth Nelson: Oh absolutely, absolutely, and also … I mean in my own experience, my former spouse and I, we cut a couple deals which I thought were brilliant. Anything dealing with a school project that required arts and crafts and a trip to Michaels was on me. I handled all that stuff, and we just kind of fell into this routine and I called her one day, I said, "Look." We were actually hanging out when he was presenting it at school, and I said, "You know I’ve been doing these projects which I love doing." I’m not complaining here, I just said, "I want to kind of cut a deal with you." She’s looking at me like I’m crazy, we’re very close, right Jordan, but she’s like, "What?" I said, "I’ll continue to do all these projects but you’re responsible for the college essays." She’s like, "Deal." And I could not tell you how excited I was when the last project ended. I was like, "I am paid up. Right?" But we fall into these roles of okay, this parent might be better at this. Like your math homework example, right? But that still is a struggle with parents who are divorced if they don’t have the deal that I made so to speak but also because, "He fought for 50/50 timesharing and he can’t even schedule the appointment," those are the calls the divorce lawyer gets.
Jordan Shapiro: Well it sounds like you handled this in a perfect example of how it should go down which is a way that you really acknowledge the value of all the things. I mean the trouble isn’t so much that one parent ends up responsible for it, it’s when those things … When the value is not acknowledged." So the doctor’s appointment being a great example, when you just sort of forget that that’s work, driving to the doctor is work and you expect someone’s going to do it and then it takes time and as long as you’re forthright. I wouldn’t care if we still had … Just back to the gender thing because that’s what Father Figure is about, I wouldn’t care if things were still like Mom did all the laundry and as long as that was acknowledged as a thing of value that was balanced and not just something that is expected and therefore not –
Seth Nelson: And the takeaway on that is say thank you. Acknowledge [inaudible 00:17:42] –
Jordan Shapiro: Well, say thank you and do your part.
Seth Nelson: Right.
Jordan Shapiro: If they do all of one thing, you’ve got to do all of one thing also.
Seth Nelson: Yeah, absolutely, but just acknowledging your former spouse and saying, "I really appreciate," a quick text, "I really appreciate you handling the dentist appointment." Or, "I know they were sick today and we were both jammed up at work and I couldn’t leave. I really appreciate that you did that." That just speaks volumes and just paves the way for better communication, better co-parenting down the road.
Jordan Shapiro: Absolutely.
Seth Nelson: And it’s really easy to do, but you got to get your ego out of the way, which Pete, you and I talk about a lot, right?
Pete Wright: Yeah.
Seth Nelson: You got to remember to do it, you got to use your thumbs for good, not for bad when you’re texting. So there’s some steps there, but it makes a huge difference.
Jordan Shapiro: Yeah, yeah, absolutely, and again, I just think it’s important to consider time things … I know so many divorced parents who I hear one complain, "The other one thinks they’re doing their part because they pay for half the clothes," but the first parent still has to go do all the purchasing and all the noticing and all the … Right? That takes a lot more time, the trying on, than just writing the check, so really –
Seth Nelson: Jordan, I want to let everyone know, we did not speak before this podcast. Because you’re setting up another deal that I had, okay? When my kid was little, I used to do all the back to school shopping.
Pete Wright: Yeah.
Seth Nelson: All the clothes, and I would literally get stuff and say, "Hey, can we drop this of? We have all the shopping done." That was closed. My former spouse would always handle the supply list, and that’s just the role we fell into like we need two boxes of Crayolas.
Jordan Shapiro: Ooh, I would like that one because I hate the supply list. I’m so angry at the supply list.
Seth Nelson: Yeah, honestly –
Pete Wright: The supply list is the thing that makes me want to turn over a table. Like that’s the kind of rage.
Jordan Shapiro: I stopped the supply list this year and what I did instead was … It speaks to my privilege, but I’ll still … I have four kids in the house, because I have my new spouse’s kids as well as my two, and I just decided to set up a supply closet, like an office building. I was like, "I’m going to go buy a case of notebooks, a case of composition pads, a bunch of pens." I put them in the closet and I told the kids, "Take what you want." Because I don’t believe those teacher’s lists, I think they sit down and then they don’t use half of them. So I’m like, "Anything you need, you go in the closet."
Seth Nelson: Because that’s what teachers have time to do. Let’s come up with a fake list of supplies to piss Jordan off. Right?
Jordan Shapiro: No, I don’t think they come out … I think it’s because they’re so overworked. I’m not trying to pick on teachers here, I think they sit down the week before and they’re like, "Let me quickly come up with a list of supplies of everything," and I think there’s things on those supplies, like, "I have this idea about doing a collage project, so I’m going to get all the supplies," and then they try it, the kids don’t like it. So instead I’m like, "I’m going to just have this closet. You guys take what you need. If you need something that’s not in the closet, let me know, I’ll get it, but we’re not going down that list and buying …" Plus I like the idea that they can reimagine work habits. Like if they decided they want to like not use composition books and use spiral notebooks, they can just stop halfway through the … They’re not tied to whatever the binder. They don’t even have trapper keepers these days, so like binders are … They’re missing out.
Seth Nelson: And Pete, it turns out that Jordan started Staples, okay?
Pete Wright: I was just wondering, when all four kids are gone, do you just start pricing everything in that closet and let the neighbors come by? Like just start shopping –
Jordan Shapiro: Oh my god, I’m telling you … No, I spent less money each year because I did it that way. Because you can buy a notebook, they’re like $0.50 if you buy a case. But if I have to go and be like, "Everyone needs three notebooks, they each have three subjects, and then they need a folder with three …" Then I asked the kids, they’re like, "We never used any of that."
Pete Wright: Yeah. Right. Well, this gets to … But allow me to pivot from our –
Seth Nelson: [inaudible 00:21:38] that one, Pete.
Pete Wright: Office Depot discourse here. I want to talk more about the –
Jordan Shapiro: Don’t even get me started on graphing calculators. Like don’t even, $250 calculator to do things you can do on your phone.
Pete Wright: This is a surprisingly triggering conversation so far, I’m very excited about it. I want to talk about the act of divorce and what it triggers in both people because you’re talking about … You’re talking about what the roles that you fall into. I mean I do all the laundry in our house because my wife is objectively bad at it. But I don’t go grocery shopping. It’s torture, I can’t stand it. She loves it. So again, roles.
Jordan Shapiro: I think she’s faking. I mean I don’t see how you could be bad at laundry, it’s like you put it in press, you press a button.
Pete Wright: Don’t, don’t, don’t. Right now Jordan, don’t. I think the color is fading from my face. Don’t even with this.
Seth Nelson: Yes.
Pete Wright: Look, I feel like … I was thinking about it as I was looking through this –
Jordan Shapiro: Does she turn your underwear pink or something or is it just –
Seth Nelson: I’m trying to be quiet here, Jordan, and you’ve fallen into another trap.
Pete Wright: He’s bringing up, Seth, why is he trolling me like this, Seth?
Seth Nelson: I know. I’m going to defend you right now Pete. When I was married, I did all the laundry and my former spouse would even say I do a better job because of the way I would fold it and I was –
Pete Wright: [inaudible 00:22:59] the hell out of my laundry.
Seth Nelson: Right? But here’s the deal.
Pete Wright: Like it’s folded perfect.
Seth Nelson: Here’s the deal. She would walk by on a Saturday and say, "What are you doing?" And she’s doing all these chores around the house. I said, "I’m doing laundry," and she’s like, "You’re watching the college football game." I said, "In the dryer. Another one in the washer I’m about to fold." She’s like, "Laundry is a scam. You picked being good at a scam chore," when I was like –
Pete Wright: Wait a minute. You are not defending me right now. Would you stop being on my side?
Seth Nelson: No, no, I started out like I was going to –
Pete Wright: My god.
Seth Nelson: I started out, Pete, but it’s such a truth, it’s so true.
Jordan Shapiro: It’s multitasking, it’s multitasking, that’s all you say. Same thing, I’m doing two chores [inaudible 00:23:44]. Watching the football game and laundry.
Seth Nelson: And I’m staying out of your way. That’s like a third one.
Pete Wright: I want to talk about the triggering roles though because I started thinking about this idea of like what would come of me if I were separated and I have to imagine I would put on the mask of armor around things like grocery shopping. It would trigger some … I can just feel it in myself that it would trigger some new behavior. Whatever you want to call it. I was laughing when I was reading an interview with you talking about alphas, Jordan. I was like, "If you look around the room and you don’t see the alpha, does that mean you’re it?" Like can you do that? Okay. Like I know that’s a joke, but it’s one of those stereotypes that needs questioning and when you separate, does that … How does that trigger the change in behavior that you would have and I think that’s interesting from both perspectives, both from Seth, from your perspective, being an attorney and the calls you get, and Jordan, from this idea of what you are trying to manifest for your kids as the new separated dad. What are the new stereotypes you got to look out for like taking on naturally that you might not even be thinking about?
Jordan Shapiro: Yeah. I mean that’s such a long question.
Pete Wright: You’re welcome. I have a dear friend, he’s divorced and we talk about this show all the time because he’s super curious about what we’re doing here, and he called me not long ago and he said, "I just spent $800 on Christmas gifts for next Christmas." For next Christmas, "And it was only after they started arriving from Amazon that I realized I’ve fallen into a trap. I’ve fallen into my own worst divorce stereotype trap, and I’m trying to buy allegiance from my kids because I don’t know how else to do it." That’s the impetus for this question, right? It’s the unconsciousness.
Jordan Shapiro: Yeah yeah yeah. I mean first of all that example is really making me think because I actually had the opposite problem when I was first divorced which was I wanted to buy things for my kids and then also because of what I do for a living, I have a lot of access to travel, I get invited to things that other people are paying for all the time, and I was like terrified that my ex would think I was trying to buy their allegiance and when it wasn’t even my goal. I was just like I have these things, I have the ability to give this to my kids. I want to. I wasn’t trying to –
Seth Nelson: I’ve got a school supply closet. What do you have?
Jordan Shapiro: Exactly, yeah, I have a school supply … But yeah, I think there’s that. I think there’s also, I think these days, there’s the big effort to not become the playboy bachelor pad dad which I think was the previous image of the divorced dad, right, the 1970s swinger divorced, I guess not a swinger if you’re divorced, you’re just a … I don’t know, I don’t know what we call the sort of … The sort of 1970s playboy version of the divorced dad but I think a lot of dads try not to be that now and then it becomes … They overkill.
Seth Nelson: Well I’ve got a couple questions here on this. I think one thing is Pete, because you mentioned this. Your friend, in that example of buying the gifts, at some level clicking on Amazon was unconscious, and then the packages arrived and it’s like, "Whoa. Now it’s in my conscience." So there’s stuff that we all do that we don’t even realize that we’re doing, and then there’s things that we actually notice and we have choices to make, right? So Jordan, how is that when there are choices to make, and along with that, how do you then communicate to your former spouse? Maybe you do step in and you’re trying to do the right thing and you schedule the dentist appointment and you’ve done everything right. You thought about that the kids need a dentist appointment, you scheduled it on your time so you have to leave work, your former spouse doesn’t have to do anything, and then you get hit with, "He didn’t even tell me you were scheduling the dentist appointment. I’ve always taken them to the dentist. What, he’s super dad now?"
Pete Wright: You get the worst calls, man.
Seth Nelson: Right? Now it was all good intentions [inaudible 00:28:13]. No, but the point of that is is that was all good intention, but you lacked the most important one is good communication –
Pete Wright: Absolutely.
Seth Nelson: And it starts with a text, "Hey, I was thinking maybe the kids need dental appointments. Do you want me to handle it and schedule it and take them, and if so do you want me to clear the date so you can be there too?" If you start with that text, I never get that call on the back end.
Jordan Shapiro: Yeah, absolutely. The bottom line to all of these things, I mean I feel like I’m going to be like the bottom line for everything you ever talk about on your podcast is …
Seth Nelson: Let us know. We’ve been trying to figure that out.
Jordan Shapiro: The bottom line is like if you’re divorced and you have kids, you are stuck with your ex forever. You are in a relationship with that ex forever and the best thing you can do is to treat each other with as much respect and dignity you can so that it’s a happy relationship. Like to me that’s the bottom line. I get along great with my ex. Yeah, we have these moments where I do something and she says, "Hey, that’s terrible or why are you doing it that way?" Then I go, "All right. Let me think about it. I’m sorry." Like I want to get along, I’m going to be stuck with you for a really long time. Thank god it’s not in the same house anymore, it’s only through text message, but it’s forever.
Seth Nelson: But sometimes it’s harder, right? Sometimes it’s harder to communicate with a former spouse than with a current spouse. Because a current spouse, if things are going well, even when it has the rough patch, you’re still kind of in it together, right? I think people lose sight that when you’re raising a kid, whether you’re in the same house or not, you’re still in it together.
Pete Wright: Exactly.
Seth Nelson: It doesn’t feel that way. People don’t necessarily behave or act that way, and we take on different roles and we have trying to be a feminist dad, and I want you to explain what that actually means to people because we haven’t even touched on that.
Jordan Shapiro: But we’re having so much fun, it’s fine.
Seth Nelson: Right.
Jordan Shapiro: No, I’ll give you … How about the selfish answer? How about the selfish answer? I approach my ex in all of these kinds of communication questions with the mindset that I am always going to say yes if I can. Unless I can’t, I say yes. If she wants to change our custody schedule because she wants to, I say yes unless there’s something in the way because I want her to say yes to me whenever I ask.
Seth Nelson: And it might take a thousand times. I always say yes, yes, yes, these are the calls I get Pete. I always say yes, yes, yes, and then I ask for one thing and they say no.
Jordan Shapiro: Yeah, well, you say still yes. Like I don’t know. This is one thing, I see divorced parents fighting about … Like it’s got to be exactly 9:00 a.m. when we do the trade-off with kids because that’s what it … Like just say yes.
Pete Wright: Yes clears the runway.
Seth Nelson: Jordan, I work long and hard to negotiate in draft the 9:00 a.m. pickup-dropoff.
Jordan Shapiro: I know you do.
Seth Nelson: What the fuck dude? What are you doing now, okay? You want to bash Pete about laundry.
Jordan Shapiro: [inaudible 00:31:43]. No no, I’ll give you a new one that will take you a few extra hours. I’ll give you a new one that will take you a few extra hours that you could bill for.
Seth Nelson: Oh, hit the lawyer joke where all we do is bill hours. Here we go.
Jordan Shapiro: Yeah, no.
Seth Nelson: As we publish a free podcast. Yep. That’s it.
Jordan Shapiro: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. No but I think you should … I think that you should put a dollar on … You should put a dollar on transportation hours, so that you start to say like and it should be even at the end and if it’s not, the spouse owes the other spouse. Like when I think about how many people who are driving to as we said doctor’s appointments as if that extra hour back and forth is not part of your day? If it’s going to be even, let it be even. I think we should bill for those things.
Pete Wright: Sports practices? Oh my gosh, team sports. For crying out loud.
Jordan Shapiro: Sports practice. Maybe not sleepovers at friends’ houses because those are kind of optional but yeah, absolutely. [inaudible 00:32:39]
Seth Nelson: Great, great, this is great. More stuff to draft and argue about. Like –
Pete Wright: You’re welcome, Seth. We’re happy [inaudible 00:32:44].
Seth Nelson: Like do you use the IRS rate for mileage? Is that what we’re doing?
Jordan Shapiro: Yes. Yes. Yeah. I’m all for that, I’m all for … And I’m for that because I actually, and this gets back to the gender thing. We know that in most cases, more of that transportation ends up with the woman on average and it doesn’t get compensated. It doesn’t get considered and it doesn’t get valued and while I’m sure that’s still true in my marriage, even while I’m thinking about these things, my ex-marriage, my former marriage, even while I’m thinking about all these things all the time, and so I do think there’s a level of fairness that has to exist in there.
Seth Nelson: Yeah, but see you’re just opening up a can of worms. Because here’s what I would share with people like, "I know you’re going to do all the driving. You’re always going to be doing the heavy lifting on raising these children. That’s what you’ve done and a zebra does not change his stripes, he’s not going to change on that." However, that is getting you something that you tell me you want which is more time with your kids, and I know it’s a pain to do all the driving, but that’s quality time in the car which is one, I think the best time in the car is when the kids are there with their friends, because they forget. They forget that you’re in the car driving, they think it’s just going by itself and you learn a lot of stuff about your kids, right? The other thing about that is right when you make that an issue, then let’s just take your hypothetical, yeah, you got to pay for her to do the driving. Now he’s going to do the driving but he doesn’t really want to spend time with the kids then. So now what’s that conflict like? So I think you’re opening a can of worms. I’m just battling back because these are the things that I see on a daily basis because you know Pete, I’m not a professor in the ivory tower.
Pete Wright: But no, let me just say this. This is important because I think it goes back to what … I mean you just made the case for what Jordan said which is yes clears the runways. Yes, yes, I’m going to do all of these things. Yes and you know as a result I might get more time in the car driving around with my kids. Yes, I might … Like that’s a real thing to take away from this. When you feel like you’re wearing the mask or the armor of conflict when you’re gearing up for battle over some argument, how important is it to just stop to breathe and reflect on the value of the fight ultimately, when really you just have to get them to swim team.
Jordan Shapiro: Yeah, absolutely. You remind me, years ago, I wrote a little book, it’s now out of print that was like … It was called A Video Game Guide to Maximum Euphoric … Something like that.
Seth Nelson: It rolls right off the tongue. I wonder why it’s out of print?
Jordan Shapiro: Yeah, exactly, and one of the chapters was called The Game You Play is the Game That Plays You Back." Where I was thinking if you go into play Mortal Kombat, you’re going to feel like you’re in a fist fight. So pick what game you want to play because that’s the spirit land you’re going to live in.
Seth Nelson: I love it.
Pete Wright: We’re getting close to wrapping up here, and so Seth’s point, we haven’t let you talk about the feminist dad angle. Do you want to give us the [inaudible 00:36:02]?
Jordan Shapiro: Yeah. I know, well it’s sort of weird, right? I’m excited to talk about the feminist dad angle in a podcast that’s all about divorce, because so often, divorce is like the opposite. Like we see it as the fight between husband and wife, so how do you convince a divorced dad to go, "Hey, I need to think about gender dynamics in general." I don’t know. I don’t have the answer. No, I mean I think to the yes clears the runway, there’s a really important … One of my favorite parts of Father Figure is when I write about something that I call narcissistic patriarchal authority, and it’s this idea that we can only imagine our own story, that we all think we’re Luke Skywalker, that we all think we’re the hero in the story we’re living, which we are, of course we’re the protagonist in our own story, but we forget that all the other people around us are also the protagonists in their own stories. Which means in their stories, we might be the evil villain and we might be the mentor and we might be the princess and we might be the troll beneath the footbridge. Like we are all those things at the same time to somebody else and 90 … I would guess 100, maybe 99%, 100%, I don’t know. This is a pure like speculative number, so it’s not even a real quantifiable thing. But my guess is that so many fights between spouses, between ex-spouses, between parents and children, they all come because you’re pissed off that they’re interrupting the story in which you imagined yourself as the hero. So we get to divorce, we’re still pissed off that you’re calling me a bad husband because I did everything I could to be a good husband. Well guess what? You can’t control what part you play in another person’s story. We’re all just living in these colliding myths, in these colliding fairy tales, and we’re always upset to discover that it’s not … That we’re not what we thought we were, and in fact we have refused to discover that we’re not what we thought we were, that’s when we put our foot down and go, "You’re wrong." But instead, I’m in the world where I go … Sometimes I have to go, "All right, so I guess I’m the villain right now. How do I fix this?" And not be upset to discover I’m not the hero.
Pete Wright: Oh, I love that metaphor so much. Like as you’re going through your divorce, you stop and think, "Who am I in your story right now?" Like, "Who am I in the story of my attorney right now?" Like, "Am I -"
Seth Nelson: Best client ever.
Pete Wright: He always thinks he’s Yoda.
Jordan Shapiro: And I don’t mean like once you find out, be upset about it or try to change it. Just go, so what does that mean right now? Because often we’re just angry. Because if we discover we’re the Yoda, we might be like, "But I don’t want to be the Yoda, I wanted to be the hero," and then we start screaming. Where instead we go, "Okay, I’m the Yoda. So how do I do this with ethics? How do I do this with kindness? How do I do this in a way that’s true to myself?"
Pete Wright: That’s lovely.
Jordan Shapiro: How do I pick the right mask for the moment? Instead of the mask I wish I could wear.
Pete Wright: That’s a great metaphor. I love the metaphor and you just described the source of conflict, right? Isn’t that the source of conflict when you’re wearing the mask you wish you could wear in a situation where you should be wearing Yoda?
Jordan Shapiro: Yeah. Yeah. Well I mean maybe you should be wearing Yoda in every situation.
Pete Wright: Probably. That’s a bad example, probably Yoda in every situation.
Jordan Shapiro: Yeah, I’m pretty sure he wins.
Seth Nelson: Then you’re going to be talking backwards the whole time and that just gets annoying.
Pete Wright: Bet the transcriptionist has real problems with that in court, so maybe not.
Jordan Shapiro: Seth, I’m disappointed that you couldn’t make that comment in Yoda syntax.
Seth Nelson: I didn’t want to show Pete up because he’s the movie boss.
Pete Wright: [inaudible 00:39:59]. This is great stuff. I feel like we could talk for probably two or three more hours, Professor Shapiro. You’re aces, thank you for coming to hang out with us. You want to just plug the book? We’ve been talking about the book. It’s available everywhere, you did the audiobook, right? Am I getting all that right?"
Jordan Shapiro: Yeah yeah yeah. The book is called Father Figure: How to Be a Feminist Dad. The easiest way to find it is to go feministdadbook.com, feministdadbook.com. I think you have to say things three times for people to remember?
Pete Wright: For people to remember, yeah.
Jordan Shapiro: Yeah, so feministdadbook.com.
Pete Wright: Nailed it.
Jordan Shapiro: That’s the third time. One more just in case, feminist … Do you remember, we used to have answering machines and you had to like say the number like five times very slow –
Pete Wright: Those were the days.
Jordan Shapiro: Like feministdad. … No, feministdadbook, I already screwed it up. Feministdadbook.com. Anyway, that –
Seth Nelson: Wait a minute. I’m just a little confused though. You don’t still have an answering machine?
Jordan Shapiro: I don’t even use voicemail. [inaudible 00:41:00] No seriously, you call my phone, the voicemail is like, "Listen, you could text me, you can hit me up on TikTok, you can talk me to Instagram, Twitter, but don’t leave a message because I’m not listening to it."
Pete Wright: I will never listen to it. Yeah. That’s mine too, it says I love you, please text me.
Jordan Shapiro: Yeah, it’s just … I never liked it to begin with. Yeah. Remember, we had actual tapes.
Pete Wright: Oh the tapes.
Jordan Shapiro: Yeah.
Pete Wright: Yeah. All right, feministdadbook.com. Take his class if you’re a student at Temple. Take his class.
Jordan Shapiro: Yes, I mean I don’t know, if you can. It fills up pretty quickly.
Pete Wright: Did you see that? That was a professorial mic drop right there that just happened, in case you didn’t catch that. That’s what just happened and it was dope.
Jordan Shapiro: Exactly. Wait, what did you say my rating was on RateMyProfessors?
Pete Wright: I thought four and a half stars out of five, and I think the top one is you’re the goat. The greatest of all time.
Jordan Shapiro: Yeah. I didn’t know what that was. I had to ask my kids, I was like, "What does that mean? Is that an insult?"
Pete Wright: Awesome.
Seth Nelson: It turns out the reason why he wasn’t five, because he’s not humble.
Jordan Shapiro: Yeah, I’ll tell you the truth. I was five for a long time and here’s what happened. I started to read them, I haven’t read them in a long time, so I’m going to look at them after we’re done recording this. But I started to read them, and all of them were like, "This class is so easy. I barely had to do anything." I was like, "That’s not good."
Pete Wright: Start to fall with the grades.
Jordan Shapiro: I toughened up a little bit, I toughened up a little bit. Because I didn’t like it, but then I read them and some of them were like, "He’s so confusing I don’t even know, there’s so much work." I’m like, "What? That’s just not true." So I do think, the funniest things I get and not on RateMyProfessor but when you get the feedback, I love the ones that say, "This class was so easy, I don’t even like reading and I did all the reading for this class and all of the homework for this class. You should take it, you barely have to work." I’m like [inaudible 00:43:04], but that’s why we know that none of those ratings tell you anything because –
Pete Wright: That’s right.
Jordan Shapiro: Students equate easy with good and not good learning with good.
Pete Wright: Well and if you’re not careful, then you end up doing all the reading and you end up being an attorney like Seth.
Seth Nelson: Yeah. Yeah.
Pete Wright: He didn’t even want to be an attorney. He just did all the reading.
Jordan Shapiro: No he didn’t. The lawyers are the ones who learned how to talk without doing all the reading.
Seth Nelson: I can neither confirm nor deny.
Jordan Shapiro: Yeah, see?
Pete Wright: All right, all right, I got to put a fork in it. Guys, this has been great. Fantastic, Professor Jordan Shapiro, author of Father Figure: How to Be a Feminist Dad and America’s favorite family divorce attorney, that’s Seth Nelson right there. I’m Pete Wright, we’ll catch you next time right here on How to Split a Toaster, a divorce podcast about saving your relationships.
Speaker 4: Seth Nelson is an attorney with Nelson Koster Family Law & Mediation, with offices in Tampa, Florida. While we may be discussing family law topics, How to Split a Toaster is not intended to, nor is it providing legal advice. Every situation is different. If you have specific questions regarding your situation, please seek your own legal counsel with an attorney licensed to practice law in your jurisdiction. Pete Wright is not an attorney or employee of Nelson Koster. Seth Nelson is licensed to practice law in Florida.
Seth Nelson is a Tampa based family lawyer known for devising creative solutions to difficult problems. In How to Split a Toaster, Nelson and co-host Pete Wright take on the challenge of divorce with a central objective — saving your most important relationships with your family, your former spouse, and yourself.