The Daddy of Male Parenting Gurus
Armin Brott is to fathers what Heidi Murkoff is to mothers – but it’s still women who buy his books
Do men read or need baby books? The unequivocal answer seems to be “yes”. But according to Armin Brott, America’s most successful male parenting guru, who has the greatest share of this burgeoning market, men don’t rush out and fill their book shelves in quite the same way as expectant mothers.
“Even though the books for men are on the guy’s side of the bed, she’s the one buying them for him,” Brott tells me. “So, more than ever, the books for men have to be done in a way that treats women with respect.” One London-based mother, whose husband has become a big Brott fan since the birth of their daughter, told me: “I knew he’d like it. I knew he wanted to feel involved, but I also knew I’d have to buy it for him myself. It just wouldn’t have occurred to him to go to the bookshop and look for it.”
Perhaps this, more than anything else, explains why Heidi Murkoff is a millionaire and Brott, author of the bestselling The Expectant Father: Facts, Tips and Advice for Dads-to-Be (now in its third edition) and seven follow-up books, also based in California, is, in his own words, able to feed and clothe his family but is most certainly not “rich”.
Why aren’t millions of men rushing out to buy the books for themselves? Is it because they are – still – reticent to claim their emotional rights as “expectant fathers” when it’s their wives or girlfriends who are really at the coalface of the experience? Or is it that the landscape for expectant men is changing, but slowly? Certainly, Brott thinks that increasing fathers’ confidence to acknowledge their feelings is the future.
Brott’s unexpected career as a “dadvocate”, to use Murkoff’s expression, was born in 1995 when he published the first edition of The Expectant Father. His first wife was reading Murkoff’s What to Expect When You’re Expecting and Brott felt there was nothing in it that came close to connecting with his own feelings.
In all honesty, he does sound like he was a bit of a nightmare during the pregnancies of his two wives (three children between them), but for different reasons. Of the first time, when it was all new to him, he writes, “I worried. I quizzed my wife about how much protein she was eating; I reminded her to go to the gym for her workouts; I even worried about the position she slept in. All in all, I was a real pain.” (Murkoff told me her husband worried about hers and the baby’s health in just this way.) At one point, Brott was invited by a doctor to peer up his wife’s vagina to look at her cervix, an invitation he accepted – eh?
“All men worry just like that,” he says. Actually, I tell him, my husband couldn’t have worried less. He was always telling me to stop worrying. (When I quiz my husband about this after speaking to Brott, he concedes that actually he could have really done with Brott holding his hand while he was stoically keeping his chin up for my benefit – so there you go. I should have bought him Brott’s book.)
When Brott’s second wife was pregnant with his third child, he confesses that having been a father before, and with all his expectant-father knowledge under his belt, he unconsciously took over dealing with their infant. “She burst in one day and said, ‘You are an incredible hypocrite. You talk about women who don’t give men the space, but that is exactly what you are doing with me.’ It was a good observation.”
They divorced in 2009. Brott’s home life has been anything but rosy, although he says: “I don’t think my wives have been intimidated by my expert status. What has been a challenge is that I’ve felt under the public microscope. There have been times with my older kids when things were difficult and yet people were writing to me for advice. I felt humbled, and this huge pressure that I wasn’t able to get it right myself. That put a strain on my marriages.”
He now lives alone in Oakland, California, with shared access to all his daughters, who live with their mothers nearby. “I guess I do children better than I do women,” he says, a little sadly. He admits to moments of professional jealousy, such as when he saw the dad-heavy movie poster for What to Expect When You’re Expecting and couldn’t help asking himself why the movie execs hadn’t approached him instead.
Still, he is optimistic about a future in which dads take centre stage with mums. “By not giving fathers the attention, we are depriving our kids of being the best they can be. We are depriving mothers from having a life, because if Mum is saddled with the kids all the time, she is not going to develop.”
As well as his website, mrdad.com, Brott has a syndicated newspaper column called Ask Mr Dad; a radio show called Positive Parenting that airs on 12 US stations; another show for the American Forces (helping military dads is a priority for Brott, who is an ex-marine); a DVD called Toolbox for New Dads; and three CDs. His latest plan is to build up consulting work with big companies wanting to target dads in a changing society where fathers have far more say. He has a “seal-of-approval programme” intended to encourage products and services that help fathers spend time with their children and he also plans to increase his role as a “dad spokesman” for companies.
Brott might not yet have made it on to Time’s 100 most influential list, but he is, according to the news magazine, “the superdad’s superdad” – not a bad start. Who knows what will come next? Armin Brott – the Movie? Well, he has the LA manager at least.
By Louise Carpenter, published April 28, 2012 inThe Times of London Magazine.
Photo: Muir Vidler