Founding the new magazine about fatherhood

Though it looks like a cool and clean design rag for hipsters, Kindling is aimed at creative dads, who despite taking on ever-increasing parenting responsibilities, have been noticeably absent from thoughtful representations in the media. Until now. When Kindling hits shelves today, it will fill what editor David Machel Perez calls “a black hole” in the market. The magazine will publish essays, articles, and art that deal with dads and the issue of contemporary fatherhood. “There are a lot of great online resources for [practical parenting concerns], so Kindling doesn’t really do that,” said Perez, himself a new dad. “Instead, it’s taking a broader look at the individual transformation around being a father, which hasn’t been addressed,” by his count, ever. It’s puzzling why a magazine for dads has taken so long to arrive (what have they been doing while moms read Elizabeth Street all day?!). Thankfully the wait is over, just in time for Perez’s son Amon’s 6-month birthday, which was the same day Issue 1 came back from the press. Co-founder August Heffner is also a new dad, and his son, Phoenix, turned one last week. We caught up with David Michael about how Kindling came to be and what he hopes it will become. —Artie Niederhoffer

Congratulations on your first issue! It seems every mention of Kindling I’ve seen on the web introduced it with either the words “of course” or “finally!” as though this concept was inevitable. How have you found the response so far?
It was so surprising that in this day and age this had never been done—Not a magazine about fatherhood or even really for fathers. It strikes me that the issue [of fathers actively parenting] has been around since the sixties in one form or another. It was long overdue, and the response has been great.

Why do you think it has taken this long, and why is the time especially ripe for a conversation about fatherhood right now?
I could give you a few reasons. We’re going to try and map this terrain in the magazine, but for starters, there is a shift happening, in the US if not in other parts of the world, in which broad gender dynamics but also [more recent] economic changes are causing fathers to take over full-time parental responsibilities, and that’s a a big shift. So it struck me that there should be a long-term dialogue about fatherhood. In terms of why it hasn’t existed, it’s so strange, and I can probably wax philisophical about it. [Fatherhood] is a black hole in our collective imaginiation. Broadly, it is such a huge topic, something we’re all affected by, whether by the symbol of the father or the father figure. But perhaps because it’s so powerful it’s not really discussed. A lot of things are like that because they’re so formative and powerful.

I enjoyed your essay on the website, Notes on Kindling, and particularly the point about perceptions of fatherhood. You say, in part because of media representations, fatherhood has come to be viewed as a performance, and motherhood as a natural state. Do you think there’s any truth to that perception, or is it just convenient?
We have a lot of familiar portrayals [of fathers in the media] but [parenting] is still sometihng that men maybe don’t see as natural. It’s not true across the board, but right now media portrayals of fathers are a little one dimensional. It’s the sit com or movie image of a bumbling dad, [saying] “I don’t know what I’m doing!”—(the diaper goes on backwards)—which I think is not productive or helpful. Or genuine.

Not genuine. Really?
I think so, yeah. On the other hand, there’s this shift where a lot of men in America are really embracing fatherhood in a very sincere and thoughtful way, and I count myself among that group. But then there’s also, on that end of the spectrum, this idea that maybe it’s overly sincere or a little too precious. Hopefully we can get away from both of those caricatures by presenting something more thoughtful and holistic [that is] inspiring and optimistic, [that changes] as fathers improve and grow and their kids grow. [Fathering] is a lifelong creative process.

In hearing your thoughts on media portrayals of fathers, I keep thinking of the show Louie.
I love that show. There’s a lot of key moments on it where you can tell he doesn’t consider himself an expert but he’s very much inspired by his children. [Portrayals of fathers in the media] are definitely getting better.

Let’s backtrack. how did you think of the idea for Kindling in the first place?
We started talking about it when I was getting ready to be a father. During the lead-up you can overthink everything. Once they come, you just kind of run with it, but [the idea] struck me while my wife was pregnant. From a business perspective there was this market for it. There had never been a print publication dedicated to it, which is one of the reasons it’s important to us to have it [physically] in the world and not just a blog or a website because it’s so long overdue. And hopefully this will be a way for us to build parenting into part of our careers.

Can you say more about that choice to make a quarterly print magazine rather than a blog, for example?
This was such a unique and important concept [and a print quarterly reflects that gravity]. There are a lot of great parenting sites, but we really wanted it to have that uniqueness that comes with holding something and having that value. We’re definitely looking to expand the brand and develop more original online content. Hopefully it will go well beyond being just a magazine, but I very much believe in the value of printed materials.

So do I.
If this was a music magazine or another magazine, I definitely would go online.

How did you go about putting together the first issue? Were there any criteria you looked for in dads you chose to feature?
We were lucky to be in a great community in Brooklyn where there are so many creative people either that we know or that friends know. We partially relied on a great well of individuals we knew we wanted to talk about, but also others. What we tried to keep in mind was hopefully representing a diversity of fathers—(there’s not enough in issue 1 and we’re working on it in further issues)—[always] holistically. So [our stories are about] how being a father affects whatever their creative process is.