By Jen Wittes
Lazerbeak (real name Aaron Mader) is a music producer in Doomtree, a seven person Minneapolis hip hop collective (members include P.O.S, Dessa, Sims, Mike Mictlan, Cecil Otter, and Paper Tiger). In addition to creating hundreds of beats for the group, he also acts as president of Doomtree Records, overseeing the bulk of the operations and business for the label. Eight months ago he and his wife Brittany welcomed their first child, Penelope, into the world. Aaron has now added the “work-at-home dad” title to his business card. Doula Jen asked him all about this new role as a parent and life with sweet little Penny!
Since your baby’s birth, you’ve experienced—at various degrees—life as a stay-at-home/work-at-home dad. Can you elaborate a bit on your situation and how it has evolved as your daughter has grown?
I produce a lot of music for Doomtree, but over the last couple years I’ve also taken on a bunch of the business and operations responsibilities of running the label. I do most of that work from home on the laptop or on conference calls, so when Penny was born we decided to try the work-at-home dad thing. Luckily I had help from my mom and our friend Alison, who each took a day, so I was with Penny by myself for three days a week. The first five months were a total breeze. I could set her in her boppy and she would be amused by watching me type emails for hours. Plus she’d take two super long naps so I could always schedule conference calls around those time. It was the best. I think I got a little cocky about everything being so easy though, because the second she hit six months everything changed. Now her attention span lasts about five minutes, so I’m constantly trying to figure out the next thing that will captivate her long enough for me to check another thing off my list.
Are there any particular challenges you faced while trying to get work done at home, while caring for a baby?
So much of the job is spent on the phone, either with management or artists or manufacturers (and on and on and on), so that has been tricky to try to handle with a very vocal child. I’ve gotten increasingly better at using the mute button on my phone, that’s for sure. With emails I usually try to find little bits of time all throughout the day when she is being entertained. I’ve never typed so fast in my life. Every second counts these days.
Ease into it and prepare for things to change constantly. I started out with three full days at home with Penny, and as she’s gotten older we’ve had to reassess how things are working out every month. Am I getting enough work done? Is she getting enough attention? Is is too stressful and is that stress effecting my relationship with my wife? We’ve been super fortunate that my mom and our good friend Alison have been flexible enough to help out more, so now I’ve gone from three full days to one full day and two half days and that has helped out dramatically. Making sure you’re being as honest as possible about the situation and communicating that with your partner goes a long way.
Do you feel that stay-at-home dads are treated differently from stay-at-home moms?
Yeah it does feel a little different.
When I take Penny to Target during the day or out on a walk I do get the impression from strangers that this is definitely not the norm. Nothing terrible, just little things that you pick up on in passing I guess. I’ve heard the same from some of my single dad friends. They’ve mentioned that as their kids get older they’ve felt more out of place at the playground and places like that. That all the moms are friendly with one another but tend to keep a bit of distance when there’s a man around. I think it starts with yourself though, making sure that you’re comfortable in those shoes, because it is easy to let that old stigma that the man should be out making all the money and the woman should be at home with the kids get in your head a little if you let it. I’ve talked with a few friends about trying to start up an online community for first time and single dads to have a hub to connect to. Big ideas as always, so we’ll see, but it does seem like there are so many places for moms to go for that. It would be nice to see a few more targeted specifically towards dads as well.
Dads definitely need to connect and talk. Becoming a parent is a big deal! How has fatherhood changed you?
I feel a lot more comfortable in my own skin. As a kid I remember always wanting to be older for some reason, and fatherhood just seems right to me. It reminds me of when I got married too, that sense of being responsible for taking care of someone and the weird (but good) “you’re mine and I must protect you at all costs” man feelings that come with it. It’s also really made me examine how I deal with stress. I want to set a good example for my child and I know how impressionable kids are even at this age. That’s something I’m really trying to get better at, not letting the little daily stresses pile up and ruin my attitude or effect how I treat those around me. Just trying to check myself more when I’m feeling frustrated. Luckily my wife is really good at checking me too.
Any relationship advice for new moms and dads trying to balance love, family, and career?
Man, I’m still trying to figure it out myself. It gets so easy to fill up all your extra time with work once you have a baby. That whole “not enough hours in the day” thing. I’ve definitely been guilty of filling up my calendar so much between making music and doing the business stuff that I may only see my wife on the weekend some weeks. Setting aside two week nights every week that’s just for family seems like the move. It’s amazing how quickly you can lose touch with one another over just a few days if you don’t see each other at all.
It’s definitely influenced when and how often I make it. The business side of Doomtree takes up most of my day to day life, so I’ve had to get much more structured in order to continue to create new music. Now I work on beats every Tuesday night and Friday day when I have a sitter, which keeps me on track. I know that I can get easily depressed if I go a long time without creating something, so this definitely keeps me on track. I’ve also started collaborating way more with friends, as opposed to just sitting alone in my basement plugging away at things. I think it’s kind of like the buddy system that people use at the gym. It keeps me accountable, plus it helps with the social aspect that’s easy to lose once you have a kid.
Are you the first in the Doomtree crew to become a parent?
I’m actually the third. Mike has a daughter and Stef has two boys, so I got a lot of good advice out on the road last year leading up to Penny’s arrival.
Has Penny been to a show?
Not yet. We gotta get some of those sweet huge baby headphones still, but once we do that I’m definitely hoping to get her out to a show or two this year.
Is she musical?
I think she might be. She loves to bang on the piano at my folks’ house and singing always helps calm her down when she gets upset. Might have to sign her to a record contract soon.
Her two bottom teeth just started to poke through last week! Plus she’s sitting up on her own like a champ.
If you could describe parenthood in one word, it would be_____.
Aaron wanted me to make sure to give a huge shout out to his mom for “being the best mom and grandma ever.” He says that he couldn’t do any of this without her. Everyone at Welcome Baby Care happens to share this sentiment. Lazerbeak’s mama is our very own Rosemary, administrative assistant and general goddess who knows EVERYTHING and keeps us running smoothly. We also feel that we couldn’t do any of this without her.
Read more about Doomtree’s latest projects and Aaron’s life with Penny at his blog Tuesdays With Lazerbeak. Aaron’s most recent projects include a record he put out with a new group called Mixed Blood Majority.