Filmmaker and freshly minted father, Joel McCarthy, recently traveled to Guatemala to document the work of Vitamin Angels, an international charity based in Santa Barbara, California. The organization, founded and run by Howard Schiffer, provides essential micronutrients to children under five and mothers who are at-risk of malnutrition.
Following his trip, Joel created “A New Perspective on Fatherhood” to highlight the effects of Vitamin Angels’ impact – and the lessons on parenting he learned along the way. Watch the trailer below to learn more about this film coming to Food Matters TV:
See what else Joel and Howard, both devoted fathers, shared with us about parenting, giving, and global health in this follow-up Q&A:
Food Matters TV: How many children do you have, and how old are they?
- Howard Schiffer: I have three children; Austin is 30, Zoe is 25 and Eliana is 22.
- Joel McCarthy: I have just one child and he just turned one year old! He’s just starting to figure out walking, but he crawls everywhere, super fast. He’s constantly learning; it’s just an amazing experience that I'm so lucky to be a part of.
Food Matters TV: How would you describe fatherhood in two words?
- HS: Provide and protect. You have to provide for your family and your kids -- whether that is attention, food on the table, or a safe place to live. And to protect -- to watch who they are hanging with, if they are getting too close to being in the middle of the street, making sure that they are safe, and that they are having their basic needs being taken of.
- JM: Patience and learning. There are a lot of things you have to learn and re-learn as a parent and you have to train yourself to be patient. Having these moments where I sit down with him, with a book, pointing at a cat, and waiting for him to think about what that means is amazing.
Food Matters TV: from your travels and life experiences, can you speak further to some of the challenges that parents share around the world?
- HS: The most basic problems are ones parents anywhere, including many here in the U.S. can relate to. Food insecurity is a major concern. Parents don't know if they are going to be able to feed their kids on any given day. And if they can, what they will be able to feed their kids is really simple—and often insufficient. Like in Guatemala, most of the time it's just tortillas. If their kids are fed, it is a concern whether they are able to go to school; can they get there, and afford the books and supplies needed? And in some cases their communities are not safe, so are they going to be able to protect their children?
Food Matters TV: Joel, after working with Vitamin Angels, do your son’s milestones carry greater weight? Are there any recent or notable milestones of his that you’d like to share?
- JM: A lot of the kids that we met in our travels were underdeveloped for their ages -- they started walking and talking super late. It's made me super grateful for having a healthy child and though we have had two bigger medical situations in his life thus far, having access to medical care is amazing. I just have so much respect for people who raise their kids without those resources because it's really tough out there, and you worry so much about your child.
Food Matters TV: What have you learned from your children since becoming a parent?
- HS: Best thing I have learned is just being present -- being in the moment and not getting sidetracked -- to really enjoy that moment where you are. The biggest life-changer with having kids is that you are able to ‘drop down’ and be completely with another person.
- JM: He's taught me so, so, so much. He has taught me a lot about the sacrifices my parents made to give me the life I have, and I don't think I understood that stuff until I came into fatherhood. I had health issues as a kid, and so does Bowie. Dealing with all these little trips to doctors is so stressful and breaks you down, and knowing my parents went through the same thing for me has been really good for my relationships in general, just making me a lot more present with others.
Food Matters TV: Joel, in the film, you shared a lot of parenting experiences with the other dads– for example, that a good night’s rest is a rare luxury when you become a father. Are there other lessons or insights you learned that didn’t make it to the film?
- JM: We had to compress hours and hours of footage into ten minutes, but on top of that, there are also the times when the camera is not running. I had really good conversations with Howard about fatherhood and wanted to incorporate more of that. It was really nice to talk to someone who is more a mentor in that regard. As far as the people there in Guatemala, no matter their situation, they were so optimistic and happy to share. It was really nice having these encounters with people who would sometimes break down and cry, or just hug you and listen -- I realized we all need that here and there.
Food Matters TV: What’s one piece of advice that you would give to other fathers?
- HS: Don't miss the moment. The way it works with kids is you get these fragments -- little pieces of time to connect -- that are not planned or predictable. But when it's there, you have a second to jump in and get something out of it, or miss it.
- JM: Enjoy every minute of it. I know that sounds crazy, being someone who's only had a child for a year. But every phase disappears really fast. Like right now, he is just becoming a little too difficult to take out for dinner and lunches. He just wants to run under the table, explore everything and throw everything. And it made me realize that it's going to only be for a little while and then I'll never have that wild kid anymore. And things will change, but change is good.
“A New Perspective on Fatherhood” is a heartwarming and inspirational documentary about the joys and challenges of parenting.
Watch it here on FMTV!