Today’s generation of black fathers is definitely not monolithic. There is no blueprint to the type of dad you’ll be or one set way to parent your children. We all dad different! (Make sure you head to the shop and get some, ‘I dad different’ merch) We’re all looking for unique ways to be present, active fathers. We’re trying to unlearn some of the toxic things taught to us growing up about what fatherhood or manhood is supposed to look like. And we’re learning new ways to breed creativity and confidence in our children.
Michael Gardner is doing just that. He went from being unsure if he was ready to be a father to a definite first ballot future hall of fame #girldad. He talks with Dear Fathers about how bonding with his daughter has gained him a new life skill, confidence, and national attention!
Michael was born and raised in Philadelphia, PA. He left for college and attended Xavier University before transferring to Virginia State University. Upon graduating from college he returned to Philadelphia where he worked in finance. He is the father of two daughters. He unfortunately lost his first daughter five months into the pregnancy. Two years later he was blessed with the birth of his second daughter, Ava. When she was three years old, Michael decided he was going to learn how to sew and design his daughter’s clothes! That birthed Daddy Dressed Me by MG!
What made you decide to start designing clothes?
When Ava was 3, I saw her personality. She was energetic, sassy, fun, and playful. I thought modeling would be something that she was good at. I went to her and said I’m going to start making you clothes! She naturally would put her hand on her hip and start posing. And I was trying to figure out how to make the clothes. I’m self-taught. I learned by watching YouTube and tutorials on Pinterest. We started out not having a clue of what we were doing.
So, you started making the clothes just so she can model?
I’ve always been creative since I was a kid. I was faced with the journey of “I know how to do this. What’s the next thing?” My sister was sewing and I thought it’d be dope to try to do too. More so sewing became the tool I used to teach Ava confidence and really to just believe in herself. The crazy thing is that I was trying to teach her confidence, I started to learn it myself and be able to face some things I dealt with in my childhood!
What was your relationship like with your father?
So my parents grew up on the same block and that’s how they met. Their families were cool and used to hang out. Then I came and he got to a point where he was like I wasn’t his son. He wouldn’t acknowledge me. I would stand in front of him and say hi and he literally wouldn’t say anything to me.
Right before I graduated college, I wrote him a letter in the goal of finding myself. That led to us having a conversation and I got all the answers I needed. And from there we had a relationship for a couple of years but then it went right back to the same thing and we hadn’t really talked since.
How did that relationship effect how you are as a father?
Growing up no one ever talked to me about not having a relationship with my father or how I felt about it. I remember one time as a teenager my Aunt just randomly asked “How do you feel about your dad not being there?” And I ran in the house and started crying! And I don’t even remember what happened after that. From not having that relationship, I always knew I wanted to be married and be a father. A lot of the things that hurt or impacted me growing up, I wanted to put focus and emphasis on Ava so her experience was different. The main thing being communication. I internalized a lot so it was important for me to create the space for her to be able to express her emotions and talk freely!
You’ve gone viral and have been featured on the Today Show. Now that you’ve been nationally recognized, have you felt any pressure when creating new designs or to create more?
The end of last year I felt pressure. I’ve always had the freedom to do what I wanted to do. But then it seemed people started having plans for me that I didn’t even have for myself. Then when you’d hear, “he did this, so what’s next?” That started to get in my head. I had to check myself. It’s not up to me to keep up with that. It’s up to me to keep doing what I’m doing. Creative people already question themselves anyway but now it started to multiply with all the attention I was getting. I even had to start turning down people who were trying to buy stuff from me that I’m not selling. At some point I learned to calm all that down in my head and focus on me and Ava. That’s why now it’s less about the clothes and we started doing TikToks. That was Ava’s idea. That allows us to show other sides of us and not feel like I’m just a dad who started making clothes for his daughter so she could look cute. The reason I started in the first place is a much deeper meaning than that.
How has this affected Ava? Is she starting to look at this as a career? Does she give insight on designs?
She’s been giving her feedback for a couple of years now. In the beginning it’d be my vision and I made what I wanted to make. But one time she wanted me to change something. I told her that it was my vision and she said but I’m the one wearing it! I had to start sharing that space for input. Now she gives her opinion on designs, fabrics, and where we take pictures. Pretty much she’s involved in the whole process!
I never wanted her to feel like she had to sew, but she talked about sewing and designs, but never did it. Then a company I was a brand ambassador for sent her a pink sewing machine and that was the push that she needed to start sewing more. And now she’s talking about going to F.I.T. and becoming a designer. I’ll give her the space to pursue whatever she wants to do, but I told her she has to have a plan.
What is the end goal? A fashion line?
I’m still trying to figure that part out. But currently I’m working on a children’s book to tell our story in a picture book. I also want to create a sewing pattern and put Ava on the cover so other black girls can see her being represented.
If you could write a short letter to your father starting with Dear Father, what would you say?
I forgive you!
I thoroughly enjoyed my conversation with Michael. I am in awe of what he’s accomplished and how. He began a hobby to instill confidence and self-love into his daughter and while doing that he began to gain more confidence in himself. He indirectly inspired other men to start their sewing journey. He’s gained national attention and has had multiple offers for financial gain. And even with all that, he keeps this true to why he started; bonding with his daughter. And that’s very refreshing! We Salute you Michael! Keep being a great father!
Follow Michael’s journey:
Facebook: Daddy Dressed Me by Michael Gardner