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Capturing Memories: A Conversation with Tyler Ranalla on Fatherhood and Photography

Welcome back to another episode of Dads with Daughters, the podcast that highlights the challenges and joys of being a father to strong and independent women. Today, we have a special guest joining us all the way from the West Coast. Tyler Ranalla, a talented photographer and father of three (with one on the way), shares his insights on fatherhood and the unique experiences he has had raising his daughters. In this episode, Tyler opens up about his initial fears and insecurities upon discovering he would be a father to a daughter, and how he overcame those doubts. He also discusses the unexpected differences he encountered in parenting his son compared to his daughters, and how he and his wife navigated through these challenges together. Tune in as Tyler shares his most memorable experiences as a father and offers valuable advice on being the best dad you can be. Join us on this inspiring journey of fatherhood on Dads with Daughters.


Christopher Lewis [00:00:06]:

Welcome to dads with daughters. In this show, we spotlight dads resources. And more to help you be the best dad you can be.

Christopher Lewis [00:00:16]:

Hey, everyone, this is Chris, and welcome back to the Dads with Daughters podcast, where we bring you guests to be active participants in your daughter’s lives, raising them to be strong, independent women. Really excited to have you back again this week. Every week. I love being able to sit down with you and to be able to talk with you, to be able to walk on this journey with you, maybe sit next to you as we go along this journey and be able to talk about what it takes to be an amazing dad and what it takes to be able to raise our daughters, to be the strong, independent women that we want them to be in their lives. And to do that, we can’t do it alone. We have to have people around us. We have to be able to learn from other people. We have to be willing to put ourselves out there and know when we don’t know everything, because none of us know everything. Let’s be honest. There’s no playbook for being the amazing father that you want to be, but you can get there. And you can get there on the backs of many other dads that have gone before you or that are going through it with you as well. So every week, I love being able to talk with different dads, to listen to their experiences, to learn from their experiences. And to be honest, no matter where you are in that parenting journey, you’re still going to be able to learn. If you have kids that are infants, if you have kids that are in their teenage years, in their college years, or even if they’re adults, you never stop being a father. You’re always going to be a father, and you can learn from other fathers along the way. So this week, we got another great guest with us. Tyler Ranalla is with us today, and Tyler is a photographer out on the West Coast. I’m in Michigan. He’s out on the west coast. And we’re going to talk a little bit about photography and capturing memories and capturing those special moments. But first and foremost, we have to really talk about Tyler being a dad because he’s a father of three with one on the way. So he’s going to be a father of four coming up here not too long, and I’m really excited to have him here. Tyler, thanks so much for being here today.

Tyler Ranalla [00:02:27]:

I appreciate it. Thank you so much for having me.

Christopher Lewis [00:02:29]:

My pleasure having you here today. And first and foremost, what I would love to do is I want to turn the clock back in time and I want to go back to that first moment, that first moment when you found out that you were going to be a father to a daughter. What was going through your head.

Tyler Ranalla [00:02:41]:

Okay, so I didn’t find out the gender until she was born. So the first moment that I saw she was a little girl, I think I was the first person in the hospital room to see it. And that very first moment, I got pretty scared because I didn’t know what it meant to raise a girl. I didn’t know what that experience was like. And so my first instinct, rather than pure excitement, was actually a bit of fear of like, am I going to be good enough for this?

Christopher Lewis [00:03:08]:

Let’s talk about that fear because I’ve heard that from other dads as well. And they’re definitely not only is there fear of just being a father in general, because unless you have really strong role models and you have the experience of having other kids in your life, and even if you have that, it doesn’t prepare you completely to be a father. So as you had your first daughter, what was your biggest fear in raising a daughter?

Tyler Ranalla [00:03:33]:

Yeah, I think it was just that I didn’t have the right tools to be able to support her, her journey, because I didn’t know what that was like. But that went away pretty quickly, I think, too. Just like Daddy’s little girl, where it always protects. But yeah, biggest fear, I think, is just a normal fear. I think most people’s fear in every aspect of their life was just, am I enough to deal with this? Do I have enough? Am I enough? Now?

Christopher Lewis [00:03:56]:

I know before we even started recording today, one of the things we talked about was the fact that you do have three kids. Now you have two daughters and a son. And one of the things that you mentioned to me was that you found that it was more difficult for you to father your son than it was to father your daughters. Talk to me about that.

Tyler Ranalla [00:04:19]:

Yeah. So once that fear kind of subsided, and then I just got to just relish in this beautiful little girl, I’m sure, some other fears for me. I was 19 when she was born, so I’m sure there were some other little fears about going on around that, too. But the biggest difference from having for me personally, from my daughter to my son, my second born as a boy, was as he got older. I found I had less patience for my son than my daughter. And I think it was something around like, my little girl, she can do no wrong. And that’s why I thought it was for a while, it took me a bit to understand that I had more fears over raising a boy because I am one man now, my son would say. And I projected a lot more of my fears of what it means to fit in a society onto my son. And so because I had more fears, I was also more reactive and less patient because I felt I needed to correct things sooner. I’ve worked on that since, but I definitely was surprised at how more reactive I was at the very beginning. And my wife was the exact opposite. She had all the patients in the world for our son, but was a little bit more reactive with our daughter. And so we saw that pattern, and we had talked to other parents about it and saw that pattern as well. And it was, believe it’s, projecting your own fears from your own experiences onto the kid that may have the same experience as you.

Christopher Lewis [00:05:41]:

How did you and your wife talk through that and be able to process it enough that you were able to start making changes and you may still be making changes that you’re putting into place now so that that pattern doesn’t continue.

Tyler Ranalla [00:05:57]:

I mean, first up with everything is awareness. So we had to eventually admit but we noticed it in each other. We noticed the not lack of patience. There wasn’t void of patience. It was just one kid got more patience than the other. We noticed the differences and called them out to each other. Probably not so kindly at first, trying to be the protector even. And man, I don’t even know how we switched into realizing that it was from projecting our own fears onto them. I think we just talked through it over, like, a while and then just started to consider maybe if it wasn’t something wrong with our kids and it was something that we were going through, what that thing was. As we slowly unpacked it, we just eventually I don’t even know how we got to that exact conclusion, but realized that it was something that we were dealing with. And if I really think back, I think we looked at it’s always easier to notice other people, right? I’ve heard someone say, like, if you don’t brush your teeth for three days, you won’t know, but everyone in the room will know, but your nose is located right above your mouth. And like, how is that possible? And the idea with that is it’s really hard to recognize what we’re doing, but really easy to recognize it in other people. And we actually, I think, started recognizing it in people around us more first. And then we started to be like, wait, are we doing that too?

Christopher Lewis [00:07:16]:

Now, I mentioned you have three kids, you have two daughters, and in their lives, you definitely have had different moments, different experiences, different things that are going to make it unique and make the experiences unique. What’s been the most memorable experience that you’ve been able to share thus far with your daughters?

Tyler Ranalla [00:07:33]:

Most favorite one? I don’t even really know why was my wife and I went down to we live in Northern California. We went down to Southern California and there’s this church, glass church that’s located in town called Palace Verdes that’s beautiful, called Wayfair’s Chapel. And it was right down the street from where my wife’s grandma lived. She’s passed now, but we were visiting there and it’s right near the ocean. And I was, I think, taking some video for fun with the memories. And my daughter started just like she just appeared over this hill and was just running towards me screaming, it’s like Daddy. And there was something about it that was so pure and so simple, so beautiful, and it was her running to me. That’s the specific part of the memory. It wasn’t even like when she actually got into my arms, it was just the memory of her running to me and just being so thrilled to see me. She’s eleven now, so that would never happen right now, but at the time maybe she was five or six or so. Yeah, that’s one of my favorite memories to date.

Christopher Lewis [00:08:46]:

As I said, when you have multiple kids, each one is unique. And as a father, you have to be able to have those unique experiences with them to keep not only special time and special relationships with each of them, but also be able to not completely separate them out in regards to favoritism and things like that. What would you say is your favorite thing or is the favorite thing that you like to do with each of your daughters?

Tyler Ranalla [00:09:14]:

Oh, this is eleven, youngest is a year and a half, so they’re very different now. And I think it’s important to note too that if you have siblings, I have sibling. And even though we had the same parents, we had very, very different upbringings. And sometimes siblings as adults struggle with that reality and who our parents were at different times were different. So even though we had the same parents, not really, because they were different people. And so who I am now for my daughter, who’s Nora, who’s a year and a half, is very different than who I was for my oldest, Aria, and she was a year and a half. But now I think the underlying thing always my favorite thing is just to be in their presence. It doesn’t necessarily matter what I’m doing with them, especially now with my eleven year old, because we don’t necessarily enjoy the same things. I don’t think she knows what she enjoys yet. It’s more just actually being in the presence. I think that lights me up more than anything or I’m just really there, right? My full mind, body and spirit is there. I’m not somewhere else, I’m not thinking about work, I’m not thinking about this other thing. I’m just completely and fully there.

Christopher Lewis [00:10:19]:

Talk to me about that balance because you just talked about sometimes you have to be there, you have to be disconnected from other things but be present for your children. And you’re busy, you’re a busy person, you’ve got a lot going on. I know that even us being able to schedule this, you have a lot going on. So talk to me about balance and what you have to do to be able to balance work, fatherhood, being a husband, being a son, all the different hats that you have to wear. How do you balance that so that you can remain engaged and present for your children?

Tyler Ranalla [00:10:57]:

I know there’s so many different polarizing views on balance, right? Some people say it’s possible. I don’t think of balance in terms of a certain amount of time here, a certain amount of time there. I think of balance as more like if you visualize somebody standing on a board that’s on top of a ball and you’re trying to balance, and the best way to do that is to be really present. The more present you can become, the more focused you can become on that exact moment, the more balanced you can be on that board. Same thing with the kids. So it’s really to me, balance is the ability to be present no matter where you are at, right? So when you’re at work, you’re fully at work. When you are with the kids, you’re fully with the kids, whatever it is. And that’s really hard. That’s really difficult. I think that’s what people monks go spend years learning how to do. So I don’t seek balance as much in terms of time. I do try to be extremely available for them. Like, my work schedule is not. I try to follow the school schedule, right? Like eight to three. I want to be available afterwards for whatever is needed. That’s not always the case. So I definitely try to build a life where I don’t work as much, so I can be in their presence more. But if I did that and then when I was with them, I was thinking about work instead, then it defeated their purpose. So what that schedule looks like is different for everybody. But I think the idea of presence is what can run true for everybody.

Christopher Lewis [00:12:19]:

Something that came out a few years ago was the term girl dad and became very popular. Started seeing it in a lot of social media. People claiming to be girl dads and saying that with pride. What does being a girl dad mean to you?

Tyler Ranalla [00:12:37]:

Interesting, because having both girls and a boy, I feel like the better I’ve become as a dad, the more I’ve let go of girl dad or boy dad. Like, it’s just dad. I think that the issues come from when I try to put them into a box, if that makes sense. I think the things that matter to me is dad would be like protector. I want to make sure that they know the door to my home is always open for them. Never closed and never will be. Whereas I’ve seen some parents treat their girls and their boys differently in that regard. Maybe they could be harsher with the boys. I’m like, no, you have to be provider. I don’t feel that way. Personally, I think a father is about that door always being open, and it’s almost maybe that simple in how I see my role.

Christopher Lewis [00:13:18]:

Now, I mentioned at the beginning that you’re a photographer and you even talked about in the experience that you had down in Southern California, taking that video to capture those memories. And I think sometimes there’s questions about how to best capture those memories. And we have a lot of things at our fingertips. We’ve got our phones, and we’ve got some people do have more expensive cameras, but sometimes it’s just trying to figure out what’s the best way to be able to capture those memories while still staying present and not feeling like you have to be trying to capture that right moment at the same time when you’re dealing with your family. So if for someone that is looking to get better at taking pictures or capturing video or doing things like that, what are some of the first steps that you would recommend to someone to be able to capture those moments and capture those memories that they can then have for their entire lives?

Tyler Ranalla [00:14:21]:

Best way to capture memories is actually also the best way to be a dad going back to the presence. So I’ll explain this in a few ways. The first thing is we all have multiple masks. We have masks we wear as husbands, masks we wear as dads, workers, business owners, whatever. We all these different masks that we wear right throughout life. And we mainly specialized in weddings. And weddings are really interesting because during that day, the couple, they’re putting on every mask that they’ve ever put on in their whole life. Like in one day, right, they might have their first grade teacher there, their parents, grandparents, college friends, the whole spectrum of who they’ve become through this lifetime. They have to take those masks on. Roth seeing everybody in their life, and that’s a really, I think, strange experience for a lot of people. And as a photographer, I was always looking for the moment where they weren’t wearing masks anymore. And it always only happened once or twice. And it was like this moment where it was like they were just truly them. It was an image that even when they are older and maybe in their eighty s and ninety s and wrinkly and just look different, like their grandkids could look at that image and be like, oh yeah, that’s grandpa. Oh, that’s grandma. There’s a video of my grandmother who’s passed eleven years ago actually, and there’s a video of her when she was like in her it’s like so purely her. She’s like sliding across ice in some northern state or in Canada they were visiting, and it was just a street that was iced over and she was just like running and sliding across and it was like such a youthful energy. And that was what I remembered about her, was even when she was much older. And so as a photographer, I’m always looking for that moment where somebody is really truly themselves. The masks are gone and we want to give our kids that permission to really be themselves and not who we think they are. So in capturing memories, I think people are going to get stuck if they’re trying to get a specific memory, this moment, they’re like attached to an outcome, they’re probably going to not get the best memory possible. So you want to facilitate the space for your kids, just be, just exist and just be themselves. And you want to capture image when they’re so in their own zone that they’re maybe not fully aware that you’re there in a way or that the camera is there. And if you can just get that extremely genuine image, that’s going to be something that you’ll hold on to, that’ll be your favorite memory forever. So you just have to kind of create the space to allow them to be fully present with themselves. Really.

Christopher Lewis [00:16:51]:

I love that. And I think that that’s not easy. As you said, you’ll go to a wedding and you’ll only find two of those moments in the entire time. And I think people get impatient, especially as they’re trying to capture and they think they have to find the perfect moment or stage the perfect moment or be able to do something to capture it. And what I’m hearing you say is, no, the perfect moment shouldn’t be staged. It should just happen. And I think that what the hard part for me is hearing that is how do you find it? What do you have to do to be able to find it and capture it?

Tyler Ranalla [00:17:32]:

I guess that’s a trick. You can’t find it. You have to let it find you.

Christopher Lewis [00:17:34]:

Maybe that is definitely the hard part. And being patient enough to being willing to just let things happen. I think about the fact that right now it’s back to school time and kids are going back to school and you get people that are taking pictures that are being shared of the first day of school and they always look perfect. But how many pictures did they have to take to get that one shot that the kid was happy with, that they were happy with? Because sometimes I think we get drawn into a false sense of reality because of social media, what’s shared on social media. And it makes lives look perfect when lives are not always perfect, but what we put out in front of people make it look perfect, which may may kind of fall into some of the things you were just saying.

Tyler Ranalla [00:18:23]:

Yeah, it does. If you think about that memory, that’s good context is like, who is this memory for and what is it for? And if you think about like, hey, if you’re thinking about the social media or what’s going to look like or looking to have this perfect life. It’s always going to have the shallowness to it sounds really rough. I just mean it in terms of imagine instead thinking about what image could I capture right now for my kid, for them to look back on when they’re 30 and just relish and remember and what it was like to be themselves fully before the world started telling them who they needed to be. So if you change the purpose behind why you’re taking the image and you make it for them, that might make it a lot easier to step into what that memory that you’re trying to capture would be.

Christopher Lewis [00:19:08]:

Now, as I said, there’s a lot of ways to capture memories when you’re talking about equipment. And people can go all the way up to the DSLR cameras that are thousands and thousands of dollars to the phones that you take with you. That could be still thousands of dollars, but you’re still carrying them with you as you go around. What do you recommend to people if they’re saying to you, I want to be able to capture memories, I want to be able to take pictures, I want to be able to get good pictures that I can share and keep. What do you recommend to people?

Tyler Ranalla [00:19:44]:

Well, that video that I have of my grandma, she was in. Her quality is expected, right, from something that was now 70 years ago, technology. So the value of memories isn’t the dynamic range or the shallow depth of field or all these things. Those can be helpful and nice, but don’t stop yourself from capturing memories because of technology or limited by technology. Now, if you want to learn more about just how to craft an image to be able to bring more emphasis into that moment, I would definitely look up something called focal length and compression. And one of the things for like when I do family photos now, I mainly coach photographers, so I don’t shoot as much anymore. But get yourself some longer lenses or like zoom in more on your phone, which the quality might be less in terms of pixels and all these things. But by giving yourself a little distance from the memory, you give the subject or your kids or whoever it is a little bit more ability just to be present and in their own world, and then you get to capture that more. That’d probably be the first thing I’d recommend, is just zooming in and stepping back further, removing yourself from the moment a little bit. That’s something that anyone could do with any type of technology they have is just zoom in a little bit more. So then you have to step back further. If you’re in the DSLR place, that would be a telephoto lens. But definitely don’t stop yourself from capturing memories because you feel like the quality isn’t good enough. Like the quality of a memory isn’t dictated by the pixels or the colors or any of those things. It’s who’s in that image, makes it valuable and what they’re doing at this moment in time that’s going to be gone in a second and never to return.

Christopher Lewis [00:21:30]:

Now, we always finish our interviews with what I like to call our Fatherhood Five, where I ask you five more questions to delve deeper into you as a dad. Are you ready?

Tyler Ranalla [00:21:38]:

Cool. Let’s do it.

Christopher Lewis [00:21:39]:

In one word. What is fatherhood love? It’s a time that you finally felt like you succeeded at being a father to a daughter presence. Was there a specific moment?

Tyler Ranalla [00:21:48]:

I think that’s what makes that memory so special, the one at the glass church out in the field in front of it is I was just, like, completely immersed in that moment. I was nowhere else.

Christopher Lewis [00:21:58]:

If I was to talk to your kids and your one and a half year old might not be able to say too much, how would they describe you as a dad?

Tyler Ranalla [00:22:07]:

Depends on the day. On the good day, so I look good and perfect fun, I will exert an enormous amount of energy just to be with them, whatever way. At birthday parties and things, usually the parents are hanging out and trying to relax, and I’m in there with the kids just trying to make sure no one gets hurt and having as much fun as possible. And then on the not so good days, probably impatient. On those days where I’m not present, I’m not there. I still have those moments where I’m just a little bit short and I don’t get down their level as much. I’m concerned about schedule and things like that. So I’m both not perfect, which I think one thing that is important to add to this is I don’t want any of my kids to think that they need to be perfect. And so in those moments when I’m not perfect, I make sure as quickly as possible to acknowledge it in front of them, be like, you know what? I’m sorry I didn’t sit down and chat with you. I think as time goes on, I’m getting faster and faster at correcting and acknowledging with them and teaching them that it’s okay not to be perfect, teaching them that it’s okay to make mistakes, hopefully give them a little bit more permission to be themselves and not be afraid of making mistakes.

Christopher Lewis [00:23:13]:

Who Inspires you to be a better dad.

Tyler Ranalla [00:23:15]:

Honestly, this might not be the most beautiful answer. It even really makes sense, but I just think about my own childhood and what I wish I had gotten differently. If I’ve really allowed myself to sit into there and imagine what things could be like if things were slightly different and I had really, for the most part, a really nice childhood, that’s something that it makes me aware of the impact that I have and the potential I have to make a really wonderful impact on them.

Christopher Lewis [00:23:39]:

Given a bunch of different pieces of advice. You’ve shared some of your own journey with me today. What’s one piece of advice you’d like to give to every dad as we finish up today?

Tyler Ranalla [00:23:50]:

Like really two that come to mind. The first one that came to mind was just to piggyback off of the last answer. It was just to not be perfect, but that is more a track to follow to get to the place of just being with your kids. I know there’s an audio that I’ve heard that says if you’re having a hard time being present, just imagine that you were 80 years old and you had one day to travel back in time to just spend with your kids. And I really like that and I think it’s really beautiful. I kind of would go a little further with it and say, imagine today was my last day to be with them. It’s a little bit maybe more morbid, but for me, it anchors me in this awesome opportunity to be here now with them. And when I get into there, a lot of the other stuff just fades away when I think about like, if this was the last time, what would be that impression? I’d want to leave with them and usually it’s not even as much as what I want to leave with them, as much like I just want to enjoy them while I can.

Christopher Lewis [00:24:48]:

Well, Tyler, I just want to say thank you. Thank you for sharing your story today, for sharing the journey that you are on and that you continue to be on as you’re expecting your next child coming as well. And I truly wish you all the best.

Tyler Ranalla [00:25:03]:

Thank you. You as well. Thanks again for having me.

Christopher Lewis [00:25:06]:

We’re all in the same boat and it’s full of tiny screaming passengers. We spend the time we give the lessons we make the meals we buy them present. Bring your A game because those kids are growing fast. The time goes by just like a dynamite blast calling astronauts and firemen carpenters and muscle men get out and be the one to now you’re the best dad you can be. Be the best dad you can be.

We know that no child comes with an instruction manual and most dads are figuring it out as they go along. And the Fatherhood Insider is full of resources and information that will up your game on Fatherhood. Through our extensive course, library, interactive forum, step by step, roadmaps and more, you will engage and learn with experts but more importantly, dads like you. So check it out@fatheringtogether.org. If you are a father of a daughter and have not yet joined the Dadswithdaughters Facebook community, there’s a link in the notes. Today Dadswithdaughters is a program of fathering together. Find out more@fatheringtogether.org. We look forward to having you back for another great guest next week. All geared to helping you raise strong, empowered daughters and be the best dad that you can be.

Song [00:25:55]:

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Christopher Lewis

Christopher is the co-founder of Fathering Together and the Chief Information Officer. He is the father of 2 daughters that are now in their tweens and teens. He started Dad of Divas, a blog to share his own personal experiences in being a father in 2007 and in 2018 started the Dads With Daughters Facebook Group to allow dads to connect, learn and grow together. He works in Digital Media on a daily basis, but also has over 20 years of experience in higher education administration.

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