Fatherhood, Men's Mental Health, & Uncles Movement with Micah Nickens

Join us as we chat with founder of Maui-based clothing brand — Uncles Movement — Micah Nickens about men's mental health and fatherhood!

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We wanted to do something special for all the dads in our Coco-mmunity, so we talked with Maui-based dad and business owner, Micah Nickens. He is the owner and founder of Uncles Movement — something that began as a reminder to never throw in the towel no matter your age, and is now a business with a community of "Uncles" embracing life's journey.

Micah took the time to talk about Uncles Movement, and how what they stand for and the community they have created can be an asset to fathers. He also shared some of his own parenting experience with us, and offers advice for how those in a father's inner circle can be supportive during the parenting journey. 

Tell us about yourself and Uncles Movement!

Aloha, my name is Micah Nickens, and I’m the founder of the Uncles Movement. I was born and raised on the island of Maui. My parents moved to Maui for the obvious reasons: year-round tropical weather and plenty of warm waves. Needless to say, I was a water baby. My passion for surfing really took off when I was in junior high. I set aside baseball and soccer and committed strictly to surfing. It was a childhood dream to become a professional surfer, not the kind that chased contests and tried to get good results, but more of a free surfer. I pursued the direction of chasing great waves and getting pictures in Surfer and Surfing Magazine. My dream took me all over the world in search of perfect waves. It was a dream come true.

When I was in my mid-20s, I knew this dream would only last so long. I needed a backup plan for the next chapter. I approached my longest-lasting sponsor, Dakine, and asked if I could manage the surf team. After a few months of juggling budgets, they took a chance. Over the 22 years I was with DK I went from being the surf team manager to eventually becoming the global marketing director of all water-related sports. I had the opportunity to work with the best athletes on the planet! Andy and Bruce Irons, John John Florence, Carissa Moore, and many other amazing athletes. It was a dream job. Our go-to-market strategy was to maintain the best athletes using the best gear, and it worked very well. We were the number one accessory brand for years. As social media started to emerge, I started the Dakine Surf account and referred to these young rippers as the Youthful Movement. We did our best to engage with the young consumer and not age out as a brand, and it seemed to work well.

As a joke, whenever I would post a shot of myself on my personal account, I would add the #unclesmovement, meaning, I’m a little too old to fall into the Youthful Movement category. It sort of caught on within my friend group. We are all around the same age and still very hungry to catch the wave of the day or step up our game and keep up with the younger generation. The hashtag became a bit of a personal challenge to never throw in the towel, no matter our age. That was the original conception of the Uncles Movement.

The more I thought about the meaning behind the Uncles Movement, the more I realized it could be so much more than just a "beat your chest" kind of vibe. I saw an opportunity to create a community where people of all types could come together and find some common ground as they venture through life. A community where we identify real-life issues and do our best to address them.

We put aside machismo and connect with our inner fire. We challenge ourselves to be the best versions of ourselves. Every person is unique and has a different story, but we all lead back to the same ethos: we aspire to live, love, and laugh as much as humanly possible. We do, however, glorify athletic achievements, but the same goes for being a respected steward in your community. Spend time with the keiki, even if they are not yours. Give back to the community when you can. Ultimately, try to be that favorite aunty or uncle we all loved.

There’s the accountability to oneself. We focus on the mental and physical aspects of our lives. Are we doing our best to treat our bodies right? Especially as we grow older. Is there balance in our day-to-day routine? That means our diets, our ability to control the vices we may have, the amount of sleep we get, the commitment to exercising daily, and all the other factors we require to maintain a healthy lifestyle. The physical side is incredibly important if we want to continue playing the way we play.

That’s just part of it… Then there’s the mental side of it. Are we in touch with our true feelings?

Everyone is susceptible to mental challenges. Depression is no joke. Anxiety is another big one. We want to encourage everyone to be open to communicating more. Being more present within our families. Admit when we might need help. I grew up with the mentality of rolling up your sleeves and ignoring the signs. Man up!! We use the term “It’s All Good” way too much. It’s not always All Good. We encourage all to step out of our comfort zones and address these issues. It’s very liberating to be honest. I wish I had done this when I was much younger.

Our Motto is "Never Stop” The saying encapsulates the essence of the Uncles Movement in two words. It's a reminder to continue pursuing passions, engaging with the community, and cherishing every moment life offers. By embracing this philosophy, individuals can cultivate a sense of purpose, fulfillment, and connection that enriches their lives and contributes positively to the world around them. The Uncles Movement serves as a beacon of inspiration for embracing life's journey with excitement, mindfulness, and a commitment to making each moment count. 

How do you think having a resource like Uncles Movement when you were beginning your parenting journey would have helped you?

Parenthood often feels like navigating uncharted territory, and having a supportive community and guiding principles could have alleviated much of the anxiety and uncertainty I experienced.

The UM's emphasis on mindfulness would have been particularly helpful during moments of frustration or exhaustion. It's easy to become overwhelmed by emotions, especially when sleep-deprived, and incorporating practices like meditation could have provided valuable tools for maintaining a calm and centered mindset.

Practicing appreciation, as advocated by the UM, would have helped me focus on the positives in those rough moments of parenting. Taking time to savor small moments of joy can significantly reduce stress and enhance presence with loved ones. Appreciation is available free of charge. Just takes a moment to focus on it.

I resonate deeply with the principle of being "quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger." It's a mantra that reminds me to approach parenting (and life) with patience and empathy, even in the face of difficulties. It helps me avoid saying things I immediately regret haha. Still a work in progress :)

Overall, having access to the UM's resources and community support would have definitely helped with my parenting journey and empowered me to navigate its ups and downs with less angst. Having a infant/child has its stressful moments. It’s all about how you handle it. The UM is all out mindfulness, trying to be a step ahead of our challenges. If we understand how to approach the situation, that goes a long way. 

On a similar note, what are some of the tools/information you wish you had when you were parenting your younger keiki?

Here are some things I wish I had known or utilized:

Just to be clear, we are human, and occasionally we fail. I like to refer to those moments as “Dad Fails”. Be quick to forgive yourself. They are going to happen more than once haha.

Here are some helpful tools I wish I had utilized more.

  1. Mindfulness Techniques: I like focusing on a single object in your yard, house, or where ever while practicing deep breathing, incorporating mindfulness practices into daily routines can help alleviate stress and promote mental clarity. Deep breathing exercises can be powerful tools for finding moments of calm your emotions.
  2. Parenting Support Groups: Connecting with other parents who are experiencing similar challenges can provide a ton of useful information. Whether in-person or online, parenting support groups offer a sense of community and shared understanding that can help alleviate feelings of isolation and stress.
  3. Self-Care Strategies: Prioritizing self-care is essential for maintaining mental and emotional well-being as a parent. Finding small ways to recharge, such as taking short breaks to engage in activities you enjoy, getting regular exercise, or practicing relaxation techniques, can help prevent burnout and enhance resilience.
  4. Communication Skills: Effective communication is key to building strong, supportive relationships with children and partners. Learning techniques for active listening, expressing emotions constructively, and resolving conflicts peacefully can improve family dynamics and reduce stress.

Overall, having a toolkit of resources and strategies for managing stress and fostering emotional well-being would have greatly enhanced my parenting experience and helped me navigate the inevitable ups and downs with more patients and understanding.

What do you think are some of the best ways partners, parents, friends, or family can support the fathers in their circle?

Being available to support new parents during those late-night calls when their child isn't feeling well is incredibly important. Having experienced a few scares with my own daughter when she was very young, I understand the overwhelming worry and uncertainty that can accompany such situations. In those moments, reaching out to someone with experience, like my sister who already has children, she provided me with some sound advice. She also laughed at me a lot for being an over reactive parent. Google croup cough. The coughing noise sounds like a barking seal, scared the crap out of me. Straight to the ER in the middle of the night.

I was the first in my friend circle to have a child, which can sometimes leave you feeling isolated or unsure where to turn for advice. While friends may not always offer the most practical support, their ability to lighten the mood and provide moments of laughter can be invaluable during stressful times. Even if the humor is sometimes at your own expense, finding moments of barrel rumbling laughter can help relieve tension and provide a much-needed break from worry.

In hindsight, many of the challenges and scares of early parenthood may seem less daunting, but in the moment, they can feel overwhelming. Having a support network of experienced parents, friends who can offer laughter, and the ability to reach out for help when needed are all essential components for support.

And what is some of your top advice for first-time dads?

  1. Sleep when the baby sleeps: This advice is often repeated for a reason—it's crucial for parents to capitalize on rest whenever they can, especially during those early months of sleep deprivation. Taking naps during the day when the baby sleeps can help recharge energy levels and improve overall well-being.
  2. Work as a team with your partner: Collaboration and mutual support between partners when facing the challenges of parenthood. Sharing responsibilities like feeding (if using a bottle) and diaper changes allows both parents to contribute and allows mom to get that much-needed rest. 
  3. Practice patience: Patience truly is key when caring for a newborn. Frustration and impatience can escalate stress levels and make challenging situations even more difficult to manage. Remembering to stay calm, take deep breaths, and approach each moment with patience and understanding can help maintain a positive atmosphere for both parents and baby.

While my responses may focus heavily on the challenges of new parenthood, the truth is, the moment my daughter was born, everything changed. It was the most profound, life-altering experience I've ever had. The love I feel for her is beyond words. From the instant I made eye contact with her, I knew we were destined to be best friends. Now as a teenager, she exudes empathy in a way I never thought possible and constantly inspires me to be a better person.

In fact, she's the reason I reshaped the Uncles Movement to focus more on life improvement rather than a boastful attitude. My ultimate goal is to emulate her kindness and compassion.

To all the new parents out there feeling overwhelmed and uncertain, I want you to know that I didn't have all the answers either. I still don’t. We’re all on this journey of learning and growth together. It's a remarkable ride, and I'm grateful to share some of it with you.

Micah Nickens



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