Last week, I celebrated 10 years as a Lead Dad – a position I didn’t aspire to but have embraced. The messages and emails I received – supportive, thank you – got me thinking about tips I could share on being a Lead Dad. Three came to mind.
Before that, it’s good to define what Lead Dads are. They’re the go-to parent whether they work full time, part time or devote all their time to their families, while in many cases supporting their spouses in their careers. (We say ‘many’ because 18 percent of fathers are divorced, widowed or otherwise single, and they’re taking the lead role half or more of the time.)
I assumed the role when my wife started her own asset management recruiting firm. I kept it quiet for years – leading with the job everyone knew I had, not the one that was more important to my family. That changed during Covid when I was looking for a community of like-minded Lead Dads and found that none existed. In fact, few resources for fathers existed at all, save for fathers in crisis. That led to me leaving what I had been doing The New York Times – nearly two years ago this month – to start The Company of Dads.
I’ve learned a lot but here are three specific tips for men contemplating becoming Lead Dads in their families.
–> Be rational about what it entails. Lead Dads are the organizers in chief at home and they’re allies for female colleagues at work. We don’t talk about percentages of who does what in a home but as the go-to parent Lead Dads are the family command center. You’ve got to put yourself out there on non-traditional fronts. The pediatrician and dentist will be slow to recognize you, so too will be the school administration and the PTA. Press on. (Your town’s Facebook Moms Group, keeper of so much info, is like a C.I.A. black site –low chance of learning what’s going on inside.)
–> Be confident. If your children are young, own your playground role. It’s awkward. Not everyone is accepting but c’mon there are swings and seesaws – it’s not that scary. Work will be an equally important area. Parent openly. When you’re public about being a Lead Dad, you can help other men step into the role. That helps to show managers that working moms are not the default caregivers. You can be an ally to women by being honest and public about your caregiving role. Don’t hide it. The days of it being cool to be an Event Dad are sunsetting.
–> Embrace it. On your deathbed, your final thought will be, If only I had created one more PowerPoint… Nah, it’s likely to be moments of emotional connection with your family, friends and work colleagues. Stepping up to be a Lead Dad is a role that is good for you, good for your spouse and children. But it also brings benefits to the workplace and community. Think greater engagement, focus and productivity.
It’s not always balloons and dance parties, but it’ll feel that way in the long run.