John Schiaroli

Sometimes you just have to figure it out – without any playbook, any experience, or any friends in a similar situation.

That was what John Schiaroli, our Lead Dad of the Week from Wilton, Conn., did 18.5 years ago when he started dating his now wife. She had a 6-month-old daughter who is now 19 and a sophomore in college. Her biological father was not involved, he said.

“I remember saying, ‘I’m going to figure out how to dad’,” said John, who has held various roles in the beverage industry.

He and his wife met at work, but soon after getting together he took a job in New York City and they began the Lead Dad-Working Mom shuffle: “I had the bigger commute, so I was around for the nights and evenings. She did more of the day shift getting things started.”

When his step-daughter was diagnosed with leukemia at age 8, he was working at Pepsico, which offered a leave of absence of medical emergencies. So John took six months, with two paid and four unpaid. “I’ve always worked in operations so I’m very much a take action and go guy,” he said. “My job was protected. Her mom was working – she couldn’t get a leave of absence.”

Let that sink in: Pepsi recognized a parent’s need to take leave regardless of whether he was a step or biological dad; her mother’s company did not.

“I introduced myself as her step-dad until she went through this cancer journey. Then I said I’m her dad.” 821 days later their daughter was in remission.

With their daughter in college, John and his wife Heather are getting used to something they’ve never had before: time with just the two of them. She’s working in the specialty food business now, while he’s started a new career in real estate.

Through to the other side of parenting, he has a lesson for younger Lead Dads: “Be really good at listening to what’s important,” he said. “It may not seem like a big deal to you, but it’s the world to them at that moment in life.”

Welcome, John, to The Company of Dads.