Lead Dads in Hiding

What Are The Risks of Not Being Seen?

Here’s how it started.

Will, who works in real estate, approached me at one of my daughter’s games a week or so after I ended my New York Times column to start The Company of Dads. He’s a Lead Dad and wanted to be part of the community we’re building but he had a request: could he be part of this without using his name? I talked about it more in this video here.

His request shocked me a bit. I knew him and his wife and his kids. I knew what he did for a living and what his wife did, too. And from what I’d seen, he was a very involved father. But for some reason, calling himself a Lead Dad wasn’t something he felt comfortable doing.

More recently, I spoke with Nick, who made a sharp change in his career to be a Lead Dad. He’s going to be on a future podcast so I’m not going to give too much away. But his career switch, from Wall Street trader to bakery owner, came when he realized it was the right thing to do for the five kids he and his wife had, three of whom were adopted at different ages. He surveyed the family landscape and decided to throw his support behind his wife’s career and reorient his life around their family.

It was incredibly difficult for Nick to lose the identity that comes from what you do, from what your title is, from what company you work for. “So much of my identity came from me taking risks with trades, or giving people bonuses and getting a big bonus myself,” he said. “It took me five to six years to say to companies that I’m not interested in talking to you, that I’m spending time with my family by choice. But I needed a community.”

What type of community he joined I’ll leave for later. But even with it’s backing, he’s found that meeting other men is still tough. Inevitably the conversation turns to what you do.

“I don’t want to tell them I’m retired from Wall Street so I could be with my family,” he said. “I tell them I own a bakery and that works.”

He does own two bakeries but that takes up so little of his time compared to his children.

Same with Mike, who owns his own public relations firm. He’s cool with being a Dad Who Drops Off, while his wife, an attorney, is already at work. And he’s the Lead Dad around his kids’ schedules and his family’s needs. But however rewarding it is, it’s still lonely.

“I’d like to talk to other Dads about how they prioritize, how they deal with all the things that come with being the Lead Dad,” he said. “I’m trying to figure out how to handle this kind of situation.”

Being a Lead Dad is emotionally complex. It’s so rewarding when you’re in the moment. But outside of that it’s a role that can be hard to explain to non-Lead Dads.

Like I said at the top, I know how this community started – with a bit of trepidation. I’m more hopeful about how it ends – with Lead Dads being just another type of parent, whatever their job may or may not be. With them, being normal.

For a moment, imagine if when asked what we do for a living the first thing we say is, “Lead Dad” and let the phrase hang there. How would you feel doing that? What do you think the reaction would be?