Dad: Responsibility, Destiny

Dad.

Those three letters carry a lot of weight and a lot of meaning…a different kind of meaning depending on our own personal experiences.

For me, “dad” always meant responsibility and destiny.

Responsibility: I’ve always thought that I am responsible for the physical and emotional wellbeing of my two children. Of course I am, I’m their dad.

Destiny: I always wanted to be a dad and always knew that I would be a dad. It was only a matter of time when that responsibility would kick in, and for me it kicked in relatively early. Some might say too early.

Because of that feeling of both responsibility and destiny, I have to honest and say that I never really got into Father’s Day. I just didn’t like spotlight and the attention. Those of you who know me are probably shaking your heads in disbelief.

I didn’t want to “celebrate” something that comes naturally and is such a basic obligation to my children. I didn’t want congratulations or a pat on the back. I found it all to be a little condescending to tell you the truth.

I also didn’t enjoy the spotlight on my family situation either. I’d gotten divorced, which I wasn’t necessarily proud of. It was completely impossible to acknowledge my partner, because he wasn’t “Dad” yet he carried the same responsibility…and looking back I think he carried the the destiny too albeit from a different path than mine.

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Father’s Day was just an awkward day for me and for us. It was like the one day when we put dad on the pedestal, just to return to normal the next day.

Back in the day, fathers weren’t ever credited for being active caregivers, in fact quite the opposite. So taking one day to fill it with compliments for dad just always felt fake. As odd as it sounds, I didn’t really want to participate.

But times have changed, and we see fathers of all shapes, sizes, forms, and flavors taking active care of their children…responsible for their physical and emotional wellbeing. So I’ll jump into Father’s Day now, now that my children are young adults off on their own journeys.

I’ll celebrate how far we’ve come as fathers, and I’ll prop up each and every dad who is taking good care of their children. Hell yeah!

It’s time to throw it all out there, and to stop feeling uncomfortable with the fact that we are active fathers. Yes, we cook and clean and change diapers. It’s a part of the responsibility.

I’ve recently chronicled my journey as a father in a new book called Out and About Dad. Here’s an excerpt where I talk about my experiences with Father’s Day, back in the day.


Responsibility: I’ve always thought that I am responsible for the physical and emotional wellbeing of my two children. Of course I am, I’m their dad.

Destiny: I always wanted to be a dad and always knew that I would be a dad. It was only a matter of time when that responsibility would kick in, and for me it kicked in relatively early. Some might say too early.


 

CHAPTER 13

I Did What I Had To Do

I know it’s probably hard to believe, but I’ve never been too crazy about Father’s Day.

With two adult men in the house taking care of the children, I never felt comfortable being singled out on this one day, even though I am the dad.

While the day was meant for me, I guess I always wanted to share it with Christopher.

Christopher did just as much for the kids as I did, even more in some cases. He was basically a stepfather, but we never spoke about it that way. I wish I had done more to acknowledge him on Father’s Day too, but Christopher was still just Christopher like on any other day.

Admittedly, Father’s Day got off to a bad start with me right from the beginning.

My very first Father’s Day, with my daughter less than a year old, was a non-event. I had left Johnson & Johnson and was working at Arm & Hammer.

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We had just launched the new Fridge-Freezer Pack of Arm & Hammer Baking Soda, the first product innovation for that brand in decades, and we were now working on the launch of a brand new toothpaste that contained both baking soda and peroxide. It was the first of its kind, called PeroxiCare.

We were holding regional meetings with the sales team and they were starting on Monday, the day after Father’s Day. My boss asked me to leave on Sunday so that we could all have dinner together ahead of the meeting. It was completely unnecessary as far as I could tell, especially given the holiday and especially given the fact that the sales team wasn’t arriving until the next afternoon.

“But it’s Father’s Day,” I said to him (he was also a father). “Can’t we just leave Monday morning? It’s my first Father’s Day. If we leave Monday morning, we will still get to the meeting in plenty of time.” I stated my case as a brand new dad.

“A day away from home is Father’s Day to me,” he replied. So I packed up my bags and missed my very first Father’s Day with my daughter. That didn’t happen again, let me tell you. I took it as a signal that I had to get my priorities straight.

While I was doing very well at work, I was starting to feel like success could come at a sacrifice to my family. My new baby was the priority, and given my role at home, I had to be around. I wanted to be around. I also figured that there were many ways to tackle my career – lots of ways to skin the marketing cat. I could find a better way to be successful at work, without having to be away from my family so much.

Truthfully, my family needed me as their dad more than any company needed me as their marketer. That first Father’s Day made me realize that I had some very tough choices ahead of me.

To look at me today, running a huge agency, you wouldn’t know that I managed my career around raising my kids. When they were young and needed me, I was home. I made the choice to be home; I made the choice to make the kids a priority. I did what I needed to do.

I left Arm & Hammer soon after that first Father’s Day, and jumped off the big corporate ladder by joining a small, independently-owned agency in Connecticut

– I came on board to open up a local office to serve Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

It was the best decision I ever made, because it allowed me to work from home and be there with the kids. It gave me the kind of flexibility I needed to take good care of them; it gave me the kind of flexibility that they needed from me.

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Looking back, I’m not sure I had a choice. I did what I had to do.

With this new job working from home, I could get them up in the morning, get them ready for their day, and then be there at night for dinner, baths, and bedtime. I could also run out during the day for whatever they needed.

When they were super young, I didn’t travel that much, so I was there most of the time. Keep in mind that this was long before WFH – Working From Home – was such a social phenomenon. There were no cell phones, no Wi-Fi, no Internet. We didn’t even have email yet. Working from home was not common, so it really was a step off of the marketing career path for me. It was a step off of a corporate ladder, where I had been excelling.

It was 1994, and we were still reeling from the first bombing of the World Trade Center in New York. I was prioritizing my life and making decisions to make it work for us.

As the kids started going to school and started becoming more independent themselves, then I made career decisions that allowed me to progress too.

I advanced as they advanced.

As the kids started to settle in, I moved the agency out of the house and built up my team to handle all the new business I had won. I didn’t need to be around the house during the day as much so I moved out into a proper office with an expanded team. The little agency was booming and I had to drive its growth.

Success begets success, and it was time to advance it forward.

As the kids started to get busy with their own school activities, I left that small agency and started my own firm. I figured that there was no reason I couldn’t do the agency thing myself, so why work for someone else? I was ready for the next move because the kids were ready for the next move.

That was right around the time I met Christopher.

Our biggest client was Tylenol, but we soon started expanding our base beyond my alma mater Johnson & Johnson. We actually created content for the very first website for Tylenol, but we also built the first interactive website for Congoleum flooring, where customers could send in pictures of their home and see what it would look like with all new flooring. Sounds like nothing now, but at the time this technology was innovative. This was way before social media.

Christopher made some hard choices as well. When we first moved in together, he was working over an hour and a half away in another state. The commute was hell, as were his hours. He quit that job and joined me at the agency so that we could focus our efforts on making it a success. He stayed at the office all day and ran the operations so that I could be out with clients. It was a match that worked perfectly and the business thrived, as did our home life.

People asked me all the time how we could live and work together as “partners” and “partners.” It’s easy when you’re with a terrific person who motivates you at work and at home! How ironic that the name of the agency was CP Partners.

When I knew that the kids could handle me being away a bit more, I sold the agency to advance my career. I didn’t sell for the money; I sold to get a bigger job at a bigger agency. It was a good deal because it made me the President of what was then the largest marketing services agency in New York: Arc. It was part of the Leo Burnett agency based in Chicago.

I commuted back and forth to New York because I had Christopher near our house. He could help with the kids when I was tied up with work.

Here I was back in a big corporation, but I was ready for it. There were layers of management and multiple project teams to navigate and coordinate. I was prepared because I had the support I needed at home. We were working on every new model year Cadillac and it was exciting.

Soon after we sold the agency, Christopher left his position to stay at home to take care of the house and the kids. He became a stay-at-home father, although not by name. My hours got longer and I started traveling more and more, so we needed someone to keep home base, much like I maintained home base when the kids were babies and toddlers. I was creating cereal promotions for Kellogg’s, and he was serving it at home.

With a parent company in Chicago, I had to go there several times a month, plus now my clients were located all over the country. I couldn’t be home every single night and we needed someone to hold down the fort and be available 24/7.

This was no small thing: Christopher gave up his career to stay at home for me and for the kids. This just didn’t happen back then. This was long before the #SAHD (Stay At Home Dad).

Christopher took over all of the domestic duties. I focused on work, while he focused on home. While the kids were still the priority, they were getting busier and busier and didn’t need me to be quite so attentive. The countdown to college tuition was starting, so I had to get a move on. Christopher made tough choices so that I could make tough choices, too.

A few years later, as the company started moving resources to the headquarters in Chicago, I started feeling the pressure to go to Chicago too. While it was never stated, there was an underlying sense that things would be changing.

So I jumped ship to make sure I could keep my family intact on the east coast.

I did what I had to do; I had to jump ship to make sure I could be around for the kids. I couldn’t move them to Chicago. I probably could have made a commuting arrangement work, but that would mean that I wouldn’t see them during the week and I wasn’t going to live that way.

So I went to yet another small, independent organization that promised great entrepreneurial rewards along with a schedule that I could arrange around the kids. After one year, that didn’t pan out, so I contacted some former colleagues and went back to running a large agency within the same company that had bought CP Partners. I had relationships with some of the senior managers there, so it was a no-brainer to join them.

When I joined the agency, it was called Saatchi & Saatchi Consumer Healthcare, but then I dramatically reinvented it to go after a broader client portfolio with expanded capabilities. I renamed it Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness.

I made the most of my time there, winning numerous awards, including Agency of the Year, Most Creative Agency, and a Grand Clio for our Ambien CR “Rooster” campaign.

It was arguably one of the best assignments of my career, having the perfect mix of being challenging, rewarding, and independent. I made some incredible friendships there that have stood the test of time.

In fact, I still have many friends from every stage of my career; they’ve all become a big part of who I am.

I started my first marketing blog while working at Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness, and was floored when people actually read and commented on my posts.

You mean people want to pay attention to what I have to say?!

My role at Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness, including navigating its reinvention, was an amazing experience that could have lasted a lifetime, but I had much more aggressive goals. I hit the glass ceiling in that job, so I left.

I moved on to a new entrepreneurial opportunity from there but it didn’t pan out either, unfortunately. I was hoping for a much more aggressive arrangement to yield much more aggressive results. When it became clear that wasn’t going to be the case, I exited for what turned out to be a much bigger opportunity.

If at first you don’t succeed, try try try again.

It was during this time that I started writing professional marketing books. I created a trilogy of books that show how to market brands and build experiences for customers, called The Experience Effect.

My books were aimed at all types of companies: big brands, small brands, and personal brands. Those books helped me find my voice on branding and gave me a platform to increase my industry presence.

I was finally ready to put myself out there professionally and offer my point of view, after years in the making.

I was recruited to my current agency, a global communications firm called Cohn & Wolfe. After my first year there, we won Agency of the Year! Just this year we won Consumer Launch of the Year for one of my biggest clients at Microsoft.

We’ve also won back-to-back awards for being a “best place to work.”

Regardless of the awards, I’m so honored to be there. I’ve never worked so hard at work in my life, and I’m in my fifties!

It’s a big job and it requires a lot of late nights and a lot of travel. But the kids were in high school when I started and now they’re in college so there’s no problem with me putting in that kind of time.

Christopher is still home to take care of us all, whenever we need anything.

I also became a professor at NYU. The Dean first asked me to create a weekend intensive class based on my first book. Of course I jumped at the chance. I’ve always wanted to teach, and always felt that if it weren’t for marketing, I’d be teaching. Now I do both.

I learn as much from the students as they do from me, if not more. I’ve since gone on to teach graduate level classes in Integrated Marketing each semester.

I like to think that I’m helping shape the next generation of talent in the marketing industry, which makes me feel like I’m doing something important.

Perhaps this is just another aspect of my paternal instincts.

I’m asked all the time how I do it, and how I keep it all going.

Christopher, that’s how.

He motivates and supports me every step of the way. As do the kids, in their own way.

In many ways, though, I am making up for lost time.

These are career moves that I probably should have made in my thirties, rather than my forties and beyond. There have been colleagues that have criticized my job changes through the years, but I shrug them off.

While all of you were chasing promotions and career advancements all those years, I was changing diapers and attending teacher conferences. I didn’t question your career choices then so don’t question mine now.

I put my family first back then.

It’s not an easy thing to explain on the job front. It wasn’t acceptable for a man to make these kinds of career choices. There must have been something wrong?!?

to be continued…

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