Part 4 in a Series of Features: Leaders Making History by Changing the Game for Working Parents.
Brian Anderson, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Fathering Together, a non-profit that supports individuals who identify as fathers to become better parents and people.
When I first met Brian I was shocked by the synchronicity between our life stories.
We both run organizations focused on helping parents thrive.
We both have an uncanny knack for catalyzing the organic formation of communities that need to exist.
We’ve both spent years doing direct service work in communities most impacted by racial, environmental, and social injustice.
And we both have a deep kinship with Malawi, a small country in East Africa.
For all of these reasons, and more, Brian is the first dad I’m featuring in my series on ‘Leaders Changing the Game for Working Parents.’ To learn more about his inspiring journey, and to join me in donating to his critically important work in Malawi, please read my interview with him below.
Tell me the story behind Fathering Together:
The first iteration of Fathering Together was a storytelling group in 2017. I hosted two events where I invited dads to share their “birth stories” and another with moms and dads talking about the shared experience of parenting. But as the Facebook group “Dads with Daughters” took off and membership surpassed 100,000 global members, my friend Chris and I realized something important was happening and we repurposed Fathering Together and launched it as a non-profit in the fall of 2019.
We organized our first board meeting in September of 2019 and submitted our 501c3 paperwork in March of 2020. Obviously, COVID-19 drastically changed our strategy, so instead of in-person chapters and workshops, we focused on strengthening our virtual communities and enfusing them with online workshops, public panels, and virtual stories. By April 2021, we’d built up enough funding for me to go full-time as the Executive Director with a cadre of volunteers and a few part-time staff.
For three years, our goal has been to create a supportive community for dads enriched by resources and stories. As we’ve evolved, we’ve grown more explicit with our call for gender and racial equity, especially in light of George Floyd’s murder and the exodus of women from the workforce. We put in strict guidelines for what is acceptable in our communities (i.e. seeking to understand one another and affirming a father’s experience) and what is not (i.e. no jokes or implied violence toward others).
Our vision is for fathers to invest in their families like they have their careers. Men are at the top of the privilege pyramid and we want to help them translate their work identity and skills into family strategies. If you’re an award winning program manager, there is no reason why you can’t apply those skills for getting your kids up, fed, dressed, and to school on time. But far too often, we ignore the trauma that patriarchy places on men and fathers because we gain so much from it. My hope is that by encouraging fathers to be emotionally courageous and active in the planning of family life, they recognize the emotional and unpaid labor that exists for them to success in their careers.
Tell me about your own fathering journey?
My first daughter was born in December amid a polar vortex and she was slightly jaundiced. So with temperatures around -10 degrees Fahrenheit, my wife and I had to bundle her up and go back to the hospital daily and have her foot pricked for testing. I still get emotional as I think about her tiny screams from the needle and feeling totally helpless. Thankfully, her little body fought against the bilirubin and we were fine within a week.
At the time, my wife had multiple communities she had found online and friends in the area to speak with. I had a couple coworkers, my father and father-in-law, but I fell into a stereotypical “dude” mindset and didn’t reach out. So I struggled a lot. And to make it worse, two weeks in, my wife ran a quick errand to Target. We were only doing breastmilk, so she fed our daughter then left. Within ten minutes, she was crying for more. I sat there rocking her and felt gutted. We had no formula, so all I could do was walk and rock and pray my wife would get home sooner than later.
Since those rocky beginnings, my fatherhood journey got better. I found more dads to connect with and normalize the joys and struggles. But, what I found most fascinating was that I worked for a Catholic university and I never felt supported. There was no paternity leave. I had to use PTO and sick leave, which I had maxxed out ahead of my daughters birth.
Things didn’t get easier when we had our second daughter. I had a new job that meant commuting one-hour by train each way. I had some flexibility to work from home on Fridays, but I have many memories of feeling trapped at work when I knew that I was needed at home, or we would get a call from our day-care provider or preschool with a sick kid and it always fell to my wife because she was closer.
Now, as I work at home and launch a non-profit, it is easier to integral fatherhood responsibilities and work, but there are new stressors of ensuring we have healthcare coverage, juggling sports and music lessons, and therapy for our eldest.
You and your co-founder are very different--can you tell us about your differences and why they work so well to support you in achieving success?
Chris and I are very different. We’ve known each other for nearly ten years as colleagues in higher education. I had known he was a blogger on fatherhood topics, but it wasn’t until he started the “Dads with Daughters” Facebook group that we started working more closely together. And when the group really took off, I realized our skillsets suited each other very well.
Chris had a long history of working with fatherhood organizations like “Dad 2.0 Summit” and “City Dads Groups.” I had a background in non-profits and community organizing. Chris is focused on details and tech and marketing. I’m big picture and relational. So early on, we found a natural rhythm and balance to our work, especially because both of us still had full-time jobs and families.
Ultimately what has made us successful is our transparency and honesty with one another. We are constantly talking and checking in on leads, potential collaborators and the overall direction, but also encouraging one another to take mental health breaks and listening to the other person when we recognize something isn’t working for the organization, whether that is a program that isn’t effective or finding more voices to bring to the table.
One final note, while Chris and I are very different, we are still both white hetero-cisgendered dads. So it has been critical for us to have board members and volunteers to keep us honest and accountable.
Do you believe parenthood can be a catalyst for career growth?
I know many dads who have launched online/social media influencer careers based on their fatherhood. The same is true for moms. However, success stories are rare and rely on luck just as much as grit and tenacity. Fathering Together exists because we got a few lucky breaks with our Facebook group, but by no means is it a stable non-profit yet.
But, when my first daughter was born, I was a university campus minister. My hours were all over the map and included lots of weekend events and retreats that kept me away from my family. Sadly, my career suffered because I had a supervisor who didn’t understand that my family inspired me to be a better campus minister, and so I left for a new career. This isn’t uncommon (pre-Covid) as I’ve seen statistics that show between 33-50% of dads switch jobs after a baby is born.
So on one hand, having children can be a career obstacle, but it can also be an opportunity to reinvent ourselves and I expect much of this is playing out in the Great Resignation. Employees want more from their companies, not just in terms of social responsibility, but in care for their employees and the benefits that provide in terms of health care, child care, and flexible hours.
The world of 40 hours a week and 9-5’s arose from the industrial revolution and the post-wars of last century. This model worked for some for a while, but as companies become global with staff in different time zones with different cultures and expectations, I see this model shifting. I also see our children, who are growing up with instant access and constant connection, not wanting a desk job miles from their home. So, there is huge opportunity for companies to step up and offer support to their employees, who are parents, credits for daycare, flexible hours to drop off and pick up their kids, and support groups for managing work and life.
What do you think is the most important thing we can do to change the game for working parents?
My daughters love putting bandaids on their bug bites and scrapes. My wife and I know they are mostly placebos, but if they can get to sleep easier with a bandaid, we let them. But, I’m not a bandaid solution kind of person. I want lasting change so I make sure the girls put on bug spray and tie their laces so they don’t trip and scrape their knees.
So to change the game for working parents, we need deep changes with federal policies that mandate paid parental leave for everyone who has a child. Not just moms or dads with biological children, but adoptive parents (regardless whether they are a hetero-couple or same-sex). We need daycare and school systems that align with work hours or better yet, have work hours that align with our educational systems.
But most importantly, we need to be creative and stop thinking that we can just keep trying to solve our problems the same way our grandparents did. The world is rapidly changing and technologies have so many things to offer our parents, but we keep falling pray to Einstein’s definition of insanity and expecting things to turn out differently when we just keep doing the same thing.
Tell me more about your initiative in Malawi and how and why we should all donate to this important program to get it off the ground?
Fathering Together is built on two philosophies. First, there is no perfect manual for every father to follow. The best manual to follow is the one you co-create with your child through active listening, emotional intelligence, and lots of trial-and-error. Second, communities make us stronger. If I can cut down on the trial-and-error by speaking with another dad, my children are better for it. Therefore, Fathering Together is not Brian and Chris’s vision for fatherhood, but a complex community filled with fathers sharing their visions for fatherhood that are informed by our beliefs, lived experiences, and cultural settings.
In April, Laston Segula posted to our Facebook group the following: “Fellow dads, I was moved by this great woman [Astronaut Megan McArthur]. Let's encourage our daughters to work hard, and we should provide an enabling environment for them to soar higher!!!!” So I reached out to learn more about him and his vision of fatherhood. I did not realize he lived in Malawi at first.
Within minutes of speaking to him, he shared not a vision for his fatherhood, but for all fathers in Malawi. He spoke of fathers struggling with drugs and alcohol that prevented them from being present. He shared how many fathers leave Malawi to find jobs elsewhere in order to support their families, but again, this leaves them physically absent. He spoke of this terrible absence and its negative impact on young boys and girls looking for father figures. But what impressed me the most about Laston was his optimism for change.
While he acknowledged the many obstacles that exist in Malawi, he saw a path forward that included educating fathers with new job skills so they could find work and emotional intelligence skills that would keep them in their communities and invested in their families. So he and I began organizing and planning. In late August, he hosted a meet-up at his daughter’s school that drew thirty-five dads. They identified obstacles and challenges and mapped out possible solutions and assets for a pathway forward.
Later this month, they are hosting their first job skills training workshop and then a fundraiser to get uniforms and school supplies for children whose parents can’t afford these things. But, as COVID continues to impair daily life and global supply chains, Laston and his fellow fathers are being impacted far more than our members in the United States and other developed nations. For all his ideas and energy, without financial resources, there is little Laston can do. So we are running a fundraising campaign to support him in galvanizing his community of Fathers.