The Coffee Chat (#40)
My conversation with Paul Sullivan - Founder of The Company of Dads, Ex NYT & FT columnist, author of 2 books and Lead Dad to 3 daughters!
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Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes - Walt Whitman
Hi there 👋🏽
One of the things I feel extremely grateful about is my ability to call Toronto home. When people ask me what is it that I love most about the city, it always is the ability to experience 4 distinct seasons every year. To see a lake where I swim in the summer transform to a ring where I can skate in the winters is magical.
What makes this city magical is the many versions of a city that it contains within itself.
A few years back I read the book Clash! by Hazel Rose Markus and Alana Conner. A line from the book has always stayed with me “Our sense of self is not the same across places, times and situations. Looking at the story of our life we realize we are many different selves within our self.” Understanding what the line means at a superficial level is easy, imbibing it is much harder!
I have come to realize that like seasons different versions of ourselves take centerstage at different times. I now embrace the fact that I can’t be everything all at once. At any given point of time a certain aspect of myself will be neglected however, what I need to ensure is that during the year each version of Rashi (the consultant, the writer, the mom, the daughter, the sister, the wife, the athlete etc.) gets the opportunity to take center stage.
As 2022 comes to an end I do hope you too create the space to nurture the other versions of yourself that reside within you…
☕ Now, on to today’s coffee chat…
Meet Paul Sullivan
Paul is the founder of The Company of Dads, the first platform dedicated to creating a community for Lead Dads. Its mission is to help Lead Dads feel less isolated and more confident that they have made the correct choice to take on the bulk of the parenting and family duties - or at the very least not embrace stereotypes around who does what at home.
Before starting The Company of Dads in 2021, Paul wrote the Wealth Matters column in The New York Times for 13 years. He also created the Money Game column in GOLF Magazine.
As a journalist for 25 years, his articles also appeared in Fortune, Money, Conde Nast Portfolio, The International Herald Tribune, Barron’s, The Boston Globe, and Food & Wine. From 2000 to 2006, he was a reporter, editor and columnist at the Financial Times. He got his start as a reporter at Bloomberg and Institutional Investor. He is the author of two books Clutch: Why Some People Excel Under Pressure and Others Don’t and The Thin Green Line: The Money Secrets of The Super Wealthy.
When not running The Company of Dads or being a Lead Dad, he is an obsessive golfer.
Below is my conversation with Paul…
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your family
I am Paul Sullivan and I live with my wife and three daughters (13, 10 and 5) and three dogs! My wife and I have now been married for 15 years and met 18 years ago in New York, when I was working for the Financial Times as a reporter, and she was working in asset management. Our family lives in New Canaan, Connecticut which is about 35 miles outside of New York City. It is a classic commuter town, very quintessential New England.
My wife owns her own firm which she started about 9 years ago called Third Street Partners and serves as a strategic advisor to leading asset management firms and their top performing executives.
What choices have you and your partner made that have helped you become a dual career household with children?
What we did is no secret. It was very tactical. But it's something that I've realized not enough couples do - we quite literally sat down with pieces of paper and figured out who was doing what and created a color-coded shared-calendar, which at a glance can tell us who is providing coverage. We have been super intentional from the very beginning to avoid situations where we screw up and both people need to be out of town at the same time or both people have drinks meeting after work at the same time. This helps prevent last minute blows ups of your plans and unnecessary tension.
But the thing that was really transformative in our relationship and what became sort of a catalyst for what would become The Company of Dads was when my wife started her firm in 2013. At the time we had two daughters and they were four and one. My wife went to the firm she'd been working with and told the managing partner "I'm going to start my own firm and given how we've always put the clients first, I want to give you three months notice, I'll take my clients, you keep your clients, and we'll go our separate ways." And the managing partner said, "oh, yeah, that's fine". Well, fast forward a day and she goes to login and he's shut her out of the systems. He basically cut her off immediately. This also ensured that she did not get her year-end bonus, which in financial services is a multiple of the base salary. And while working at The New York Times and writing books is great, in our relationship my wife had always been the main earner. So at this point she turns to me and says "what am I going to do? What does our family do?" And I said "Well, I don't think you're going to start the firm on January 1 of next year, I think you start your firm today!" and then she said "okay but what about the kids? What are we gonna do?" And I said "Well, I'll be the lead dad" and she said "What's that?" And I said, "I don't know but it sounds good, doesn't it? You don't want me to say I'm gonna panic. I mean, that will be a disaster. I will just become the primary caregiver for our kids." Now stepping into this role in my town of New Canaan, which I described earlier as a very traditional town, had its own challenges. In our town parenting is done primarily by mothers and paid caregivers. And the men who do it rarely lead with the word Dad as part of their identity. I was guilty of that too. I never led with, Paul Sullivan, dad. I was Paul Sullivan, New York Times columnist or Paul Sullivan, author of XYZ book or Paul Sullivan, just back from this super interesting conference where I spoke about this to so and so. As men it is important for us to start embracing our roles as care givers.
The other thing that worked for us is the fact that the nature of my work even pre-pandemic allowed me to work in a hybrid model with a very predictable, rigid schedule vs my wife who due to the nature of her job has a higher degree of unpredictability. So right from when our eldest daughter was very young, I have been super involved and for us as a family this is completely normal. Now is it normal for our town? Well not so much. Did I have to fight to get on emails. Of course. Did the pediatrician call my wife and not me? Yes.
Ah well, yes such a disproportionately large percentage of the parenting burden like irrespective if you control for education, salary, whatever still falls on the shoulders of women which is why I think how men show up when they become fathers is so critical. This is something through role modelling and your company I am assuming you are trying to do. I'd love to learn a little bit more around this term you have used "lead dad"
A Lead Dad is a man who is the go-to parent whether he works full time, part time or devotes all of his time to his family, while also supporting his partner in her or his endeavors.
And what really prompted you to launch Company of Dads?
So let us go a bit back in time. We're in lockdown. I'm as busy as I can possibly be at The New York Times. It feels like 2008 all over again, the gang is back together. And we're producing stuff that is explaining what is happening in real time and is hopefully beneficial to the readers. My wife is busy in a different way because she's wondering, okay, I built this firm, it is doing great but am I going back to 2008, could it become that bad? We are also doing zoom school with our three children. And even though there was a lot of communication during the pandemic it was the first time in my life that I felt lonely. I'm a fairly gregarious guy who takes my work seriously, but I certainly don't take myself seriously. Pre-pandemic I would go into New York City a couple times a week and see my colleagues or go out with my buddies for drinks. All that stopped and I was feeling isolated, and I thought, there isn't a group for fathers like me.
If you are the traditional go-to-work Dad then you get up in the morning, get on the train / car / cab / plane and go to your office, you go to a client - basically you have your community and historically that is what men have typically done. If you are a stay-at-home mom, well, many towns in United States are essentially designed for stay at home moms. In fact, they depend on their unpaid labor to function – to be the volunteers for the Parent Teacher Association, to support the local economy, to join sports leagues. There's tons of community for them with various activities. Every school district in America, pretty much every company has groups dedicated to working moms. But if you're the Lead Dad there isn't anything for you. You’re the butt of jokes. You are, Mr. Mom, or a House Husband.
I was shocked to find there wasn’t a community for Lead Dads. There’s a lot of content around parenting, though in reality anything that said parenting was aimed at moms. And everything that says fathers pretty much exists in two categories: one to tell dad jokes and the other to serve a social services function - dads who are divorced, dads who drink too much, dads who are estranged from their daughters, dads who are delinquent. It’s important to help men figure out these things but there wasn't anything that was for a broad community. And so being a journalist I decided to try to figure out how many Lead Dads there were. I went to the US Census and to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and I thought, I wonder if I could calculate how many men are Lead Dads in the United States. Turns out I could and that there are a lot of Lead Dads. They fall into three groups - fathers who are divorced, separated or widowed; men who tell the US Census that they are full-time Lead Dads; and men whose wives earn the same or more than they do. By my estimate, there are 20-25 million men out of 75 million fathers in America who can be considered the Lead Dad. And I thought to myself, okay, this is what the data says, but do they really exist?
That was really hard to answer because no one leads with that. Like if I take my daughter to her ballet class and am standing outside and you would ask me who I was, I would never lead with my full self. I would say Paul Sullivan, New York Times columnist. I wasn’t Paul Sullivan, New York Times columnist and Lead Dad. And so I turned to senior female executives who had families and were still married. And they all had stories that were some form of, “I had this great success in my career because my husband or partner devoted a large proportion (in some cases all) of his time to the family.” The profession of their husbands differed - some of them were teachers who had a super rigid schedule, some were doctors, some were in sales. The one thing in common was that these men all had careers where they had more control over their time. That's kind of a key component here - to be able to really be the keeper of your own calendar.
What really made me start The Company of Dads in the form it’s taken was the conversation I had with this one women. She was a marketing person at GoDaddy and then she went on to work for the founder, in a very senior role, when he sold the company. And she said, I couldn't do what I'm doing, if it wasn't for my husband, Kevin, who is the Lead Dad in our family. At that point I shared my initial idea with her, which was to write a book on Lead Dads, and she said, essentially, I think you writing a book is a stupid idea. And I said "Oh, that's kind of crushing. Thanks for being blunt. You know, you just stepped on my dream. Wonderful. Glad I called you today". She then told me how I was missing what this could truly be - a media company and community platform for Lead Dads. So there's that call with her that sort of solidified the community aspect. Then I thought of all the experience I had giving keynote talks, I said - Okay, that's the outward facing part of it. That's two legs of the stool. The third leg of the stool has to be around corporate training because we're going to come out of the pandemic and one thing I was sure of was that either companies are going to allow people to work in a different way or people are going to demand that they're working in a different way. Looking at it all together I realized what I really was building was a new media company.
In August 2021, I went to the deputy business editor of The New York Times and said I'm leaving, and he said, What are you gonna go do and I told him and he was excited about it. He was super supportive about it. He said, this is wonderful, wrap up the column kind of on your own terms and then right as the column was about to wrap up, he reached out and said, you know, we'd love for you to write a final piece that talks about not just about your time as a columnist here, but what you're going to do next! And as you know or anybody who is reading this can imagine how rare is that for a company to say "Hey, you're leaving to go do something else, tell everybody who's liked you over the past 13 years, what you are doing next and how they can find you. It was a wonderful boost. And we were we were sort of off to the races.
What a story. Sometimes when you get a great idea it sort of just consumes you and you have to execute it. Thanks for sharing the Company of Dads birthing story with me🙂 The other question that I have is that fatherhood seems to have been transformative for you. What is it about yourself that you learned after you became a dad? Are there any kind of different mindsets, beliefs etc. that you adopted after becoming a dad?
That's great question.
I guess the easiest answer is it has taught me that I have the capacity to do a lot more than I thought I could, and I can still make time for myself, make time for my wife while being a fully involved father. The other thing is that as a parent you don't always have to be right. I make a lot of mistakes and I have developed the ability to immediately and truthfully, and honestly say, I made a mistake. And that has been so important to building a strong relationship with my daughters (and my wife).
This is the perfect segue into the last question, what advice would you give men who are dads or on the cusp of becoming dads? And then, is there any popular piece of advice that gets shared around that you would tell them to ignore.
We moved houses six years ago, and I unpacked all the books that I had bought on parenting and fatherhood. I didn't read any of them. You can't learn parenting by just reading the theory.
If you and your partner are in love and you picked each other, you should know that parenting is really hard and it requires you to be focused on the long game. It is important for you to not lose yourself in parenting. Once you become a parent you do become a slightly different person. You need to recognize that you may not be that person that your partner fell in love with but at the same time you should also embrace this new version of yourself because it's really wonderful. If you strike the right balance it can be very fulfilling and rewarding for both you as an individual and for the two of you as a couple. There still is a way to feel fully fulfilled by combining all these things - father, husband, worker and hobbyist. You have to become okay understanding that you can have it all, just not all at once.
There are things that I miss out on that some of my friends who aren't as involved as dads get to do. But I have reframed it and don't really think of it as missing out. For example, on the social front, I have a summer hobby, golf. I do not have a winter hobby, because it'd be too much.
And when I do choose to indulge in my hobby I make sure that there's nothing that's going to conflict with my daughters or my wife. Now, would my daughters or my wife care if I missed something here and there? Not at all, but I just don't feel great about it. I want to be fully committed to being a father. The flip side is when you are away from your family to be fully focused and committed to that - a fully committed husband, a fully committed worker, a fully committed golfer. You should be super laser focused on the thing that you're doing in that moment, fatherhood, work, fun. If you're trying to scramble it all, then you're just scrambling.
Also as men we need to understand the pressures our wives face. Expectations for a mom and a dad are wildly different. Anything that goes wrong, society says it is the mom’s fault and for the dad the expectation is so, so low. Like if a father takes a child to and from a birthday party and that child somehow survives, that father is applauded. I hope more men in their 20s and 30s understand this and start demanding more of themselves and the men around them.
What’s the best thing you have watched recently?
What’s the best thing you have read recently?
What’s the best thing you have listened to recently?
Midnights - Taylor Swift’s new album. Personally I prefer Harry Styles but my daughter loves Taylor Swift and we enjoyed listening to the entire album together!
📖 My private thoughts from my very public diary…
🤓 Open tabs…
(I have modeled this section after those “open tabs” that we all have with a few (okay 30-40) interesting links that we promise we will eventually get to one day. These are the links that I had open for sometime that I finally got to …)
⭐ How to raise the next Scott Galloway
I love listening to Kara and Scott. This particular episode resonated as Kara and Scott chatted about the what, why and how about parenting in the age of endless distractions
⭐Is humanity smart enough to survive itself?
With quick wit and sharp insight, writer Jeanette Winterson lays out a vision of the future where human and machine intelligence meld -- forming what she calls "alternative intelligence" -- and takes a philosophical look at our species, asking: Are we smart enough to survive how smart we are?
Writer Amil explores the myth of the Cool Mom and how the sheer idea of this label implies that the default, the “Regular Mom,” is inherently undesirable, unlikable, and unappealing.
I would love to hear from you, feedback is always welcome!
And if you happen to know an inspiring working parent who should be featured in a future edition (or if you yourself are one) - please do get in touch
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