Embracing Lead Dads: Redefining Parenthood
The landscape is changing when it comes to parenthood and retaining women in leadership. After 25 years as a journalist, including 13 years as a columnist for the New York Times, Paul Sullivan founded The Company of Dads, a platform aimed at “Lead Dads”—men who are the “go-to” parents whether they work full-time, part-time, or devote all their time to their families. The company was born out of his own experience being a Lead Dad to his three daughters and his wife, who runs her own business.
In his Lead Dad role, Sullivan was the go-to parent who managed playdates, doctors’ appointments, and birthday parties so his wife could focus on growing her business.
What Defines a Lead Dad?
In a world where gender roles are constantly evolving, redefining parenting dynamics is more crucial than ever, especially when it comes to addressing a major barrier to retaining women in leadership roles. The term “Lead Dads” challenges traditional stereotypes, where men who take an active role in parenting have historically been ridiculed as “house husbands” or “Mr. Mom.”
Sullivan’s mission is to normalize this role, emphasizing that men can and should be fully engaged parents and in doing so they can support working moms at home and in the workplace.
The Evolution of Becoming a Lead Dad
Like any significant change in life, becoming a Lead Dad is not an overnight transformation. It requires unlearning traditional gender roles and challenging societal expectations.
In his personal journey, Sullivan admitted to making mistakes along the way. For instance, he recalls during his first paternity leave, “It was maybe two weeks, and I was checking email and I just didn’t have a concept for how to do it. But by my third paternity leave eight years later, it was much different. It’s one of the things we now stress at The Company of Dads—that this is a learning opportunity. This is an iterative process.”
Redefining Gender Roles Together
Sullivan highlighted the importance of couples working together to redefine their roles as they become parents. Just as women often have to unlearn societal expectations to succeed in their careers and leadership roles, men also need to unlearn traditional masculine roles that may limit their involvement in parenting. “A woman I greatly admire, Eve Rodsky, talks about the ‘she-fault’ parent,” Sullivan told me in an interview. “Often, it’s working moms who default to being the lead parent. We use the term Lead Dad intentionally—not primary and secondary parent—it’s the go-to parent.”