Why a designer who never wanted children launched a podcast all about creativity and fatherhood.
I started Dadwell & Co. as an independent media project at the intersection of creativity and fatherhood. The Dadwell Podcast shares stories about maker/artist/designer dads who are managing thriving creative practices while remaining present, engaged, kick-ass fathers.
Each episode I pull back the curtain on a different dad’s creative practice, fathering philosophy, and practical tactics for navigating the stress, fatigue, resentment, wonder, pride, and joy of raising the creative bar while simultaneously raising small humans.
Countless creative people (especially me!) struggle to strike a balance between fatherhood and their lives as makers, artists, and designers. Others grapple with whether or not to even start a family — which I did for years — for fear the commitment and responsibility of parenting will eclipse their creative pursuits.
I believe men need to hear positive alternatives to the common narrative that says being a dad means putting creative pursuits on pause, sidelining side hustles, and reorienting one’s self as breadwinner and provider above all else.
So, if you’re struggling to strike a balance between fatherhood and your life as a maker/artist/designer/filmmaker/author/musician — or just want to hear parenting advice from other creative people — this is the podcast for you.
Dadwell is a weekly long-form interview podcast. It’s entirely self-funded and (at launch) has no sponsorship or advertising. That could change in the future, but right now it’s nice to develop something independent of those constraints or compromises.
Six weeks into the project, I’ve interviewed 18 dads ranging from — DJs and designers to authors and auteurs. I’ve bore witness to the stories of single dads and stepdads, dads-to-be, dads of one, two and three, Buddhist dads, Catholic dads, Jewish dads, atheist dads, black dads, white dads, Latino dads and Asian dads. I accumulated over 36 hours of beautiful, powerful, insightful audio and distilled that down to a season of weekly long-form episodes.
So at this point, you might be asking: “who the hell is this guy and why should I listen to his show?”
To be honest, even though I’m producing and hosting a show about creativity and fatherhood, I never wanted to have kids.
I saw children as barriers to everything I wanted to do creatively. I saw my identity as father diametrically opposed to my identity as creator. And it was a couple months into our relationship that I realized my wife, Maris, had a very different view of parenting — of wanting to have kids. She came from a big family: lots of cousins, she had an older sister and younger brother and always thought, from a very young age, that she would have 3 children.
And I came from a very different place. My little sister wasn’t born until I was twelve, so I was an only child until I was basically a teenager and with that many years between us we weren’t super close — or just had a different relationship as siblings — and really only now as adults, married and with children have we found each other again and developed a much closer relationship…
And so I didn’t want kids and Maris really wanted kids and it took a lot of conversation — it took us breaking up, honestly — and a lot of soul-searching for me to come around to the idea. Ultimately, I agreed to at least try. Of course we get pregnant on the first try (!) and so suddenly I have nine months to get comfortable with the idea of becoming a dad…. I watched the outpouring of support as Maris told female colleagues she was pregnant. It was this beautiful welcoming to Motherhood and this supportive, sincere response: “It’s a wild ride, but we’ve got your back. This is amazing news. Congratulations.” And as I told male colleagues and friends I just got the opposite — or nothing. It was so strange. I had almost no support. Very little advice. Even after all the ribbing, there just wasn’t anything there. And as an ambitious creative entrepreneurial person, I felt like I needed a lot more resources than I was finding.
The thing is, men who are kick-ass dads and also kick-ass creatives actually exist, but they’re rarely asked about fatherhood in public interviews. Google interviews with actors and musicians and artists who are women and who happen to be moms and inevitably the interviewer will steer the conversation towards this fact ask how they juggle these two identities and responsibility sets—that never happens for men. It’s just assumed they’re exempt from parenting or they don’t have fatherly duties or they’re somehow so successful they just have like nannies and chauffeurs taking care of everything.
I don’t understand it. It’s such a double standard. And because men aren’t openly asked about these facets of their fatherly identity—because it’s not explored in interviews and profiles—it perpetuates this myth that they don’t exist or have some life hack that makes it all possible, when the exact opposite is true. But I didn’t really know this at the time and so for that first year of fatherhood, I did without it and strangely it was a very successful year for me. I got promoted, I ran my fastest marathon, I had more speaking engagements than ever, I had a lot of interesting freelance collaborations and it sort of tricked me into thinking I could handle this new role because the first year went so well.
Fast forward 2 years later and Maris brings up the idea of a second kid and I thought: “what a horrible idea!” We had all of these systems and networks in place and we have friends and family who help take care of Javier and make things possible and we just bought a house and we were both considering career moves and new jobs, and I felt like we finally found this balance—why in the world would we throw it off by introducing a super needy feed-them-around-the-clock hyper dependent little baby? A whole other life. Another 20-year commitment. Why would we wreck this good thing we worked so hard to establish?!
And this time it was way harder. We actually went to therapy for a long time before I came around to the idea and it was, again, a lot of conversations, a lot of soul-searching, a lot of weighing of trade-offs…. On top of that, getting pregnant took a lot longer and quite honestly just about when I felt like giving up, Maris got pregnant with our daughter, Amaya. And so it was official. It was on and I was freaking out again worse than I was with Javier — maybe because I was more aware or smarter — but here I was on Level 4 and I willingly hitting reset on the Nintendo and starting over in World 1–1. I kept asking myself, “Why are you doing this?” And I found myself increasingly possessive about time and resentful of my responsibilities as a dad and carving out the nights and weekends aggressively to make room for creative things and beginning to hate my job, and just feeling like I didn’t have the energy to make progress on projects anymore — I was generally a grouchy asshole at home and I hated who I was becoming and I knew Maris and Javier deserved better than that. I knew Amaya deserved better than that. And so before she was born, I had to do something about it.
Now as all of this is happening for me personally—as I adapt to being a dad of two and reconcile these ideas and identities of fatherhood and my own creative practice—in that time span, I lost a friend and colleague, Lucas Daniel, who in many ways I saw as a peer, but also someone I looked up to. We were around the same age, he had a young son, we were in the same professional and social circles, and the speed at which cancer took over his body was so staggering and in so many profound ways called into question everything I was working on, everything I was doing, the things I was pursuing…. It had a huge impact on my outlook and the priorities and values I was putting on on work and time with family and the way I was thinking about my own progress and development as a leader and as a creative person contributing to the design industry. It really got me thinking about the energy and effort I was putting into things and what matters most. It didn’t happen immediately, but the life (and loss) of Lucas Daniel was another factor contributing to creation of Dadwell and the podcast, and some of the ideas of the show.
And so I started sketching out sabbatical plans with Maris because I felt like I needed a hard reset. I needed a mid-life pivot. I needed some kind of corrective action to reboot the system, reprioritize, and reframe things. I need to try to get some positivity back in my life.
And so six months after Amaya was born, I turned 40, I quit my job and I embarked on a one-year mission to learn as much as I could from creative entrepreneurial fathers and put it in a format others could easily access and learn from too.
I rounded up an initial set of creative people I know—who fit the criteria of maker and dad with young children—and I interviewed them with the goal of finding inspiration and hope and gleaning practical things I could put into action in my own life.
And so Dadwell is, on the one hand, the most selfish research project and on the other hand, I’m hoping it can help lots of people. I called it Dadwell because I believe as fathers none of us want dad “just okay” — we want to dad well and I included “& Company” because as a project and a brand, I want to leave some room for extensibility — especially since I don’t exactly know where this thing is headed. Friends have suggested a blog, or Slack community, a web series, a documentary film, a book… which says to me, regardless of format, it’s clear there’s a need for men to learn from other men and to find a deeper connection with other dads. It also underscores the fact that while there are lots of resources for dads — media, videos, podcast, etc — none of them address this added complexity of being creative and entrepreneurial and the sort of unrest that comes with needing to constantly create and produce output. I believe that’s unique to this intersection.
The people I interviewed, these are guys don’t leave their office and studio and agency and come home and just turn it off. They can’t and they don’t want to. It’s ABC. It’s Always Be Creating and that’s the challenge the show is exploring and trying to address.
Some people have asked why I’m not interviewing creative entrepreneurial women who happen to be mothers. As I mentioned earlier, this is the default pattern for most female creators who are also parents when it comes to interviews, so I don’t want to be redundant. I don’t want to retread stuff. I would rather shine the light where it isn’t… and I also have zero credentials or authority to do something like that. I’m not the host you want interviewing these women! I would love to listen to a podcast concept like this, I just don’t think I’m the best person for the job. And there are a ton of blogs and books and podcasts and conferences and resources already out there. There’s a reason the hashtag #haveitall already exists for women. And lastly anyone can listen to this podcast. It’s not just for guys. I’m certain there are all kinds of takeaways for parents regardless of sex or gender identity. Case in point, many spouses and partners of my guests have told me they can’t wait to listen 1) to get inside the head of their husbands and 2) because they are eager to learn from other maker parents.
So to be clear the show is not about dads complaining they have it just as hard as moms. Or men bitching about fatherhood. That sounds like a horrible, unhelpful show. It’s about creativity broadly speaking (I interview authors, filmmakers, musicians, muralists, illustrators, artists, designers and fashionistos) and the hustle of entrepreneurial pursuits and fatherhood.
I am truly indebted to every guest of the Dadwell podcast. These men showed up. They dug deep, spoke openly, and made themselves vulnerable. It’s been a profound honor — each and every time — to share space with these dads. I am truly humbled to know them. I believe you will feel the same after listening.
I’m really excited to see where things go. And I hope you love what you learn on Dadwell.