Father Leaders


 In the last 50 years women have changed the world.  After centuries of struggle – struggles that are not over – I agree with Tom Peters who assessed women as leaders in this way, “Women roar. Women rule.”  Women ascended to public and business power by employing many tools:  debate, dialogue, demonstrations, mentoring, strategizing, and risk-taking.  They – with the help of many male allies – liberated themselves from the confines of the house and the confines of strangling gender roles.  In an odd asymmetry their forceful revolution quietly liberated men.  Our liberation – to lead at home and be freed from our gender chains – came without our employing the tools, strategies, and the constant rich dialogue that characterized the women’s movement.

As Father’s Day approaches, I am celebrating the chance to be an everyday leader at home.  And I am eager for the dialogue, debate and mentoring that will help us to shine as much in the home-world as our wives and daughters, nieces and neighbors are doing in the public sphere.  I am profoundly grateful that women fought for their space and created ours.  Jennifer’s aspirations and career choice opened up an incredible opportunity for me; often a difficult and confusing one, but always a rich opportunity.  As men bear the weight of many of the economic cutbacks – especially in manufacturing and construction – I hope that some will walk eagerly back into their homes to be everyday leaders and create a great workplace culture there with their kids (recognizing that the economics can be crippling).  Whether we are the lead parent at home or not, our success and happiness will grow as we (learn to) talk more and better with each other.

 With Father’s Day consider giving a book or CD that will help dad (or a reflective grandpa) to see his nontraditional gifts and develop them fully.  

  • I took leadership principles and transposed them into the world of parenting; you can find my CD with ten lessons to Be the Parent Your Children Want to Follow.  
  • My friend Kevin O’Shea has written a great book called The Fatherstyle Advantage and you can follow his blogs at MichDads Blog at the Detroit News.  One of the great things about blogs is that you can engage with others there!  And since one of the challenges for the primary parent is that it’s somewhat isolating, a blog’s a nice way to find a virtual community.  
  • You can find a solid list of parent books at Amazon.  One of the best in that bunch is, Raising Cain; it’s a thoughtful guide to raising emotionally healthy boys. Also on the list, is Reviving Ophelia, a rather frightening but helfpul look at what adolescent girls go through. 

And many boys and girls don’t have fathers.  Gratefully, many have mentors.  Meijer is celebrating Fathers Day on Saturday by contributing $2 from every $25 gift card to Mentor Michigan.  Go in and load up for the kids!  It’s a really easy way to…

Lead with your best self,


  • Dan,

    That was one of the best pieces I have read thus far. I too believe that how we lead in our home transcends to the workplace. I admire the leadership role you have taken by being a living example: that you don’t have to lead from the front. You stated that many men don’t have fathers, but have great mentors, and that is an excellent statement.

    I have been so lucky to have a great mentor in my Uncle, Nathaniel Lake Jr. I believe that I am where I am today because I grew up admiring him not only as a father, but also as a worker. Growing up in Detroit I did not have a male figure to look up to, but by Grace alone my mother move to Lansing. There I would come closer to a family member whom I was just used to seeing on holidays.

    I used to want to be “just like him”, however, when I grew older, I realized we had many differences. I could not be “just like him” but I could use his strengths and weaknesses to prepare me for whatever life had for me. His life became a life long mentorship and not a carbon copy. To this day, I still hold strong to one of is notable sayings: “You stand from where you sit”. As a father and a state employee, I’m in a position of human developement. I train, both at home and at work. My job is to prepare people for what they will encounter when they leave my presence. Will they be better when they leave? Will they be experts? I am not sure of either, but I am hoping they are prepared for what may come. I sit is a seat of preparation, and stand on truths and facts. This is what you do every Monday yourself. If we, the readers don’t get anything else, we have been prepared for what lies ahead.

    This fathers day I would like to give a big Thank you to mentors like yourself. It is hard to find level headed people who try and help others become better at what they do and who they are.

    Thanks, and Happy Fathers Day to you.

    David M. Smith

  • Dan,

    When I was growing up in Westland, MI (seems like another century…oh, wait, it was!), my father was injured at work. He worked for Ford Motor Company, and an engine part dropped off a conveyor and damaged his back, forcing him home for months and giving my mother cause to find employment outside the home. I remember several things that changed drastically during that period.

    First, my mother became more assertive and dynamic, almost overnight. It was as if the challenge to her family brought a tiger to the surface. Most vividly, I remember that she changed from “house dresses” to slacks and pants suits — a startling change back in the early 1960s. I hardly ever remember her wearing a skirt or dress again. It was then that she and I started our poetry correspondence — writing poems for each other from that time until her death in 1990. Everywhere she worked, she became a leader — and never looked back.

    Second, we found out that my dad could cook and bake. He was a terrific baker (had worked in a bakery as a young man) and a passable cook. A failed attempt at a recipe involving hot dogs and sour cream brings back painful memories. However, I mostly remember finally getting to know my dad better. He worked so hard and so many overtime hours that we rarely got to spend time with him until that injury. It was then we found that he had a talent for painting as well, though few of his attempts survived our move to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He became much more a whole person for us, rather than the provider and disciplinarian who sometimes played with us on weekends and during vacations.

    Finally, we saw our parents sharing leadership responsibility on an equal basis — a real change from the Breadwinner / Housewife hierarchy that seemed to exist before the long recovery. I think it brought them closer, though it was hard to tell because it also defined each one of them more clearly as a person rather than just “parents.”

    I think I would have learned more from them, but I was becoming a teenager, and of course, I already knew everything. Of course, as I grew older, my parents grew smarter with each passing year. They are gone now and I am at home – unemployed at the moment. I have two grown children at home, one still at university and one struggling with a part time job. My unemployment as proven a blessing in disguise, as I now have more time to talk to them, listen to them, advise them, and generally tick them off — because, of course, they already know everything…


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