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A Different Paternity Test

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The ups and downs of dad-preneurship / By Clay Nichols

I can highly recommend parenthood. Same for entrepreneurship. Mixing the two, well, that’s one complex bastard, so to speak, because no matter how many disclaimers you offer in the course of your dad-preneurship, sooner or later, you’ll get labeled “Parenting Expert.” And that is just a plain unmitigated disaster.

About six or so years ago, I founded a company with a couple of other guys who sought to foster conversations about fatherhood, a role we felt had undergone significant change in a short period of time. The resulting enterprise, DadLabs, produces a slew of digital content on the subject of being a dad, with a focus on web video. But even a glancing encounter with one of the hundreds of videos or articles on our website will quickly convince you that you’re not dealing with traditional experts.

Even the back cover of our book, The DadLabs Guide to Fatherhood, Pregnancy and Year One proudly confesses, “We screwed up so you don’t have to.” I felt like the language there was pretty clear: we’re veterans, not experts. We might have a bit of experience in some matters of parenting, but mastery eludes us. I have an M.F.A., not a Ph.D., so my opinions are way more likely to be fabricated than researched.

Yet all attempts to divest myself of authority have done nothing to keep my wife from giving me that look. You’ve probably gotten a watered-down version of this look yourself when you venture an opinion at variance with your kid’s mom on a child-rearing issue. But that glare, no matter how baleful, just can’t compare to the instantly deflating “Well, excuse me, Professor DadLabs” look, a look that is closely related to the “Nice one, Captain DadLabs” frown I get when the school calls to inform us the credit card I gave them for lunch money has been declined.

Traveling for your parenthood-based business is always a nifty exercise in irony: “Honey, I have to leave town for a week to go talk about what it means to be a good dad right in the middle of exams and soccer playoffs, cool? Oh, and the conference is in Vegas. So I’ll make sure to bring the kids back a handful of poker chips and a stack of those picture cards they hand out on the Strip. Okey dokey?”

My kids find my expert status to be either hilarious or mortifying. Hilarious every day except the day they find that I’ve dropped a casual reference to some personal peccadillo—my teenage son’s newfound affinity for Axe, for example—in to a widely circulated periodical found on racks outside restaurants popular with their peers.

Having a dad business is also to tempt fate (to taunt it, actually), to give destiny a big fat raspberry. Karma almost demands that one of my kids or I, or all of us, end up on a blotter somewhere, mugshotted with a caption reading, “Expert parent and kids discovered smuggling tainted baby formula in precious religious relics while sniffing brake fluid.”

There is plenty of upside for the paternity-oriented entrepreneur, sadly, not always reflected on the P&L. It’s been my business to talk to a lot of smart people, actual experts, who have researched parents and kids. It’s been my business to be mindful of my own parenting while both off and on the clock. It’s been my business to laugh, along with others, at my own fitful struggle to be the best dad I can manage. Looking at the balance sheet, I’d have to say, complex or not, dad-preneurship is a good gig if you can get it.

Clay Nichols is co-founder and chief creative officer at dadlabs.com, the web’s leading resource for all things dad. He is also an author, playwright, former teacher, husband and father of three living in Austin, TX.

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