Redesigning Fatherhood: How Brands Can Turn Their Vision of the Modern Dad Into a Reality

The Author's husband and their four children.  Photo from   The Big Flip

The Author's husband and their four children. Photo from The Big Flip


It's time to rethink how we work, and how we live. 


By Bonnie Wan

Fatherhood isn’t what it used to be. My own dad came from a generation of fathers as nouns—figures to be respected, revered and, at times, feared. They were tireless workers measured solely by their career success and ability to provide financial stability, rather than by their caregiving.

My husband, on the other hand, is part of a new breed of dads for whom fathering is an active and engaged verb.

As the stay-at-home parent of our four young kids, he is the emotional center of our family and the CQLO (chief quality-of-life officer) of our lives. He also happens to be a trailblazer of modern fatherhood, challenging traditional notions of masculinity while expanding the definition of fatherhood. I’m proud that his example is showcased in the documentary film The Big Flip ( alongside that of three other fathers as lead parents.

Photo from  The Big Flip

Photo from The Big Flip


But public opinion and culture have yet to catch up. Fifty-one percent of Americans still believe kids are better off with moms at home instead of at work. And only 8 percent feel the same about dads, according to the Pew Research Center.


Even the acronym for a stay-at-home dad, SAHD, sounds like “sad” when said out loud. These are deeply ingrained values and cultural views that are hard to overcome. Even I struggled in the early years of parenting with shaking off the belief that I was more equipped to be the primary (aka, “better”) parent.

The truth is that good parenting isn’t a question of gender, at least not scientifically. The American Association for the Advancement of Science has found that “the neural underpinnings of the so-called maternal instinct aren’t unique to women … but can be developed by anyone who chooses to be a parent.” In addition, as Live Science has found, “taking care of a child reshapes a dad’s brain, causing it to show the same patterns of cognitive and emotional engagement that are seen in moms.”

But while millennial men are eager to be deeply engaged fathers, “the workplace is keeping men from achieving their goals as fathers” (Lisen Stromberg, Work Pause Thrive). Our expectations for men to be “all in” employees who exhibit high levels of competitiveness and ambition continue to limit men and women alike. There’s much ado these days about gender equality and the need for more women in leadership and the workplace.

But to realize this vision, we must champion the other side of the equation—to see, celebrate and support men as equally capable caregivers.

Photo from   The Big Flip

Photo from The Big Flip

So, this Father’s Day, as a way of honoring my husband and active, attentive dads everywhere, I’m calling on companies to redesign their policies, workplaces, products and services in support of modern fatherhood.

In recent years, big-name brands have stepped up to the plate with “dadvertising” that captures this shift. Cheerios proudly showed the world #HowToDad in 2015, and HP featured real conversations between fathers and daughters as part of its effort to reduce “unconscious bias.” Getty Images launched a new stock-image collection to redefine masculinity, showing men as involved caretakers and caregivers. Target and Dove are also paving the way. But not all brands get it right. Amazon was petitioned by a relentless and vocal group of dads before renaming its Amazon Mom program as Amazon Family.

Yet while words and images have a very real impact in shaping our reality, they aren’t enough. It’s time to radically rethink how we work and how we live so that our realities can match our emerging ideals and intentions.

The opportunity to lead is now. The number of stay-at-home dads has doubled since 1989. And the number of dual-income households has exploded. All of this results in the convergence of roles between mothers and fathers.


According to a 2015 Pew Research Center Study, 57 percent of dads say that parenting is extremely important to their identity. Yet 52 percent of working dads find it hard to balance the responsibilities of work and family (something working moms have struggled with for decades). As long as men are held back from full and equal participation at home, women will continue to feel limits at work.


Tech companies like Netflix, Spotify and Facebook are designing the way forward by creating work cultures with paid parental leave, workplace flexibility, on- or near-site daycare, childcare/tuition subsidies and returnships (for both men and women).

Consumer-facing brands have the chance to win families over by re-envisioning how we eat, cook, shop, invest, commute, entertain and set up home, with dads at the (shared) center of it all. Because when we empower dads to “lean in” at home, we liberate both men and women to feel unconstrained in the roles they play and the interests they pursue.

So this Sunday, let’s celebrate Dad by replacing outdated clichés of disconnected dads with the full spectrum of what vibrant and modern fatherhood looks like today.





Repost of an original piece by Bonnie Wan on in 2017. 



Bonnie Wan: "The Most Important Brief I've Written"

Bonnie gives a talk about her life brief at the 3% Conference in New York in November, 2017


The brief. It’s the essence of a brand, distilled to a single page. It’s the starting point for every project, whether it’s an ad, a product or a brand experience. And ultimately, it’s a North Star for future direction and a springboard for action. 

As a veteran advertising strategist, I’ve spent over 25 years writing briefs for world-class brands. Then, in a moment of personal turmoil, I stopped and wondered, why not write one for myself?

I wrote my first life brief in 2010. Married to a wonderful man and being a mother to three, I had just returned to a senior role at the agency I loved. Yet as my sense of achievement grew, my sense of fulfillment faded. Strained by the pressures of dueling careers and the challenges of raising a young family, our marriage skidded close to free fall’s edge. By April of that year, I fell deep into a crisis of meaning. So I did what I’ve done for countless clients. I wrote a brief.

I took stock and asked myself four vital questions: If we could change one thing, what would it be? If we could have more of something, what would that be? What do I fear? What do I crave?

What emerged was clear and surprisingly simple: More time with our kids and with each other. Work with greater purpose and a progressive education for our kids. A creatively inspiring home for our expanding family anchored in a vibrant and value-driven community. And finally, to explore the world, exposing our kids to the many facets of humanity.

Action is a byproduct of clarity. Once the brief was written, we saw our lives with a sharpness and clarity that had not existed before. And once it was clear, it was impossible not to act.

Change was scary and not without risk. We left California and moved to Portland, where I began commuting to San Francisco while pregnant with my fourth child. This move made it possible for my husband to pause his career and stay home with our three kids plus the baby, a decision recently featured in the documentary "The Big Flip."

Creatively and courageously, we made it work and, within months of writing it, manifested everything we envisioned in our life brief.

Here are six things I’ve learned to help kick-start your life brief:

Find your quiet. Tuning into you requires tuning out life’s distractions. The good news is that it doesn’t require a summer sabbatical or even a weekend getaway. Our most mundane moments can be our most meditative. Take advantage of mindless routine to let your insights and ideas bubble up. 

Start with questions. Creative briefs use questions to stimulate ideas. The same applies to the life brief. Here are a few questions to play with: What’s your ambition? What makes you leap out of bed? What’s your enemy? What do you fight for or against? What’s your edge or superpower? If you could be remembered for only one thing, what would it be? Write the answers down, especially the stuff that makes you squirm.

Interview your fans. It’s hard to see for ourselves what’s obvious to everyone around us. Make a list of eight to 10 people who know you best, from different corners and stages of your life. Ask them the following: What three things make you you? What (situations, people or things) energizes you? What (situations, people or things) drains you? What’s your superpower?

Look for patterns. Life is a tapestry. It’s easier to see the patterns when you step back. As you review the feedback from yourself and others, highlight the themes, recurring words and ideas. What are they telling you?

Sharpen your words. Words matter in briefs. When used well, they capture the essence of an idea while evoking emotion and inspiring action. Getting to the heart of your life brief takes time and practice. Your first attempt will probably suck. But once you get a draft down, you can experiment with words to help you drill deeper, get sharper and be braver. Be honest with yourself. Don’t stop until you nail what you truly want.

Let go. Allow your brief to realize itself. Focus on what matters instead of how to get there. Clear intentions are enough to unlock and reveal the path forward. And when you release yourself from self-doubt and limiting narratives, you make space to see opportunities you would have otherwise overlooked. Changing your story changes your life.

Over time, our life brief has expanded and taken on new iterations. With every evolution our lives follow suit. After moving to Portland six years ago, we moved back to the Bay Area, with our latest chapter unveiling a different version of the same yet expanded brief. 

Through it all my husband and I have become co-creators and collaborators in life, growing the awe and admiration we have for each other and for our life together. We’re doing work that lights us up, stretches us and makes us better.
BonChipPortraitTestWeekend - 1.jpg

We’re each carving a path of fulfillment, not just achievement. Most importantly, we’ve become more present and patient parents—as well as more generous and compassionate friends.

The life brief has become a new year’s ritual, an annual reimagining of what’s possible while reconnecting to what’s true.

I have shared our brief with others and now teach a workshop about it at Goodby Silverstein & Partners, encouraging purposeful, creative living for our employees. In doing so, I hear about the fears and limiting thoughts holding people back from living with intention. It’s no surprise in the era of social media, where envy, inadequacy and regret have become commonplace.

It’s my hope that the life brief can help free people from the shackles of comparison to craft a life anchored in what matters most. In the book, "The Great Work of Your Life," author Stephen Cope observes, "In knowing what truly matters, we are liberated from our striving to be somewhere else or someone else." 

The life brief is a practice in reimagining what’s possible while reconnecting to what’s true, freeing us from envy, confusion and regret. In answer to the common debate question about if whether people can have it all, I say, you can’t have it all, but you can have all that matters.



Repost of an original piece by Bonnie Wan on in 2016.