A couple of years ago, Craig Kessler, Chief Operating Officer of sports entertainment company Topgolf and father of three young boys, was looking for some parenting advice. He noticed that the bookstore shelves were lined with advice books – but almost all of them were geared toward mothers. Inspired by a letter a mentor had received from his own father, Kessler decided to ask a few friends – fathers he admired – to write letters to him on “how to be a good dad.”
What started with a “handful of friends” morphed into The Dad Advice Project, a book of real-life stories and advice written by 42 dads from all walks of life, including professional athletes, TV personalities, businessmen, civic leaders and military veterans. The dads who shared their stories spanned a huge arch of ages and experience, from a father of a newborn to grandfathers.
Teeing off blindfolded
A couple of things inspired Kessler to initially ask for help and for the letters. He says he didn’t have the closest relationship with his own father growing up. “I haven’t had that sounding board in my life, like many of my friends who are new dads have,” he says. “I also realized, in being a parent, each time we face a meaningful challenge, we tend to face it for the first time. And it’s very hard to get pattern recognition as a new dad.” Kessler thought the advice might help him “fill the void” and understand patterns around parenting.
What he got back from the other fathers was “incredible,” he says, and much of it he took to heart and incorporated into his own parenting. From there, “the project just sort of snowballed.” Kessler ended up asking for (and receiving) more than 40 letters from friends, a number of YPO members among them.
They all started asking to see what the other dads had written. Kessler first declined, explaining that he didn’t have permission to share the letters and that the advice was meant for him.
But his friends kept pushing and encouraged him to try to publish the letters, which, with permission, he tried. The first few publishing attempts ended in rejection. He explains, “They all kind of said the same thing. ‘The difference between women and men is that women want advice from other women, and guys just want to hear the sound of their own voice. Nobody’s going to read your book.’”
Kessler knew he was on to something, and he didn’t give up. Eventually, he found Post Hill Press. “They saw the list of authors, they read the content and said, ‘This is incredible.’” Recognizable names in the book include professional golfer Davis Love III, former CIA director George Tenet, and St. Louis Cardinals’ pitcher Adam Wainwright.
Playing the short, and long, game
The Dad Advice Project opens with Tenet, a grandfather who was Kessler’s professor at Georgetown University but whom he now calls a friend. It ends with the newest dad, Jim Marrocco, the owner of a financial planning firm. “People can actually start to see the wisdom of the ages unfold before their eyes,” says Kessler.
His wife, Nicole, fully supported his endeavor. “She’s just totally inspired and thinks it’s cool that her husband and her husband’s friends care enough about being dads to invest the time in this,” he says. It also doesn’t hurt that the second most common piece of advice Kessler received is to love and respect your spouse and make sure your kids see it, “because that’s how they’ll learn how to have healthy relationships.”
I realized in being a parent, each time we face a meaningful challenge, we tend to face it for the first time. And it’s very hard to get pattern recognition as a new dad. ”
— Craig Kessler, Chief Operating Officer, Topgolf share
Kessler says that the letters’ advice tended to fall into one of two buckets: the first was basic advice that is very common and came up time and time again. For example, kids need to feel a sense of physical and psychological safety. “This type of advice actually forced me to remind myself that there is a reason why these things came up more than any other pieces of advice, and I should do my best to make sure I’m keeping them top of mind,” says Kessler.
The advice in the second bucket came from a handful of dads who have implemented creative and unique traditions in their families that have brought their families closer together, says Kessler. One example of this came from Rex Kurzius, a YPO member and founder of Asset Panda, who shared his family’s approach to work. Rather than close the door when he has a work call or is working, he leaves it open and lets his kids listen in. Both he and his wife have done this since the kids were small. Now, the kids, who are grown up, are really savvy businesspeople, according to Kurzius.
“When you think about it, closing the door is kind of odd, because we try and give our kids exposure to sports and arts and crafts in school, but at work, which is where they’re going to spend most of their lives, we close the door,” says Kessler.
A second example Kessler shares is from Josh Redstone, also a YPO member and a small business owner. His family has the tradition of everyone, including the adults, taking turns at the dinner table standing on their chairs, introducing themselves and telling the group something that they are thankful for. “What’s cool is these kids are learning to project their voice to speak in public to introduce themselves, and they’re practicing gratitude,” says Kessler. “I never would have picked up on those traditions if it weren’t for this book.”
Kessler is hopeful that those reading the book will also adopt some new traditions, the way his family has. “If this book lands the way we hope it does, then this actually becomes a jumping off point for families to get closer to one another,” he says.
A few key parenting takeaways
- Discipline is important. Kids need boundaries. Having an intentional approach to discipline helps enforce them.
- Take silly photos every now and then. When we look back on our lives, memories of the people we love will emerge. Framed silly family photos are a powerful representation of this.
- Kids need mentors. Surround your kids with other adults who care about your children and are willing to show them the world through a different set of perspectives than yours.
- Encourage your kids to take risks and support them especially when they fail. Among other things, this approach will help kids survive and thrive in the outside world.