Every now and again I get to meet a figure like Dan Flanagan. According to his Linkedin profile, Dan is a “social entrepreneur” and yet he also describes himself as a “part-time revolutionary.”
A dad to one, Dan is undoubtedly a larger than life character and I was really happy when he volunteered himself to feature in my series of dads who have improved work / life balance by setting up their own businesses. In Dan’s case, he’s launched several venutres, all of which promote positive fatherhood or deal with the challenges fathers and families face. His Dad la Soul venture goes further still and gets people from different generations socialising with each other.
Dan is unquestionably a huge ball of pent-up energy and his insights are fascinating. Just be warned, his passion and energy really come across and you may need to take a few minutes to rest after reading his story.
There’s no doubt about it, Dan; you are very big on promoting fatherhood and giving dads numerous opportunities to spend time with their kids. Please do tell us all about Tot Rockin Beats, Dad La Soul and Don’t Believe the Hype.
Don’t Believe The Hype started life as a personal blog four years ago. It was just something to do to help kill the commute. I’d write about things that interested me, such as film, music and being a young dad. It then grew to the point where it is now featuring contributions from 15 dads, from vastly different backgrounds and locations writing stories they want to tell. It’s the magazine for dads that were 70s/80s kids.
Twenty years ago, we were all reading mags like FHM, NME, Melody Maker, Loaded etc. but ‘New Lad’ has become ‘New Dad’. Our priorities have shifted, but there was nowhere to call our own, tha’st where ‘The Hype’ comes in.
On the back on this, I set up DBTH ‘The World’s First Agency Of Dads’ after I got fed up being pitched stereotypical ‘dad’ related campaigns from PR Agencies who looked at dads like we some kind of 70’s character. ( I am sure you have seen more than your fair share as well John)
The type that is scared of nappies, unable to operate the washing machine and couldn’t dance. Now as an agency we work with a number of high profile brands and create content that actually resonates rather than patronises.
As for TotRockinBeats, one of my first clients was a music promotion agency that was putting on gigs with bands like Ocean Colour Scene and Fun-Lovin’ Criminals. During these shows, I noticed that a lot of the audience were people that I would see on the school-run, so I had the idea to combine them. Good music, a chance to dance, a load of activities to keep the nippers happy and do it in the afternoon so no-one needs to held to ransom by babysitters.
That was two years ago, (actually on Father’s Day). Now it has grown into pretty much a full-time job where we are doing shows for up to 1,000 people in theatres, art galleries and museums around the south-east.
Where we differ from other ‘baby-raves’ companies that have sprung up is that we are a social enterprise which means we do what do because we love it not because of the money. We focus, our work on bringing different communities and generations together, so we have young families, people in their 80/90s and young adults with additional access/learning needs, partying with Hip-Hop DJs, graffiti artists, circus performers, street dancers, rappers and entertainers.
This has an incredible effect on tackling social isolation, the people that come to the events are part of a tribe called ‘TotRockers’, and together we have built something very special indeed.
Through my work with DBTH and TotRockin,’ I was meeting a lot more, dads, and the conversation became more common. Being a dad is an incredibly rewarding but hard job than can be very lonely.
So I thought rather than spend our time at ‘Mum & Toddler’ groups being looked at weirdly because we don’t have ‘proper’ jobs, or even worse, because we want to play with children. Or a soft-play at weekends being surrounded by people staring at the phones, I’d take all the equipment I had from the, events and build somewhere that the dads and kids could hangout and learn/play at new skills. That’s how Dad La Soul was born.
We now have everything from DJ & film-making to science lessons and stand-up comedy workshops, all taught by the dads.
We’ve based in an old-folks day-centre so the older ‘wannabee’ grandpas can join in. If you’ve seen the amazing ‘Old Folks Home For 4-Year Olds’ that was on TV last year, you will have seen the amazing benefits putting different generations can have.
I’ve just taken that idea, made it for dads and added in some hip-hthe op flavour. I hope that we are going to build a national network of these clubs, so no matter where you live you can have a community of ‘Dad La Soul’, nearby to help support.
You describe yourself as a part time revolutionary. When not being a revolutionary, are you looking after the kids? While we’re on the subject, you’d better introduce us to your family.
I have a firecracker of a six year old son, Nat, and a very understanding wife, Sal who is a social worker. When I left my last job, I wasn’t sure exactly what I was going to do, I just know I had to leave.
A couple of weeks down the line after quitting I had a conversation with a random stranger in a coffee shop. He told me a story about him wanting to start a new style fostering agency, I told him he really should meet me wife. He did and ended up offering Sal her dream job on a full-time basis.
This meant our roles changed. I took on more of the day-to-day childcare and she brought home the bacon, which really helped while I built up the business and got to spend time really getting to know my son again.
What were you doing before Tot Rockin’ Beats?.
From a career perspective I’d spent the last 20 odd years in digital/PR. I started in the music industry using online forums and MySpace for outreach. I launched my own agency six years ago then ended up as a senior analyst for an international media agency.
On paper it was great, big name clients,decent salary and funky offices – But it was utterly soul-destroying. I tried to explain ‘what daddy did’ as a job, and it boiled down to that fact that I made money for huge brands, that had too much money and didn’t do very good things with that money. I’d sold out everything I believed in for a steady pay cheque and a place of the greasy ladder, because that is what men were supposed to do, isn’t it?
Is it fair to say you gave that up to obtain better work / life balance?
That was very much part of it. At the time I was dealing with my own father passing away. I did the typical male thing and buried my head in work rather than deal with it, to the point where coping with the loss, the stress of commuting, doing a job that I hated made me really ill, both physically and mentally.
I realised that I was leaving to go to work before my son got up and got home just to see him go to bed, if I was lucky. Even then I wasn’t fully present, my phone and emails were my priority, because that was my role, the provider, as I saw it. Being ill gave me a massive wake-up call. I quit my job because I didn’t want to be a stranger in my childs life anymore.
I wanted to do something I believed in and that made a difference and meant that I would always be around for the school run and play dates, rather than hearing about them second hand.
How has that worked out for you, do you now have greater freedom to spend time with the kids?
I do the majority of morning school runs and a couple of the after-school ones, where I take my son and some of his mates swimming or down the beach or park for a kick around.
Not having to fret about not being be at my desk for 9 am for fear of a telling off, means the mornings are more relaxed. We have time for game or conversation and chat with some of the friends at the gates. I tend to work a lot in the evenings, which isn’t great but if it means that I can hang out and see my son develop first hand or take the pressure of off my wife, then I reckon that is a very fair swap.
Running your own businesses(s) must still come with certain pressures though?
Yes, it certainly does. The bills need to paid, the salaries of the team need to met and as a non-profit organisation there is a wealth of new fundraising bids to be written. We quite often have several events running concurrently, so the deadlines tend to blur a little bit.
However, all of that set aside, I am happier and more fulfilled then ever. My job helps people, brings smiles to people faces allows me to feed the creative demon that I have in my head.
I get an incredible buzz from doing things that haven’t been done, or that people say can’t be done. We’ve thrown parties where over a 1,000 people are on dancefloor, where young families and the elderly are rocking out side by side and having a whale of a time. I stand back and catch myself and think how lucky I am that this is now my job.
With your various ventures, you spend a lot of time with working dads. Do you think there is an issue with fathers being unable to strike a good work / lief balance?
Absolutely, I see the faces on the friends who are still stuck on the commute or the guilt they have where they have had to miss yet another parents evening or sports day because they can’t get the time off. Having been in that position myself I can really relate. My old answer was to throw money at the problem and buy my son whatever he wanted in the hope that he may still ‘love me’. What any child really needs is your time.
What are your thoughts on the Fatherhood Penalty? Is it going to becoming a bigger thing as younger dads see the pressure faced by older generations and decide a happy home life is better than steaming ahead with a career.
I was brought up my dad who juggled having 4 kids under 10 on his own with a running a successful business. In the 70/80s this was almost unheard of and there was definitely no structured support in place. I saw first hand the effect it had on him, but I can’t have seen him ever giving up work, it’s just not what men of that generation would have done.
Now it’s much more apparent that dads are taking more of a hands on role with parenting. I get sick and tired of terms like ‘Daddy Daycare’ or being told that “aren’t I good” for “giving mum a day-off and looking after the little one“.
Things are changing but I think having more positive role models in the ‘public eye’ leading the way, will make it more accessible for dads to take the step and start their own revolution.
In your opinion what are the main issues faced by families and dads today?
I think equal rights, in the eyes of the law, the media and society as a whole for dads and the valuable role they play would be a great move forward. We shouldn’t have to resort to shock ‘Fathers 4 Justice’ antics just to get noticed.
Thank you Dan. Before we finish, anything further we should know about you or your various ventures?
If you want to know more about the antics of ‘The Hype’ dads, TotRockin’ or ‘Dad La Soul’ visit the DBTH website or hit me up on Twitter @DBTHTribe.
More articles like this
Over the past couple of months I’ve been hosting regular articles like this. I was inspired to do so after hearing about men that simply couldn’t balance work and family life and had so left the workforce. It seemed to be an issue affecting lots of guys and was having a detrimental impact on their relationships, their relationships with their children and sometimes their mental and physical health.
You can read their stories by clicking on the various links below. Some are very insightful, often poignant and often told with great humour. I will be publishing a few more in the upcoming weeks as well so do keep an eye on the blog and the Dadbloguk social media channels (@dadbloguk on Twitter / Instagram/ Facebook).