The Financial Independence, Retire Early (FIRE) movement is having a moment. Nobody knows for sure if this is THE moment but what we do know is people are taking greater control of their financial lives and encouraging others to do the same. The FIRE is spreading and it’s moving fast.
Almost every story or podcast we hear of begins with someone stumbling upon a blog, a frugal friend sharing investing tips or an awe-inspiring article about a young couple living a frugal dream life. But behind all of these feel-good stories are regular people; some of who are parents.
So while amassing six figure nest eggs, traveling the world, inspiring others and getting media coverage is newsworthy; I sense a deeper, more personal FIRE story at play just below the flashy headlines. From my view, there seems to be another major shift happening that has just as much potential to change society as a widespread financial awakening. Specifically, I’m referring to the role of fathers.
One of the primary reasons I decided to quit my job in June 2018 was because the stress of work was impacting my role as a husband and new father. I’d heard that having a kid and surviving the early years were the hardest part of marriage. But in my case, it wasn’t hard because of my son’s behavior or a condition.It was hard because I had to confront not being the father I said I would be Click To Tweet
To be clear, while parenting is difficult, we do not have a difficult child. Compared to the stories we’ve heard, our son is a dream. He’s sleep trained, so he’s down faithfully from 7 PM – 7 AMish. He eats a wide range of foods that I prepare for him and aside from the occasional puff from his inhaler, he is rarely sick for more than a few days. My challenge was not in just caring for him but in being present for the deeper, more personal needs that he and my wife had at the time.
I was at a crossroad and had to choose whether to give myself a fighting chance to be the man I knew I could be, or walk the same path many a father had walked before me. The one filled with long unfulfilling days, broken promises, suppressed anger, functioning substance abuse, broken families and resentment. The latter simply wasn’t an option for me, so I chose to walk away from one of the primary contributors to my frustration.
When I meet other men that are FI [financial independence], pursuing FI or even just remotely interested in the concept, there is a similar underlying theme woven into many of their stories. Yes, they are intrigued by the obvious financial benefits of the lifestyle, but they are also interested in being better fathers.
This is different from the fathers I know from older generations and many outside the FIRE community. Those men subscribe to traditional male roles and believe simply “providing for their family” is their only priority. But many “FI minded fathers” I know aren’t just interested in providing; we want to do and be much more.
I met Bradley at CampFi where he was asked to speak about his decision to pursue part time work over the traditional full time job. While there, we had a brief and heartfelt exchange about what role being a better father played in his decision. Here’s what he said…
Bradley, Tampa, FL
I think a FI minded father is more likely to think outside the box, make the unique decision to be a father in a family and still love their children fully. [To] be more than a weekend authority and money provider. With that in mind [my wife and I] knew that we weren’t going to let societal norms of working until 5 and getting home at 6 PM every evening rip this away from us.
I also met Carl from 1500days.com while at Camp FI. He and his wife Mindy are financially independent and live in Longmont, CO. Like us and Bradley, they were speakers at Camp FI and I was looking forward to hearing from them. I distinctly remembered Carl mentioning his daughters during his talk and I got excited just thinking about all the cool things I’ll be able to do with my son once I have more ownership of my time. So I reached out to him too to see what he had to say. Here’s what he said…
Carl , Longmont, CO
Children will tell you they want Disney, video games, and toys. However, deep down, they really want their parents to spend quality time with them. While my journey to financial independence started because I had money insecurity issues, the part of FIRE that I value most is the time I spend with my children.
Every day I walk with them to school, I volunteer for every opportunity, I attend every school function [and] I have lunch with them weekly. I couldn’t do much of this with a job.
Maybe it was because these guy had daughters? Maybe glamping in Florida and drinking beer around a campfire made them tap into their sensitive side a bit more than usual? Or maybe, the men who were interested in redefining “retirement”, were also interested in redefining fatherhood.
So I reached out to Richard, who I met at our first rich & REGULAR meetup and asked for his perspective on the intersection between financial independence and fatherhood.
Richard, Atlanta, GA
…it’s not expected that a father, [especially a black father], take his children out for lunch or play dates at the park or come to parent teacher conferences. I do all of that in my sleep!
I’ve even had people tell me, “You’re a great father” when I told them I changed diapers, fed and bathed my kids when they were infants. The expectation is so low! So I strive to make it known that I’m a critical part of my kids lives and that the basics of being a father won’t fly for me.
In my own experience, being a present, active and black father can be a lonely oddball experience. I definitely recall days being stared at while playing at the park, taking our son for walks around our old neighborhood or quick visits to the doctor’s office. I knew that every time I stepped outside with my son and was visibly affectionate, I was breaking down the myth of the absent black father and promoting a positive image of Black fathers. But I also knew, this wasn’t just about my race.
So I asked Brad, co-host of the Choose FI podcast about his experience with others seeing him as different. Here’s what he had to say…
Brad, Richmond, VA
[At swim practice] I’m one of the only Dads there at 3 PM on a weekday, just like I’m one of the only Dads who spends 3+ hours with his family each day during the summer at our local neighborhood pool.
I think all this time I spend with them allows me to pass on the many lessons that I want to impart in more subtle ways. I simply don’t have to cram all my “dad time” into a few short hours each night, so I can be there for them to just hang and talk, read books, play games and sports, and I think that constant male role model will be extremely beneficial for them long-term as they navigate life.
Like Brad, Carl had his own experience navigating the world and society’s perception of him.
I get the girls up for school, make their lunches and cook dinner. I now know how to work an Instant Pot like a pro and I can cook up some mean tofu dishes in my favorite gadget, the air fryer.
Occasionally, someone [always another father] will ask me if it’s weird having this role in my family. Perhaps it’s different than the typical family, but when I’m working up a Thai peanut dish in the kitchen while listening to a podcast, life is pretty good. And besides, I couldn’t care less what society thinks of me.
Hearing these guys talk about their experience was refreshing and made me even more excited to hit our financial goals so I could have my own stories to tell. In full transparency, a few of the men I spoke with also shared their not-so-great experiences with their father’s growing up. They shared stories of addiction, poverty and memories of their father’s hating their jobs. This too contributed to their desire to pursue financial independence and their commitment to not repeat the same mistakes.
I didn’t conduct a poll or survey, but I suspect there are several other fathers with similar motivations and desires in the FIRE community. I’m encouraged by this, because I believe families flourish more when both adults [regardless of sex] share the workload at home, view income as shared and play equal roles as parents. For this to happen, men need to step up and break the traditional mold society has cast on them. It helps that in many households around the country, mine included, more women are the breadwinners than ever before.
I regularly take my son to and from daycare and I see fathers of all colors, ages and backgrounds right alongside me. This is always encouraging to see because it highlights that in at least one way, more men today are willing to play active roles in caring for their children and aren’t restricting themselves to just being financial providers.
In those moments, I can’t help but imagine how much wider that span of involvement could be if work weren’t in the way. Perhaps, over time, as the FIRE movement spreads, we’ll hear less about the financial feats of the community and more about how financial independence has enabled people, especially men, to be better parents and partners.