It was the mid nineties and Jim Joseph upended his suburban life. In the blink of an eye he was married, had two children under three, got divorced, realized he was gay and had to make an entire new life. This the his story of how he navigated his new life as a gay dad, from balancing a high profile career to finding peace and acceptance ( and a few challenges) along the way.
Out and About Dad
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In my conversation with Jim Joseph, award-winning author of Out and About Dad, we get personal. We talk about marriage parenthood, divorce, self-discovery, finding love again and being true to who you are. His journey hasn't been an easy one, but Jim shares all the highs and lows in this unforgettable conversation. There is a no one size fits all family. My family is not, what you would have seen back in the fifties or sixties. We have a very unique and diverse family which is a great segue into book my personal favorite Out and About Dad. While I met you as a branding genius is what I think of you as, I got to know you as a human being and you were one of the most, fantastic humans I have ever had the good fortune to meet because you are just such a kind and generous person with your business acumen and with your, personal ideals. And I think you stand behind who you are. If you don't mind talking a little bit about the book and how you came to write it, what made you decide to open up your personal life? I grew up like so many people, like so many of us in a very traditional home in a very isolated part of the country. I grew up not really realizing that there were lots of dimensions to people. I had one friend in high school who was Jewish and they always put up a Christmas tree. So I thought the Jewish was just a nationality. I didn't realize that it was also, an ethnicity, a religion, all the things that come with with being Jewish. I didn't realize till I went to college and started meeting people that there were Jewish people and black people. I thought everybody was just like me. I was so, so underexposed and so influenced by societal norms that I did everything that you're supposed to do. You know, I was male. I never doubted that part. So what do men do? They date girls and they get married and they have children and they get a good job and, you know, that's what you're supposed to do. I was a very good boy and it wasn't until that myth started to shatter that the marriage I was in started to shatter, then I started realizing that I had done just that I just followed the rules and didn't realize that I don't think the rules applied to me. So after I got divorced, I realized that I was gay and it wasn't until I had to really stop and think about, well, that didn't work. So what do I want? Then I suddenly realized ,that I was gay. In the span of like three minutes, I got divorced, came out, had two children under three, and had to make a new life. And this was in the mid nineties when nobody, nobody spoke about very little spoken about the gay community. Zero spoken about gay dads. Very little spoken about active dads cause I had custody of the children also. So here I am trying to navigate a career, take care of two kids, go through a divorce and come out. And I honestly looking back, I don't know how I did it. I know why I did it, but I don't know how I did it. And I don't know how I have the courage to do it looking back, but I think it was just an underlying quest for happiness and thinking that one thing was going to make me happy and realizing that that it wasn't. So, as I went through my own journey as a father, I ended up, finding a soulmate. We spent years together, eventually got married, when we could get married and raised two amazing kids who are now in their late twenties and unbelievably happy and successful and on their own journey. I had never really considered. crafting that story and publishing it. But I had a friend who kept pushing me and I finally sort of thought, well, maybe it'll be good to get it on paper. I'll just get it on paper. And then I got a publisher and was having them read the chapters as I would write them. I had my friend read the chapters as I wrote them. I had my mother-in-law read them cause she's an avid reader because I was kind of like, if I'm going to do this, it has to be good. Like, it has to be really good. It has to be really well-written. It has to be really insightful and more importantly than all that it has to allow other people who are struggling to see a path to the end, like that's what it's got to do. And. I can't tell you how many times I stopped writing it. I didn't want to publish it. Actually, when I finished it, I shelved it and said, I'm not going to, I'm like a happy, I wrote that, but that's it. That was the journey. I'm not going to publish it. And the publisher and my friend who convinced me to do it said we went out for drinks and I had just talking to the publisher and he had said the exact same things to me. She said to me, you know what, I'm sorry, this is now out of your hand. You have a, you have a moral obligation to publish this book. Nobody has touched this subject. Nobody's talking about it. Think about all those people out there that are going through exactly what you went through. And you said you had no mentors, no role models, nobody to relate to. And I was like, okay, you're right. I'll do it. So I published it I kind of clenched my teeth. How did your family, how did your, your husband and your kids, how did they all feel? And you said your mother-in-law was reading it. How did they react? So my kids were older. I also, I waited for that. So they were already in, I think they were in college. I told them I was going to do it and said if you have a real big problem with it, tell me, they didn't have a big problem with it. My husband, to this day, hasn't read it. Interestingly. Everybody's Comments about it, but he hasn't, he hasn't read it. my, my family and my friends that all read it were like pretty universal statement was I can't believe you were going through that. and we didn't, we didn't know. I had two kids, so I had to take care of the kids. And I had a career that I had, like I had to make a living, so I couldn't sit there and not keep performing, you know? So that was pretty much the universal reaction. And so how, were the early days when you went to school, cause you were very involved with the kids in school and you were a very, very engaged and active dad. So how did the PTA react to you being such an active dad? I mean, was it a comfortable time? It was a lonely time. I would, I would say I, I had this notion in my head and, and it turned out to be true that people will be far less prejudice against me and the kids if they know me. And if I'm upfront about it. So every school year I would meet with the teacher and say, you just need to know my kids have a gay dad and I'm gay, and I want you to like, watch out for them. Tell me if you see issues. All parents of the, of the kids knew I was just very upfront about it because I had, I had this suspicion that they're much less likely to take it out on me if they know me and it, it turned out to be true. It almost. It's so funny almost to the point where I can't tell me how many somebody just said this to me two months ago. In a very sort of weird moment, you know, gay people shouldn't have kids am like, well, wait a minute. Oh no, not you. You're a great dad. Well, no, no, yes. Me. If you're going to make a statement like that, that includes me. So if it turns out to be true and Oprah Winfrey has said that, that when people know you, they're much more likely to embrace you. So that was my motto. and honestly, we didn't really have very many incidences. We had maybe one or two that were, that were a bit messy for the kids. you know, bullying and that kids can be very mean to each other, but for the most part, it actually was okay. Um, lonely because, you know, I would go to the PTA parties and I would pretty much stand by myself. Um, cause, I didn't have a lot in common with the other parents. All we had was our kids in common. You know, they didn't know what to do with this, this gay dad. They didn't know what to do with, with me. Although interestingly, there were, I can remember three stay-at-home dads, they were married to women who, who had the career in the family and they stayed home, but I related to them and they gravitated towards me because of the, the kids. That was a, that was a nice source of comradery. Uh, but it was hard. I mean, there's no doubt about it. It was hard. Raising kids is not easy. I mean, nobody has an easy time. Everybody's got a struggle. But it wasn't easy. It wasn't easy as they got older, it got easier. We were very upfront as the kids' friends realized, because their awareness of what goes on in life, was becoming more real. Like we were very upfront with them. They would come over, they would stay over So it was, it was okay. I can't complain, but it was, it was lonely. It was hard. There's no doubt about it. And you weren't able to be married when the kids were growing up, because that wasn't a thing back then. But, your now husband was in your life then and has been along for this whole ride and how was that for him? Well, so he, he met the kids when they were still very young and actually my son doesn't really remember life before him at all. I think he was about five or six when, when we met. It was an interesting time for him because. I was trying to manage my career and I had made a lot of career changes, so that I could be home with the kids, you know, pulled myself off of a very aggressive career track. Um, made some, some very basic decisions so I could be home. And then when we got together and things started to work out, I was able to put a little bit more focus on my career because. And effect became a stay-at-home dad. So he quit his job and he stayed home with the kids and took care of the kids so that I could, you know, be away all day. I could travel for business, which I think he deserves the most credit because here he was, obviously a gay man himself. He was not the dad. We were not legally bound. He had no legal authority over the kids., the kids didn't think of him as a dad. You know, he was, he was Christopher, like doesn't everybody have a Christopher kind of thing. And he became more of a confidant to them, and much more of a caregiver. but you no defined role. And really no protection, and even, you know, out in the world, like, what's he do like, uh, a lot. I mean, he got far more criticism than I did, far more criticism and people just couldn't process why he would do that. It's like, well, what, what do you mean? Why would he do that? Why does anybody do whatever they do for their family? Why is it, why is it the fact that we're gay have anything to do? Why would it be. Well, I think he's incredible. I've never met him, but I just know him through you and how, you know, you talk so lovingly and kind about him and what an incredible person he was to be able to take on that. 'cause I even know for myself, when I was staying at home to take care of my grandkids. At one point like, oh, nobody's paying any attention to me. Everybody else is getting credit. So my heart goes out to him It's very selfless. We know it's really interesting. I was completely blown away by this. When I wrote the book. My target audience because I'm in marketing. My target audience was, other gay men with kids or other gay men that wanted to have kids. So I figured that's, who's going to read the book. In fact, what finally pushed me over the edge to publish it. As I said, all I need is for one person to say, You just changed my life. Now I realize I can have kids or now I realize I can get through my own journey with my kids. That's all I need. And I got that in the second day, the book was out. I literally was like, okay, I'm done like mission accomplished. I don't even keep track of, I could care less how many books it sold. That was not the goal at all, but what I was blown away by, I had no idea the comments I got from stay-at-home moms. Who completely related to Christopher, like Christopher was this like sudden hero and, straight dads who were stay-at-home dads are really active. They're like finally somebody is acknowledging that dads don't babysit. Like that that's actually take care of their children. And then people who didn't have kids who always wanted to have kids and they related to like Christopher finally be able to have kids, ,cause he thought he'd never have kids that was never, gay men didn't have kids back then, you know, now, and that's as much of an option for gay couples as it is for anybody else. I didn't realize. What a universal cord I would strike, even though I said it in the book, I just didn't realize the magnitude of it, that we all have something we're struggling with and whatever the struggle is, it's different, but the emotions aren't, the emotions aren't that different. And I was really blown away by how many people, of all different flavors found something to relate to. it really touched me and I really related to Christopher in so many aspects of it. And then I also related to you, like how difficult it had to be to have a failed marriage because I had a failed marriage. And so there were so many threads throughout your book that even though we had very different lives, We're so similar, we had more similarities than differences. It was so relatable on so many levels and you have two amazing kids and you have a long lasting relationship. What was the secret to that? Uh, probably, probably, probably a bunch of things. I think that we never tried to do anything, but let the other person just be themselves. I had certain goals in life. He had certain goals in life. We didn't sacrifice, not neither. One of us had to sacrifice like fundamentally sacrificed. We had to compromise, we had to evolve. We had to change like our goals meshed a little bit, but like, we didn't have to fundamentally change who we are, what we wanted. We just rolled with it. We don't fight. I mean, we've had maybe two fights. I think they're both in the book and I don't think we've had one sense. I have said to him over and over and over again, there is nothing that's worth fighting over. There's just nothing worth fighting over. There's nothing more important that I have to win, or I have to tell you that you're wrong or that you're going to make me so mad. That I'm going to fight. I just, I like disagree. Have different points of view, debate, get annoyed, frustrated. Okay. Yeah, that's fine. Those are human emotions, but fighting is not the worth it. And so when stuff would come up, we literally, one of us, or both of us would go not worth it. It's not worth fighting over. And so we wouldn't, and I think, I think that's, that's a secret. and your role with that? We met with like, oh my God, we've made so many mistakes and stepped in so many potholes and stumbled so many times. And it's like, okay, just get back up. It would be really easy to be mad about that or to take it personally or to like, make it an issue like it's life. So I think that's that's and we both want it. So, you know, both people have to want it. You really were so brave. I mean, it was really courageous to come out when you did in the way that you did as a family, man. that was something that was unheard of. But now I have so many friends who are gay dads and it's so awesome that they, they really didn't have the hurdles that you had. What kind of advice do you have for dads or moms families with two moms or two dads, what is your advice for them? Or mixed gender or parent? Yeah, exactly. .Well, first of all, I can't tell you the joy that I get and it just happened for Halloween. When I look on my social media feed. And I see all these pictures of mixed families, of all mixes with their kids doing everything that every other family does in a very natural, authentic way. If I had had that back in the day, you know, and now we have organizations like gays with kids and dad 2.0 and city dads group, and lots of things for moms. We just didn't have all that. It gives me such joy and it's so nice that folks going through that. Have those have those resources in those communities to join, but interestingly, they still comment on the same kinds of struggles, you know, th they talk about how, like hard it is to tell the teacher every year, that, you know, our son has two dads. The struggle still there. I was just telling the story the other day, because I was speaking at an event on screen and, a very young gentleman, I don't know how old he was, but he seemed very young and he was, he made a comment like, God, you make it look so easy. It's just really hard for me. And I was like, oh, okay, timeout. It's yeah, I'm making it sound like everybody should be able to do it, but let me tell you a story, a story that I am mortified. Just last week, I was with a client brand new client, big, huge account. And the client said to me, so what does your wife do? And in that split second, I had to make a decision of how I was going to answer that question. And I said, she's a stay at home, mom and I am mortified and embarrassed. cause by the way my kids are in their twenties. I'm embarrassed that I did not say I don't have a wife. I have a husband. Like why did I not say that? Me of all people who make it look so easy and have written about this, I still did in that moment, I caved and I didn't have the courage in that moment to take a chance that client would be okay with it or not okay with it because all I thought of was, well, if this person has a problem with this, then there goes that piece of business. So the struggles are still there. That's the problem. What what's good is the communities, are there the support? Is there, the resources are there, for lots of people struggling with lots of things, but the struggle is still there. Unfortunately, and the last few years, the divisiveness that has come up around the world and, the hate it's still there. It's still there. And the world is becoming more. how do I phrase this? No matter who you are, no matter what makes you up, no matter how you identify yourself, there's a possibility for you. That's, what's amazing. It's like whether everybody understands you or not, whether everybody accepts you or not, whatever, that, that doesn't matter so much, what matters is that no matter who you are, you have a possibility you can do what you want to do in the world. And that's an amazing. That's a wonderful thing because we still do have a lot of issues with our country recognizing, leave for gay dads or gay moms. There's certain things that are slowly changing, but are still questioned. So how do we address that? How do we change it? What we're doing right now. Keep talking about it, keep talking about it, keep pushing it. This is where brands play a huge role and the younger generations have a much keener awareness than we did of the power that brands can exert. There's been a lot of data that says that millennials expect brands to make up for what governments can. They expect brands to have values and to exert those values in the marketplace. So for example, Pampers, I was all behind this as part of the city dads group, Pampers had a whole campaign around putting changing tables in men's public restrooms because the changing tables were all in the women's restrooms out of. Like that is driving change. And Pampers did that Unilever, a great example. They had for years been pushing the crown app, which this is going to blow your mind. If you're not familiar with it, there's actually legislation, in many states where you can discriminate against somebody based on their natural hair. I know it's like what. So dove and Unilever have been supporting the crown act, which gets that legislation off the books that you cannot discriminate. Somebody based on their natural hair. Imagine who that's targeted against. You can imagine. That's where brands can play a part, and brands can help change the world. We're seeing it. What's happening, which is amazing is that those brands that are changing the world, they're getting the support and they're getting the loyalty. And that's also our responsibility as consumers to reward and be loyal to those brands that are changing the world. So what's next for you? So actually it's funny. I, my husband is pushing me to write another book and I'm going back and forth. He says, I should write a sequel to the experience effect because it was written in 2010 and now the hot top hot topic is experienced marketing. I think though that I'm going to write a sequel to out and about dad, I've already got a title called the gay empty nest. Because we're now two empty nesters. Our children are grown. We're still very much a part of their life and vice versa, but we're, we're viewing life very differently. And because of everything that the, that we've all gone through as a population, you know, 20 years ago, the notion of a gay empty was, not even a possibility. Gay people weren't living to this age. They weren't having children, you know, publicly, so that they could talk about that. So I, I think that's going to be my next book, like what it's like to live in the gay empty nest. Oh, that's awesome. so by the time all these young dads now that have little kids. Then you'll have to have the granddad out. I'm Out and about granddad. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. What an amazing thing though. Isn't that an amazing thing? I think it's so fantastic. I really do. It really warms my heart because I follow a lot of travelers on social media because I love to travel and there are gay dads that travel with their kids and it's so fantastic to see what great dads they are. You weren't able to share via video or online, your family life, which thank God you wrote your book because that covers it. Now these young families are able to, just film everything they do. I really think helping to make just the way it should be. Every time I see that, I imagine somebody who's seen that who's thinking that they never thought kids would be a possibility or didn't know how they'd ever be able to come out. Like they must look at that and just go, oh, this is possible. I actually had a mom very, very early after the book came out. I had a mom who, who wrote a review and said, I have a gay son is 18 years old. I now know that he can have the life he wants. Cause I was worried. He wouldn't be able to have the life he wants. by seeing all these things, it's gotta be motivating people, you know, and helping to reduce some of the barriers that we had to face. I absolutely adore Jim. And admire how he has lived honestly, and authentically before they were even buzzwords. He truly is a trailblazer. No two journeys are alike, but if you take away anything from my conversation with Jim, it is that we are all more similar than not. It doesn't matter who you love. Many of the feelings and experiences we have are the same. Getting to know someone is the best defense against prejudice. Love is the absence of judgment and an open heart and an open mind or the bridge toward differences. I leave you today with a few words of the lyrics from the 1966 song. Get together. It was true then, and it's even more true now. If you hear the song I sing, you will understand. Listen, you hold the key to love and fear. All in your trembling hand. Just one key, unlocks them both. It's there at your command. Come on, people now, smile on your brother, everybody get together. I try to love one another right now. I'll leave a link in the show notes below where you can find Jim's books and follow him on social media.