A Week in the Life of a Stay-at-Home Dad (and Momentary OpenAI CEO)
Just when I thought I was out, THEY PULL ME BACK IN
It used to be simple.
Dad went to work. He earned the bread. He came back, broke it, shared it amongst his children and said: “Shut up and eat up.”
You were judged a good father by your presence, your ability to provide, and your role as the boss of the house. But things are different today. One of the biggest shifts for this generation of dads is we’re the first to wrestle with the idea of having it all—a struggle familiar to the many mums who tune in here every week. We’re now expected by society, our partners, and our peers (although curiously not our employers) to lean in at home. We may long for it—to escape the gravitational pull of the office, to break away from generations of tradition, and form a new relationship with work; a valiant attempt to prevent our family from being left to pick at the scraps of our carcass after the workday is done.
Because we spend our two most virile decades giving ourselves to work. Building a name, a reputation, momentum, trajectory, whatever you might call it—hoping to hit escape velocity and into the stratosphere of our chosen industry. You might dedicate your entire career to making it. But what happens when you get there?
Like me, former Twitch CEO Emmett Shear turned 40 this year. But, rather unlike me, he entered his fifth decade with an estimated $500 million in the bank. We’ve breezed past “A Milli” and have landed firmly in the realms of Half A Billi here. We’re talking a whole lotta moolah: a number way beyond anyone’s top-end of ”fuck you money”—the mythical amount needed to be able to tell your boss (or anyone who asks) to go take a long walk off a short pier. In March 2023, 16 years into running Twitch, after building it into one of the most successful consumer products of this era and exiting to the tune of a billion-dollar Amazon acquisition, Shear closed his company-owned laptop for the last time. “I want to be fully there for my son as he enters this world,” he shared with us, and almost certainly his partner. “With the arrival of my son, the time has come for me to focus my energies on building that tiny little startup family, and I’m ready to dedicate my energies there.”
Eight months—and approximately 2,400 diapers—later, he was back at work: “Today I got a call inviting me to consider a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: to become the interim CEO of OpenAI. After consulting with my family and reflecting on it for just a few hours, I accepted.”
“After reflecting on it for just a few hours” sounds exactly like what I’d write if I wanted to make sure I didn’t piss off both my new corporate overlords and my wife. Because after close to two decades of the insanity of running a tech behemoth, then promising to step away to focus on life at home, to enjoy working his way through vast riches and never-ending stays at idyllic locations … BOOM. He’s back in the fray. Of his own accord. A “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity that couldn’t be turned down.
A huge caveat: this is all conjecture. I have no idea what went through Shear’s mind as he clicked the big red “end call” button on the same Google Meet window the board used to fire his predecessor days earlier. But how long did he reflect on it, if at all? How did that conversation with his partner go down? Had he already decided he was going to take the job and went through the motions at home? How strong was the offer's pull, and that boost his self-esteem? Because, with half a billion in the bank, his decision wouldn’t have been driven by money.
Ego must play a role here: the world’s most hyped company, the hottest thing in tech for over a decade, is crumbling before our eyes after the assassination of their chosen one: The A.Ides of March. As a generative high-resolution rendering of Rome burns, those who remain select YOU to right the ship (even though you may have been their third, or even fourth, choice).
What must have gone through his mind at this time?
OpenAI’s tale will keep twisting and turning. We’ve had three seasons’ worth of Succession drama in a weekend, and it seems—less than a week into this ordeal—we’re back where we started, with OG CEO and temporary Microsoft employee Sam Altman back at the helm. Shear’s 3-day run as interim CEO will likely be forgotten in the annals of history. (At least by the tech press. I can’t speak for his partner. He might be sleeping on the sofa for a while.)
The career comings and goings of tech billionaires aren’t what I’d typically spend my time (and yours) pondering. But, like the myths of old, there are lessons for us to learn. Because that ladder will always be there, begging to be climbed. Some do it vertically, loyally sticking with a single employer. Others move diagonally, hopping from one rung to another. You might work your way high up yours. You might, like Shear, make it to its apex—a place where an even richer man, with an even bigger ladder, buys yours from you. Then what?
Ten years after her child's birth, writer Susan Sontag wondered, “Where do I want my vitality to go? To books or to sex, to ambition or to love, to anxiety or to sensuality? Can’t have both.” Sontag’s experience as a mother is explored alongside other female creatives in Julie Phillips’ The Baby on the Fire Escape. In it, Phillips submerges herself into the thorny space many mothers have learned to call home—torn between being a loving parent and an independent soul, contemplating the give and take of those early days of child-rearing:
Babies demand your entire self, but it is a funny kind of self. It is a mixture of the “all” a factory worker gives to the conveyor belt and the “all” a lover offers to the one he adores. It involves, on both counts, a fair degree of self-abnegation. This is why people who mind children suffer from despair; it happens all of a sudden—they realise, all of a sudden, that they still exist.
Did that call with the OpenAI board help Shear realise he still “existed?” One thing I offer, from a place of personal experience (having gone back to work a few weeks after the birth of my first child, and then taking six months off for my second), is that being a stay-at-home parent was difficult in dramatically different dimensions than I had ever experienced previously. I'd argue it’s tougher than being the CEO of a company—especially if that’s a role you’ve been grooming yourself towards your entire career.
Fatherhood opens windows of possibility. But it comes with pitfalls—places where your footing is unsound, your experience limited, where you can easily lose your sense of self without the anchor of work to pull you back from the brink. The internal shifts that occur on becoming a father, seeing your centre of gravity reorientate towards a new life you’ve brought into the world, is something I’ve seen reflected in the dads I’ve been coaching—those years spent furiously pedalling on the hamster wheel: sheer dedication, immense effort, but minimal meaningful progress outside of a better title or a more comfortable paycheck. As a coaching client recently offered in a line that will stay with me for a while: “I’m sick of working on self-betterment for the benefit of others.”
“It’s socially acceptable for guys to prioritise their jobs,” Pathless writer and fellow dad Paul Millerd pointed out over text as we discussed the OpenAI news this morning. Female CEOs who become mothers are asked how they juggle running a company and being a parent. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a similar question posed to a male CEO. It’s this belief that saw former YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki getting asked how many days a week she is home for dinner at the same time that my former boss (at the same company) berated me for leaving the office to be home for my daughter’s bath time. As the meta-narrative around parenting in the 21st century pushes us towards an equal share of responsibilities across genders, men will continue to struggle in a world where we’re defined by the job that we do. The tectonic plates of purpose and meaning transform when we become parents—and whilst this doesn’t happen to every single dad out there, I’d wager that selection bias means if you’re reading this newsletter, you over-index on this feeling against the general population.
As concepts like “fuck you money” become more widely attainable—through being more intentional about where you choose to live or refocusing your future lens through something like Reddit’s Financial Independence / Retiring Early (FIRE) community—our definition of “enough” can shift and free us from the shackles of work that may bind us today, or pull us back in tomorrow.
And, after all this, we return to Emmett. After “~72 very intense hours of work”, and refinding unemployment, Shear will walk out of his home office, return to the nursery chair, and read The Going To Bed Book to his son once more; settling back into that paradoxical cocoon of warm cosiness and mind-warping intensity familiar to any new parent, as he awaits his next once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“The day is done. They say good night, and somebody turns off the light.
The moon is high. The sea is deep. They rock, and rock, and rock to sleep.”
That’s it for this week. Getting this out before they fire Altman again.
How was this one for you? Your feedback helps me make this great.
Big “just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in” energy here.