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Copywriter Tim Koehler on Being an Ad Dad

Being an Ad Dad is Rad! <- Dad Joke!

Contrary to what the television tells us, being a dad in 2015 is the best. Sure, we get a bad rap for setting breakfast on fire, putting diapers on babies upside down, and being generally aloof to any kind of harm kids are putting themselves in. (Pennies + light sockets = built character, right?) We’re all just walking Peter Griffins. At least we’re portrayed that way. But for freewheeling creatives who thrive on new experiences, there’s one final frontier you can’t explore from a book or the Internet. Being a baby-daddy.

I’m not going to lie. It’s tough. The thought of my kids becoming back-talking teens and learning to twerk was enough to get me bargain-shopping vasectomies. And the college fund! I would think to myself, “Hopefully by the year 2033 our alien overloads would have already harvested our blood for fuel, saving me the trouble of starting a 529 plan.”

But I get it now. Millennials don’t want to work 90-hour workweeks and prefer more vacation time over raises. (Although raises are fantastic.) I didn’t know I wanted that too until my little guy came along and slowed me down a few pegs. The benefits of kids are rarely honestly conveyed to the public. They’re seen as a drain. Money, energy, sleep, your social life … they take all these away from you. But whether you’re married, single, gay, lesbian, cat or dog — get a kid! (If you’re in high school and you’re reading this, ask your parents first.) Here’s a thimbleful of reasons having a kid can shrink but expand your whole worldview.


Seriously. You’re going to shy away from a few late nights and dirty diapers because it’s too time-consuming? Or too hard? But you’ll do 90-hour workweeks to come up with the perfect Newman’s Own hashtag?

What people forget about having babies is that babies aren’t babies for very long. In three to five months, if all is well, those handheld squeak toys weigh enough to sleep through the night. Usually 10 to 11 hours. That leaves you 10 to 11 hours to figure out if Jeff Goldblum or Michael Keaton is the best choice to shill your client’s new 11-blade razors.

I know you’ve only heard the worst-case scenarios. The ones about the kids who didn’t shut their eyes until they were 23 or only slept when hoisted in a sex swing being dragged behind a tractor. (Don’t try that). For most people, that doesn’t last.

The fact is, ad geeks love new and strange things, and kids will introduce you to a bizarre world you didn’t know existed. We’re blessed with all this extra energy that, for the most part, we like putting towards our client’s needs. But when you take some of that energy and store it away into your little clone, you start thinking differently. Smarter. You think, “I don’t have all night to work,” so you actually get shit done during the day. You turn off the emails, put on the headphones, shut the door, and power through assignments like you’re a goddamn creative Thor.


In a lot of agencies, the boundary between personal life and work life is still nonexistent. But we aren’t savages anymore. (You know, like our dads were.) Fathers don’t go out and drink while the wife is giving birth, they don’t expect dinner on the table promptly at 6 p.m., and they don’t sacrifice their relationships because a Super Bowl spot is getting briefed in. (Okay, yeah, a Super Bowl spot is a big deal. Our kids will totally understand as long as we get to work with Liam Neeson. That’s like a once-in-a-lifetime thing.)

Seriously, a lot of agencies aren’t just focusing on new moms, but dads as well. They’re starting to offer time off for newborns and work-from-home hours. The “Mad Men” days of Dad being the provider and not the parent are going away. The Cat’s in the Cradle song was too spot on. Nobody wants to see their kids grow up through FaceTime or through Instagram photos (that’s how the song went, right)? In advertising, it’s been all too common of a story.

We’ve all heard the tale of the ECD’s kid who drew a picture of the family … and a cell phone in place of Dad. In some urban legends, Dad is replaced by an airplane. Well, guess what? A cell phone isn’t the problem. It allows us to leave the office in the middle of a slow day and work from just about anywhere. And the best feature on it is the power button. It feels good to just shut it off every now and again and just play with the family. We all say advertising isn’t the end of the world. I only believed it once another human being became my world.


One of my favorite Simpsons episodes is the flashback one where Maggie is born. We learn that Homer has to ask for his job back at the nuclear plant when he learns he’s having a third kid. (SPOILER ALERT)! Mr. Burns concedes, but puts a sign up in front of Homer that reads, “Don’t forget. You’re here forever.”

Homer takes all of Maggie’s baby pictures and covers up the letters so that it reads, “Do it for her.” It really tugs on the heartstrings if you’re sappy.

It’s also insane.

You’ll do anything for your kid. Especially if you’re the sole provider. But you’re not doing anyone justice by being on call 24/7. If Homer was REALLY working at the plant only to support his youngest daughter (my god, who’s eternally 6-months old) then he’s ruining everyone’s lives.

There are so many agencies and so many different cultures nowadays that there’s a place for everyone. Agencies are welcoming parents with open arms while continuing to maintain a high creative standard. This biz is big time about relationships. Don’t be scared about finding a place that lets you be a great creative and a great dad. You don’t have to give up building your book or career. We’re no longer forced to choose between being dad and being boss.


The best part about having a kid? How about being able to go up to your own dad and say, “See! It’s not hard at all! This is how you do it! There’s no cigarette burns! He doesn’t have an eye patch! What are you looking at, Cheryl! YOU’RE NOT MY REAL MOM! Why won’t you teach me how to shave!”

Haaaaa … sorry, that was awkward.

Kids let you take all of your creative energy and put it towards anything you want to do. No strings attached. I love singing the Nightmare on Elm Street nursery rhyme to my son before he falls asleep. (You know, the one that ends with nine, ten, never sleep again. He just nods right off.) And it feels good to tell him to go into a grocery store and just say “Hodor” over and over again. No client approvals. No getting the rights to a song. No budgets. No bullshit.

And being a dad gives us something to truly leave behind. As creatives, we’re always seeking recognition. And we all get a few minutes of fame every year with fun television spots, well-timed tweets, and innovating our client’s products. But in the end, that is so fleeting. Kids are our greatest projects, and the best part is we’re the clients. Our brood is always in beta, and every day is launch day.

So to old dads, new dads, ad dads and future dads — cheers to the dads!

Tim Koehler
Senior Copywriter, Seattle

thought leadership