Jim Joseph has built a hugely successful career in the world of marketing. He has launched exciting new products, promoted powerful businesses, and even authored a well-regarded book about the value of branding.
But his latest tome tells the story of the most important, and challenging, campaign in his long career: The one to build himself a happier life.
“Eventually, you can get to a point where you know you have to do something — because you're so unhappy that things just can't feel any worse," says Joseph. “I once got to that point. I knew I had to do something to change my life."
Joseph traces this journey in “Out & About Dad," his new book out June 2. He is a gay father of two children born during marriage to his (now) ex-wife, and in his memoir Joseph recounts with humor, heart, and bracing honesty his experiences with coming out and juggling single parenthood with a fast-moving career. From the sadness and frustration that precipitated his divorce to navigating the challenges of the corporate closet, Joseph's experiences will seem familiar to many. And he says that's precisely why he decided to write “Out & About Dad": to offer inspiration, practical advice, and a sense of empathy and understanding to the countless potential readers who have also reached the end of a proverbial rope, and discovered that they need to rebrand their life.
“Today, images of gay dads are pervasive. There's an entire community on social media, hash-tagging together," says Joseph, who observes a very different climate than that which he encountered while starting life as a single gay dad in the mid 90s. “Back in the day, it wasn't so accepted. Even if I had never used any of these resources, just seeing them would have been a validation that helped tremendously."
The then-dearth of representations of gay fatherhood contributed, in part, to Joseph's late reckoning with his sexuality. He harbored the desire to be a dad for as long as he can remember, but at the time those values didn't immediately jive with anything other than the assumption of a traditional heterosexual marriage. “I've thought about why I didn't figure things out sooner," says Joseph. “I really wanted children, and I think that was a motivating factor that really overwhelmed everything else in life."
Besides, “it seems crazy by today's standards, but I really had no exposure to gay people. I had nothing to look at and say, 'I think I'm more like that.'"
Joseph recounts how that changed as his increasingly unhappy marriage dissolved: A pair of friends, perhaps purposefully helping him test the water, invited him to hang at a gay bar. Joseph soon realized that it wasn't a new wife he wanted, but a new approach to the romantic side of life. The epiphany posed a challenge – but it was also something of a relief. “In an odd way, it was almost like an easy way out of the marriage," says Joseph. “There wasn't something for us to fix or solve. No one failed. It was that we had to move on in a different way."
In fact, some of the greatest challenges came after coming out. Like all single dads, he found himself forced to carry the daunting double-load of career and parenthood, and without support from those in similar circumstances: He was the only guy in the office who had to rush out of work for a PTA meeting. (And then he was the only gay dad when he to there.) And owing to the climate of the time, there was a lot of anxiety about what his corporate colleagues could — and couldn't — know about his family.
“I would be in meetings with a client who was talking about pulling their advertising out of the 'Ellen' show, because her coming-out was so controversial," recalls Joseph. “Talk about a sticky situation. Part of me thinks they know I'm gay; I've never said I'm not. Yet they're saying this in front of me, so I better keep my mouth shut or they won't hire me."
Meanwhile, as a primary caregiver for his son and daughter, Joseph had to contend from discrimination within the gay community itself. Dating was hard as a single dad with children from a marriage to a woman. Guys would grill him: How did he not know he was gay? He had been fooling himself, they would say; he was a coward, they would mock; he must have cheated on his wife, they would claim. (He never did.) “I got a lot of grief from guys for having kids," says Joseph. “It was a source of agita for me, figuring out when to tell them I was a dad — when to drop the bomb."
“I remember when I told one date, he excused himself from the table. He left."
Luckily, the right one stayed. Today Joseph has been with his partner for 16 years, and the tales he shares in “Out & About Dad" — from attending his first Gay Pride to sending his eldest off to college – paint the portrait of a happy modern family that may not look like the one the author originally envisioned for himself. But it is proof that it is never too late to embrace a path that truly makes you happy.
“I hope that it will help people in the middle of their own experience," says Joseph of his book. “Everyone has a different story. But reading about someone who it made it through, during a time when it was a lot harder — if that can motivate even one person, it will be worthwhile.