Since the 1950’s when televisions became a fixture in most American homes, stories based on families have been one of the most popular formats for hit series. The birth of the family sitcom gave us all extended on-screen families who, for better or for worse, influenced our view of real-life family roles.
Over the years, the evolving portrayal of TV dads has shown us an incredibly broad spectrum of messages, from the stern, often unapproachable reminder that Father Knows Best, to the idea that apathy and emasculation sets in when men are Married With Children. But real fathers aren’t the irrelevant co-stars in a family that television has often led us to believe.
I’m one of the lucky ones: my father has always challenged those extreme Dad stereotypes by being gentle and strong at the same time. He balanced the important lessons of hard work and perseverance that every kid needs, with the nurturence and unconditional love that every kid wants. I grew up knowing there are, in fact, real dads like this — good men with great goals for their children. And if you ask me, we need to give them a spotlight more often.
Fortunately today, we’re seeing better portrayals of dads on television. TV shows depict a diversity of fathers who aren’t addicted to outdated gender roles or uncomfortable being active members of their families.
As people have been staying home in recent months, families have turned to entertainment and television more than ever. Our favorite characters have gotten us through quarantine, and fans look up to the artists who entertain us. But if you’re anything like me, you feel better watching on-screen stars who are great people off-screen as well. I recently found that elusive combination in a pair of dads who have taken their parenting role to new heights.
Actors Tyler Poelle and Brandon Barash are familiar faces in your living room, but household heroes in their own living rooms. Although they regularly play dads and work with child co-stars on TV, their roles as dads in real life are their greatest honors.
Together, these two witty friends make up “The Fathership,” a wildly popular online platform that has cranked up their Dad powers to a whole new level of cool. Through funny, relatable, and heartwarming posts and videos, Poelle and Barash are showing the world that fathers can be both strong and sensitive, and that single dads can do everything from homeschooling to hair-braiding.
Poelle and Barash are actors who are dedicated to their craft, but dedicated to their children more than anything else. They were gracious enough to talk to me about the most meaningful aspect of their lives, and offer parenting insights which are truly inspiring. So hop aboard The Fathership as these dynanic dads share some of the parenting wisdom they’ve picked up during their role of a lifetime — fatherhood.
He’s grown more than comfortable being that guy at the gym with the rainbow manicure his daughter gave him, or the father who is outnumbered by mothers — he’s actually honored. It’s a role he has wanted ever since he and his ex-wife began looking into adoption.
“I felt connected to this little kid when we were looking for her,” Poelle shared of the search which eventually led to Aurora’s birth mother, Alicia. “We always say [to our daughter] ‘You were made in Alicia’s belly and in your mom’s heart and my heart’.”
Poelle has openly celebrated this connection with his daughter, who is always excited to talk about her birth story and its serendipitous timing. “Aurora was born the day before my birthday, so I took her home from the hospital on my 30th birthday,” he reminisced. “I always tell her, ‘You were the best birthday present I’ve ever had, I don’t need anything else’.”
As a Hollywood actor, Poelle found that keeping up with the Los Angelanos is a very real thing. “As enlightened as I thought I was, I really succumbed to a town where you have to prove your worth,” he recalled. “I thought I needed a lot of things, and I measured my success on whether I could obtain this amount of money, this house, this marker I saw represented in the world that was a sign of outward achievement.”
But fatherhood begged to differ.
“Then I had a kid, and I realized that what I wanted was just to be present — and that’s free — and I decided my job was not just to keep her happy but to raise her well.”
Single parenthood provided an even greater opportunity for some valuable life lessons. Following his divorce, Poelle recognized that he had to start so much over and adapt to his new lifestyle. “I think the initial adjustment was redefining what I thought of success as a parent,” he shared. “But then I asked myself, ‘Is my kid happy?’ and I looked around my new little apartment that I had gotten and my kid was smiling ear to ear.” He quickly learned that in some ways, children teach us more about life than we teach them. “My daughter doesn’t care so much about the stuff,” Poelle realized. “She cares about the time.”
Of course, the responsibility of raising a daughter isn’t simple for a single father. “I have to make sure I am as nurturing as I am protecting,” he acknowledged. Poelle took to Instagram one day to post a small victory in his new experience, with a caption that read something like, “Single dads can do it too.” And he received a message from an old friend, fellow actor Brandon Barash.
Poelle and Barash became friends after meeting in an acting class “a hundred years ago” but lost touch for several years during the time they each got married and became fathers. Barash wasn’t aware that Poelle had just gone through a divorce — as he had too — and reached out to him. “Brandon said to me, ‘Could we have lunch and just talk’,” Poelle recalled. “There’s no one to talk to about this stuff!”
Poelle vividly remembers the day the two single dads sat at a Japanese restaurant in the Valley and laughed for hours over bathtime war stories and other challenges they hadn’t expected. Although they had known each other for years, they now provided each other welcome support around a role they felt was lacking attention. And then Brandon had an idea.
He suggested to Tyler that the pair make a video about fatherhood and being single dads raising daughters. They started an Instagram account where they posted short videos and moments from their daily lives, and ingeniously named their new baby “The Fathership.” They began hearing from countless people who appreciated the support their entertaining but poignant videos provided.
The Fathership gained fans among single parents and anyone interested in engaged parenting. Things like Poelle’s self-taught hair and makeup skills he puts to use for his daughter’s dance recitals make him an inspiration for other girl dads. “It’s important for dads to see they can be part of their daughters’ lives in non-traditional ways,” Poelle added. The Fathership will be welcoming more fans on board soon, as Poelle and Barash are in talks with people excited to take the project to another level.
Poelle’s identity is Dad — it follows him from home to projects like The Fathership to even being on set. The actor recalls a time when he was playing the Dad in an insurance commercial and the director’s demeanor and intensity of the set were anxiety-provoking for the boy playing his son. Poelle took the young actor under his wing during a stressful taping and made a game of it to ease his nerves. In those moments, as he imagines his own daughter standing across from him, Poelle is a father on-screen and off.
While Poelle continues to spread positivity by sharing his fatherhood experiences with others and supporting young co-stars, his main focus continues to be raising his daughter well, and teaching her what he believes are some of life’s most valuable lessons.
“I adore her and she adores me, but it’s clear to her that I’m her parent,” he notes. “And I try to teach her that in our family we have grit and we try hard.” He’s learned to incorporate life-teaching into quarantine homeschooling, remembering to enjoy even the stressful times — like the shocking discovery that kids today don’t carry the one. “I can either hate it and be grumpy or do it with a smile, so years from now she will look back and laugh at how bad I am at math,” he joked.
One of the most important lessons he models is learning how to apologize and admitting to slip-ups as opportunities for growth. “I want my daughter to apologize well and to understand that a mistake doesn’t have to be shameful,” he explained, citing the key lime pie he recently made for Aurora that turned out barely edible.
As he shares lessons with his daughter, Poelle continues to learn his own, like the value of presence and time. And through the age-old parental challenge of sacrifices versus self-care, Poelle has realized that the latter is just as important for Aurora as it is for him. “I care more about her happiness than my own, but I need to model for her what a happy adulthood, a happy job, a happy relationship looks like.” Because parents who can be gentle on themselves reflect that gentleness for their children. “There’s so much pressure on parents but there’s freedom when we just live consciously,” he added. “And it’s important to me that I take her on that ride.”
Brandon Barash is one of the most recognizable faces in the world of daytime television. He spent nine years portraying Johnny Zacchara on General Hospital and currently plays Jake Lambert on Days of Our Lives. While soap fans are fascinated with the lives of Barash’s characters, this doting dad’s personal life is the real story with heart.
Talking to Barash about parenthood is like a refreshing crash course in Honest Parenting 101. His approach to fatherhood is the perfect blend of sensitivity and matter-of-fact reality. He unequivocally believes his role as a father is his all-time best, and his unwavering commitment to his 6 year old daughter Harper is exemplary.
Barash admits that when he first found out he was going to be a father, he, like many men, imagined himself having a son. A boy’s legacy to carry on the Barash name was at the forefront of his mind, although he now laughs at the fact that he even thought that way. “I was convinced Harper was going to be a boy,” he shared. But when he found out he and ex-wife Kirsten Storms were having a girl, he immediately had a change of heart. “I melted, I was crying,” he admitted.
Barash attributes a lot of his fatherly instincts and his commitment to family to the strong relationship he had with his late father. And becoming Harper’s dad just completed the picture. “This little girl has unlocked so much in me,” he revealed. Having a daughter brought out in Barash “a level of sensitivity and understanding and presence” that he feels was “life altering.” His role is one he takes very seriously. “This is the most important job I will ever have,” Barash stated confidently. “It is our job, it is our freaking duty to raise these kids well.”
While the challenges of juggling career and parenthood do exist for Barash, he has been fortunate to work in an industry and a location that allows him time to be with Harper. His work on Days of Our Lives is based near his home, and he simply refuses jobs that would take him away from his daughter. “I’ve turned down parts that don’t film in L.A.,” he admits. Unless an out-of-town project allowed him to bring Harper, Barash isn’t interested. “I don’t want anything to do with it if it’s far,” he firmly stated.
These are clear examples of what Barash calls the “shift of priorities” that comes with parenthood. “Since the moment you first hear that heartbeat you know life’s not about you anymore,” he eloquently explained.
Barash’s adjustment to the changes of parenthood were at times, you could say, a bit “rocky.” In his single days, one of his favorite ways to unwind was to go on long, peaceful hikes in Big Sur, California, where he’d sit with a good drink and relish the serenity of the scenery. “It’s my favorite place on earth,” he shared. When he became a family man, he decided to bring his wife and daughter to his happy place to attempt an “easy hike.”
Barash led his family up a trail, with baby and bulky stroller in tow, until he realized it was a mistake. “I realized that if I tripped and fell, that stroller was going down too, and we just couldn’t do it,” he recalled. In that moment, Barash faced his new reality and made the wise — but disappointing — decision to turn his crew around. “I was not happy,” he admitted, laughing.
Barash delivers some refreshing honesty about these sacrifices and the guilt parents feel for having personal wishes. “We’re taught we can’t be selfish,” he says. “But we’re human.”
Another reality check came in 2016 when Barash and Storms divorced. While Barash recognizes the stigma single parenthood still carries in society, he keeps an optimistic — and realistic — outlook. “People sometimes look at single parents and think they did something wrong, but fifty perfect of marriages end in divorce . . . it’s the reality of the world we live in,” he said. “Honestly, [by divorcing] we did our daughter the biggest favor in the world.”
As a single man, raising a little girl certainly presented some learning experiences. “A lot of the time as single dads we’re playing both roles of mother and father, which is tricky,” he noted. But Barash’s love for being a “girl dad” is evident. “There’s nothing like it,” he gushed.
When Barash reconnected with his old friend Tyler Poelle after both of their divorces, they started what he calls “a support group for two” that turned into a popular web series about single dads. The Fathership, which he says got its name based on the friendship of the dad duo, quickly became an online sensation, reaching 50K followers on Instagram almost immediately following its launch. Lucky for us, more of The Fathership is headed our way. “It’s something we’ve had big plans for a long time,” he revealed of an upcoming new platform for the series.
The relatable content of The Fathership makes it appeal to a wide variety of audiences. “If you are a parent you can relate, if you have parents you can relate, no matter what we say it applies to somebody,” he explained. In a world full of self-help books and social media accounts dominated by moms, Barash is proud to carve out a piece for single fathers. “There’s so much about parenting but so few dad accounts online that present men as role models,” he explained, adding that dads shouldn’t be seen as the “goofs” they are often portrayed on television. “Dads can be vulnerable and soft, and we want to show that it’s okay to be a sensitive father, it’s good to cry with your kid and talk about tough things with your kid.”
Fans frequently commend Barash and his ex-wife Storms for their model co-parenting behavior. The former couple share social media posts of them reading bedtime stories together to Harper, bringing her to Disneyland for an annual birthday tradition, and most recently, celebrating her Kindergarten Zoom graduation. Their exemplary teamwork leads many fans to ask what their secret is to such successful co-parenting.
In my conversation with Barash, he had a simple answer. “Put your personal b.s. aside,” he said bluntly. “If you care about your kid being happy, if that’s really what your intentions are, you’re gonna make it work.” He has learned that there’s no room for grudge-holding in raising children. “That’s only hurting my child and me, because I can’t grow as a human being.”
Barash’s self-awareness comes from work he’s done to develop his healthy outlook. He cites important reading material including the book Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg, which gave him great perspective. “It talks about how words can be weapons . . . when we take that away, you can disarm the other person by just communicating peacefully and see this person with compassion,” he explained. “More than likely they’ll see you with the same compassion.”
Of course, no parent is immune to stress, and Barash works consistently to maintain his emotional well-being for himself and for his daughter. “Something that has saved my ass has been meditation,” he emphasized. Barash has been meditating for about five years and feels strongly about its effectiveness in combatting stress. His tried and true daily routine consists of morning meditation, followed by brewing a cup of tea, and making breakfast. If he skips meditation, he can tell the difference in his mood. “I equate it to running a marathon without stretching,” he said. If he feels he needs more time during the day to center himself, he listens to his gut. “I might say [to Harper], ‘Hey I need 10 minutes,’ and go to another room just to reset.”
Having the right intentions, being present, and practicing self-care are some of Barash’s mantras. And while he recognizes he doesn’t have all the answers, he’s eager to keep learning in order to give his daughter the best version of himself.
Barash’s open-minded attitude and admirable methods of co-parenting offer inspiration to so many fans in similar situations. And his focus on what really matters in life is a lesson for us all. “If you apply what you’ve read, if you make your best efforts, it’s okay if you make mistakes,” he said. “Maybe you’ve swung and missed but it’s how you pick up pieces afterwards.” It’s clear that Barash has learned volumes from his role of a lifetime, and his words are some to live by: “If you’re well-intentioned and present with your kid, it’s gonna work out . . . it just is.”
Photos courtesy of Tyler Poelle, Brandon Barash, and @thefathership