Joey Gonzalez was sure he had it all figured out: As the CEO of Barry’s (formerly known as Barry’s Bootcamp) — the high-interval workout program and fitness empire with more than 70 studios in 14 countries — he’d worked his way up from being a member who was there so often taking classes that the eponymous founder asked him if he wanted to be a coach — to ultimately becoming global CEO. Gonzalez says it was “really the relentless pursuit of something that I loved.”
“I think you work so hard in life, typically, by the time you get to a CEO role… you’ve found your stride and excel in overseeing the various functions and understanding and can predict day-to-day” of just about anything.
Until kids come into the picture, that is. “Becoming a dad or parent very quickly reminds you of how little you know. It’s just an incredibly humbling experience. I’ve been doing it now for seven years and I still have never got to the point where I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m so good at this,’ ” he says. “I feel like I’m constantly falling on my face as a parent.”
Gonzalez and his husband, Jonathan Rollo, live in Miami with their two children, daughter Frankie, 7, and son Jake, 6. While Jake’s graduating from an obsession with cars to an obsession with games, Gonzalez says Francesca has an epically wild imagination. “Most of what she loves is all in her head, which is such a gift because she’s always just having the best time no matter what it is.”
Gonzalez says his kids have taught him a lot, mostly that he doesn’t know anything at all, but also about what balance really means, which is to say, that it mainly means that you will always disappoint someone. With studios all over the world — with a cult following and lots of famous clientele — the expansion of Barry’s means Gonzalez has to travel a lot.
It’s a bargain he’s had to learn to accept.
“I think for a while I really believed in this idea of balance — finding balance — and thought that I could somehow be the one to figure it out,” he says, laughing. And while balance may elude the best of us, his fight to figure it out has led him to learn the importance of boundaries.
“Fatherhood and parenting can be very similar to running a business,” he said. “If you set your objectives and you have some KPIs, you can stick to promises.”
One of Gonzalez’s promises as a dad? That he only does work travel a certain number of days a year. Though he loves that part of the job, he recognizes that it’s hard on everyone — including himself.
“It’s really hard for me to travel. They get upset, I get upset. [I] accept the fact that this whole notion and idea of balance is ridiculous. At the end of the day, I always say you’re really just forced to wake up and choose who you’re going to disappoint. Balance for you does not necessarily mean making everybody happy.”
When they welcomed their first child, Francesca, the exercise-obsessed-dad understandably — and quite happily — put fitness to the wayside.
“When I first became a dad — those first 18 months to two years — [they] were incredibly rewarding and enriching, and 100% focused on fatherhood. And I let a lot of me go. I wasn't working out that much. I wasn't eating that well. I don't have any regrets, because I was just so immersed in that experience. And then once two years went by, I decided it was time to find balance again for both myself and my kids.” Gonzalez now makes sure he does cardio and strength training five days a week — for him, 10-plus hours of exercise a week is a necessity. It also makes him a better parent.
Becoming a dad or parent very quickly reminds you of how little you know. It’s just an incredibly humbling experience.
“I just [feel] generally better and more positive throughout the day. Your thought world can have such an impact on your children — the way you react to them, what you say to them, whether or not you're optimistic. And when you do things to make yourself feel better… you are doing that for your children.”
When I ask Gonzalez for advice on how busy parents can prioritize physical fitness — even if that looks more like a daily walk than daily high-intensity workouts — he has some tough advice. The kind you’d expect from a trainer committed to kicking your ass in a 60-minute cardio and strength class.
“People hate hearing this,” he says. “I remember being on the receiving end of this and being triggered. But not having the time is the worst excuse. You make time — and you prioritize your life. And that is a simple truth. There's nothing wrong with not integrating fitness into your life, unless you're not happy. If you're not happy, you need to find the time. There isn't anything that is going to help you live longer, avoid disease, be generally happier, and avoid mental health issues. There's nothing better than physical activity and exercise,” he says.
Gonzalez, a first-generation American — his dad is Cuban and his mom Italian — also prioritizes travel and cultural exchange as a parent. The week before we talked, the whole family had just come back from a trip to Italy — to visit his mom’s hometown, to see Pompeii, and the Coliseum, Naples, Rome.
“It was just so incredible for my kids, at the age they're at now, starting to create core memories that they're going to remember for the rest of their life. And I could see them observing all of the cultural differences, from food, to language, to communication, and transportation, and everything that is so different in Italy than it is for the United States. Which was really, I think, a great gift for them. To actually have my mom be able to walk us through her hometown, a really small village, and show us the house where she grew up — it was really special.”
What is your favorite thing to do together as a family?
I would say probably something that nobody does anymore, which is going to the movies. My kids love it and my husband and I have always loved it. It's something that the four of us really, really enjoy.
If you have one hour to yourself, what are you doing?
What do you think?
Yes… I’m a weird person, but I love working out. There was a ski trip we went on, my husband's family lives in Park City, Utah, and I couldn't ski and it was vacation time, so I didn't have to work. I went to the gym at 10:00 AM after dropping everyone off and I would stay till 2:00. I was in heaven. I couldn't believe it. I almost cried on the first day because I could spend all day exercising. It was the best.
Give us one book, record, movie, or, TV recommendation.
Cruel Summer Season Two. It's a shameless plug — two of my best friends produce it, and actually, I have a cameo in the first season.
Name the most important skill that you are passing down to your kids, or that you want to pass down to your kids.
I'm trying to teach my kids what it means to be a servant leader, especially my daughter — because she demonstrates some pretty severe leadership skills. She likes to stay in control, she's very bossy. We don't want to extinguish that in her at all! But I'm definitely trying to teach her how to be a servant leader, which means to practice active listening, to allow others that you might be leading to have a voice. From my perspective, it's something we practice across every function at Barry's in the leadership team. It's really just about empowering the people that report to you.
If you could give one piece of advice to your former kid-free self, what would it be?
Sleep. There were Sundays where my husband and I used to just not do anything. I just can't even believe that now. I wish I could have one of those days again. Because what nobody tells you is when you become a parent, weekends actually become your work week, because you're literally on all day long. Saturday night, you hit the pillow and you're dead.
What’s your skincare routine?
Oh gosh, it’s not great.
Really? You’ve got amazing skin.
Over the last probably five years, I’ve done fairly regular microneedling and other facial stuff. I will never say never, but to this point, I've never had an injection or anything in my face. Who knows? I'm getting up there now, so that might change. I'd say I don't over wash my face, which is interesting. A lot of people have a crazy routine of washing and moisturizing. My mom is born and raised in southern Italy, so she had a more, I'd say, traditional, "Don't overshower, don't over wash your face, let your natural oils be outside in the sun without any sunblock,” attitude. You know what I mean? All these things that are like nobody does these days. I have a very unconventional skincare routine.