The beginning of your career as a father doesn’t have to be the end of your personal career ambitions, no matter how much it feels like it in your current sleep- or sanity-deprived state. Whatever it was you really wanted to do before before junior/ette joined the family is still totally achievable — at least, it is judging from the experiences of these 6 guys, none of whom reached the top of their game until they got past potty training (their kids. They, themselves, were potty trained the whole time).
Ang Lee, 60, Oscar-Winning Director
Lee received an MFA from NYU (another famous Lee — Spike — was a classmate), and was represented by William Morris after graduation, but didn’t get much work for 6 years. He was a stay-home father to his 2 children who kept pushing until his big break came in Taiwan in 1991, when he met the producer he’d later partner with to create Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. That kung fu classic earned him a 2000 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, which he followed up with Best Director wins for 2005’s Brokeback Mountain and 2012’s Life Of Pi — neither of which impressed his kids nearly as much as 2003’s Hulk.
Ta-Nehisi Coates, 39, Best-Selling Author
The celebrated journalist became a leading intellectual on matters of inequality, unequal opportunity, and other realities of African-American life after the publication of a 2014 cover story for The Atlantic magazine, “The Case for Reparations.” He’s now a fixture of debates on race relations in the U.S., but at the time of his son’s birth he was an unemployed dropout of Howard University. His recently released Between The World And Me shot to the top of best-seller charts, as well as President Obama’s summer reading list — not bad for a guy only a few years removed from earning 2 small freelance writing checks a year.
Sean “Puffy” Combs, 45, Entertainment Mogul
Before Puff Daddy became Diddy, who became Swag, who became MoneyMakin’Mitch, who became Puff Daddy (again), he was Sean Combs — a lowly intern at Uptown Records. A golden ear and a mind for turning artists into “ghetto fabulous” celebrities earned him the trust of the late Heavy D, who championed him all the way to VP of A&R, where he was promptly fired for insubordination. By the time his son Justin was born, Combs was out of money and out of a job, but a creative partnership with the Notorious B.I.G. and a $1.5 million advance from industry legend Clive Davis led the creation of Bad Boy Records, and that led to the creation of his various alter egos. And also a gazillion dollars.
Harland David “Colonel” Sanders, Deceased, Fried Chicken Magnate
In 1930, Sanders started serving fried chicken, country ham, steak and hot biscuits to guests of his Shell service station. Five years later he was officially given the honorary title of “Kentucky Colonel” by Governor Ruby Laffoon, and 17 years after that opened the first franchised KFC in the world, leading an army of fried chicken parts directly into the battlefields of many human bellies. He went on to become very rich and famous, and judging by new KFC commercials, totally immortal. But all that happened after he started a family at 20, when he was working on a railroad and taking odd jobs as a fireman.
Sidney Poitier, 88, Titan Of CinemaPoitier actually received good reviews as the lead of a Broadway production as early as 1949, but by the time his first of 6 daughters was born he was running a 12-seat BBQ rib joint in Harlem. It wasn’t until after his second daughter was born that Marty Baum, a big-name Hollywood agent, helped him land a leading role in 1963’s Lilies Of The Field, for which he became the first African American man to win an Oscar, for Best Actor. His ensuing body of work earned him a lifetime achievement Oscar, the Presidential Medal Of Freedom, and a knighting by the Queen of England. Not that maintaining a 12-seat BBQ restaurant wasn’t cool, too.
Momofuku Ando, Deceased, Noodle Innovator
Arguably the greatest late-blooming father of them all, Mr. Ando was 61 and 3 grown kids when he invented Cup Noodles. He reportedly ate them every day (the chicken flavor, duh) until the day he died in 2007 — at 96. Not only did Cup Noodles completely revolutionize food and turn Ando into a wealthy legend, the Japanese businessman is now celebrated in America every second Friday in January, when charitable food donations are made in his name. Considering how many people have kept themselves fed with his noodles — looking at you, college-aged self! — Ando probably touched more lives than any other guy on this list.