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Dan La Berge is a stay-at-home dad, a dad of three, an older dad, and actively running Mother’s Helpers, the non-profit his wife started. In other words, La Berge’s life is dedicated to the well-being of kids. After he became a parent at the age of 45, La Berge went all in, reshaping his life to be a role model dad and positive paternal figure for all kids in his community.
“I met my wife Robin 11 years ago in May,” says La Berge. “We were engaged by the end of June and married in September. A year later we were pregnant with our first child. Our life unfolds rapidly and we don’t waste time worrying about ‘what ifs.’”
As a stay-at-home dad, La Berge is versed in domestic life. He cooks many meals, does the laundry, and is the point parent for the commute, running the kids to and from school every day. He supports his wife’s career and takes care of all the kid stuff at home without thinking twice about it. “My wife and I are modern, mixed-up parents who overlap and complement each other in so many ways. Gender doesn’t really factor into how we parent,” he says.
He is also notably attentive to all his kids’ emotional needs. He teaches Lilia, age 6, to “not take crap from anyone,” he says. “I was raised by a single mother and I was taught to be respectful to women just as much as I was taught to respect men.” He works on Lukas, the youngest’s need to be a part of the pack and fully supported. And for Hudson, his 9-year-old, La Berge continues to encourage him to be more aware of others’ feelings and to understand empathy.
But his parenting abilities expand beyond the nuclear family. Almost a decade ago, Robin created a nonprofit to help underserved mothers in the community called Mothers’ Helpers. La Berge was with her every step of the way, helping collect donations and dropping off care packages to mothers in need. Today, Mothers’ Helpers provides aid to more than 200 families in the Santa Barbara area. The family’s weekends are now spent volunteering together in the Mothers’ Helpers warehouse organizing supplies and taking donations. Dan has also taken the step to enroll at Antioch University to get a Master’s degree in Business — hoping to use his education to financially guide the foundation as it grows.
The charity became much, much more than a project for the La Berges. After one of the mothers who had become a part of the Mothers’ Helpers community died in a tragic accident, the two didn’t hesitate to take in her then one-year-old son, Lukas. “We were faced with a huge decision to make, but it’s not like there was one — we went forward,” he says. “I was taught that you can get ahead all you want but if you don’t help the others around you then you won’t get very far.”
La Berge was raised by a single mother until the eighth grade, and moving once or twice a year required that he grow up fast — but gave him the necessary skills to provide for himself and to be comfortable to provide for others by listening and making real connections. “At first it was hard to be in high school and only make good, solid friendships with women — not the guys,” he says. “But then I realized that it was a good thing. It allowed me to become a more compassionate, whole man.”
His mother, JoAnna, is proud to see the man Dan has become and the family he created. He has assumed many roles — professional and familial, “and is doing all of this in his mid-fifties,” she says.
La Berge is an energetic, attentive dad, but at 55, is aware of the limitations age can bring. “I know I’m not alone in being a father of young children in my fifties,” he says, “I bring a great many new things to the table as being older but it’s a tradeoff — do I have the energy? I have to keep my vitality and to do that means honoring the things that my mind and body need.”
And that’s why he still focuses on his own health, happiness, and goals despite a demanding schedule and a family life in full swing. “If I don’t set that example of reaching out for the things that I want then what am I doing to set my kids up with inspiration?” he says. “You do the best for yourself so you can give the best of yourself to the ones you love. It’s that necessary balance.”
It’s the balance that he knows everyone is trying to find for themselves, and there’s no one-size-fits-all equation. “I follow Ryan Reynolds on Twitter — I think he’s hilarious and he’s an amazing dad and sometimes I catch myself wishing I could be more like that — but we can’t all be Ryan Reynolds,” he says. “I bet Ryan sometimes wishes he could be more like me, because there’s nothing but love and stories and kisses at the end of the day and we make the best of what we have.”
It’s easy to fall into that trap. “Robin and I chide ourselves constantly for falling short here or there,” he says. “But I know we’re too hard on ourselves and if I’m making my mother proud and my kids feel loved, that’s what keeps my zeal alive to continue doing my best for my family and how I father.”