Interview with Dad of The Century — Hugh Weber
I met Hugh in the fall of 2014 while working on a social-impact driven marketing campaign for Selma — a biopic film about Martin Luther King Jr's movement to secure equal voting rights for black people in the face of violent opposition. I've continued to follow Hugh over the years, and I can confidently say that this man is one of the most inspiring individuals in my life. His commitment to bringing together people, including his kids, to make the world a better place is incredible. I recently connected with Hugh to discuss his insights on parenting progressive kids. I hope your as blown away by his musings as I am!
1. Hi Hugh! Tell us a little bit about yourself :)
I see myself as a catalyst for communities of all types — I come in to identify people, talents, connections and stories that exist, but that are often overlooked. Sometimes this is in a keynote address for a business and other times it is in a community residency.
My work tends to be very observational in nature. I follow what I call the “Potluck Strategy” based on the belief that everyone has something to contribute. Community is all about paying attention to those around you. It also works best when it is invitation-based — everyone can join but they also have the chance to say, “No”, which social media doesn’t often allow us to do.
Also, I believe that my work in communities needs to be celebration focused. In today’s culture, we generally only celebrate major milestones, but sometimes in a community it’s important to celebrate simply getting through the day. Generally this is the way I parent as well. With parenting we can get so bogged down the by the day-to-day stresses and struggles that we miss the smaller moments worth celebrating.
2. Do you think children having a sense of community is important for their growth and development? Why?
I spend a lot of time professionally exploring the importance of connection, creativity and community. There’s a major part of creativity that is linked to having access to people and ideas and having opportunities to connect and reconnect them. We also know that social isolation — or a lack of connection & community — underlies a whole host of illness and ailments from addiction to shorten life expectancy.
I believe a child’s early years are more important than their adolescence, and even career years, for developing an understanding of the world. I think a major part of a parent’s job is to make sure that children have the raw ingredients to build a worldview upon.
As a parent this can be tricky. For example, I can’t just send my kid to Montreal to be exposed to a major city. Also, I can’t always give them full autonomy to discover themselves. But I can provide an ecosystem where they can get exposed to things like diversity, intentional and expansive inclusion, and equity as principles. I can demonstrate community through my own relationships and actions. Community is a foundation and a gift for life.
We live in South Dakota which as a state is nearly 90% Caucasian. We made sacrifices to put Emerson [my oldest daughter] and Finian [my son] in a primary school that is more diverse. As parents, we have chosen to actively pursue a life of diversity for them. Em has a classmate who is gender non-conforming and Emerson has know him since she was in First Grade. Em doesn’t generally wear dresses, but the other day she told us, “I’ll wear a dress if he wears a dress.” She was willing to do this to make her classmate feel more comfortable and to create belonging. I’m in awe of her! Having a community she is personally invested in has removed barriers for her that I had into my adulthood — It has made her human-centric. Children’s capacity for everything (diversity, age, language, mentoring, education and understanding) is so much generous than adults. I wish I had that at her age.
3. How can parents help create an empowering community for their kids?
It needs to be intentional and sincere. It can’t only be taking your child to an annual multicultural festival. There needs to be an openness to facilitate relationships for your children. By limiting kids choices, we limit their discoveries and their broader possibility. If we present them with options that only look like themselves, we can’t expect them to be comfortable with options that don’t.
4. You’re a major proponent for storytelling, why do you think storytelling is important in our society?
Our storytellers whether they are poets, leaders or advertisers get to translate our culture, histories, aspirations, and futures. In that way, they are the most significant people within our society.
The role of storyteller is a discoverer, culture bearer and translator — someone who has to be analytical, who can understand insights [the story] and needs empathy to deliver to the person on the other end [the audience]. Doing this is an incredibly complex exercise. If you're a teacher, a parent or a professional communicator to tell a story with meaning is super tough, but it’s a critical component to connecting with others.
5. How would you recommend parents teach the art of storytelling to their kids?
I think a lot of it is creating space for their development of the technique and finding what kind of storytelling inspires them.
Creating space for children to tell stories is a challenge. We often tell other adults to “get to the point”, but when we tell that to kids we aren’t telling to them to say something faster — we are asking them to shortcut their practice and preparation. Kids fallback on repetition and feeling like they need to hammer home a simplistic message. This often plays out like bad advertising.
It’s important to find what type of stories helps a child tell stories of their own. With Finn we developed this fantasy storytelling relationship (which I never had growing up). My son [Finian] is drawn to the awe and wonder of fairytale and fable but it drives my daughter mad. His sister [Emerson] approaches stories in a completely different way — One that is factual. She finds thrill in the realness!
No matter what kind of storytelling they are interested in, they both understand that you can get people’s attention through the power of words. They recognize the power of the dramatic and theatric in storytelling.
6. What is your favorite way to play with your kids?
We like discovery and adventure. Either we’re creating together or exploring together or learning something new. My favourite thing to do is to say, “I’m going on an adventure! Who's coming with me?” and bring them to ordinary places with me whether its a grocery store, a movie or an arcade.
I love that kids can be awe-inspired by anything. They are seeing so many things for the first time and there’s no cynicism in their views. Being with those who are inspired by everything is the greatest joy.
7. As a ‘grown up’, how do you maintain your inner child? Why do you think it’s beneficial for other adults to do the same?
I was so focused on career from such a young age. I don’t even remember playing in any sort of traditional sense. From eight years old to twenty eight, I was following a singular path in political work. When I stepped away from path — as my partner [Amy] and I were expecting our daughter [Emerson], I suddenly had the space to make mistakes.
For example, in my early 30’s I decided that I would get into graffiti. I remember many late nights cutting stencils and getting my hands dirty. Later this passion turned screen printing. Now it’s letter pressing. Emerson gave me this space for experimentation that has no accountability for perfection. She comes down to my letterpress studio and tells me, “Wow! These 4 prints are good,” even though she sees that there are 15 other prints smudged and not perfect. There’s something in that process of experimenting that I never used to have before Emerson and her younger brother, Finian.
It was a relief, really. It has expanded my sense of life’s possibility for me and those around me. I named my consultancy the Institute of Possibility for this reason. This willingness to experiment has made me a better person, parent, and ultimately, professional.