BabaHero: Entrepreneurs in our Community (interview with Tommy Cohen)
Interview with Thomas Cohen, member of Forefront.
Q. You've launched a subscription box business for new fathers -- BabaHero -- which has been featured in Entrepreneur, Buzzfeed Parents, and WNBC New York. Can you tell us about your journey towards fatherhood—and later on, your business?
A. It started when we found out that my wife was pregnant with twins, Zara and Amari, back in November 2014. We were elated but conscious of the fact that it might not happen. We had lost two due to miscarriage before—Emem, Mira and Jonathan at Forefront were there when we needed them through those tough times. We just leaned on Forefront Church for prayer.
As we got closer and closer to the pregnancy date, I was excited and started reading every book I could on parenting—I probably read 10 or 11 books, in addition to tons of articles. I just wanted to be the best parent I could be. I just wanted to be involved especially as a dad.
Q. Why were you so excited to be a parent?
Before we were pregnant, I found myself questioning whether I was truly ready to be a dad. I never knew how much I wanted to be a dad until that was taken away from me. Also I know a lot of dads get bad reputations for being absent—digging a little deeper, as an African-American dad, the typical stereotype is that they are not there for their children (although my parents were great). I wanted to debunk that.
Q. And then partway through the pregnancy, you received news that you would be laid off. What happened after that?
I was working in HR at a company for five years and I was laid off in May 2015—our girls were due in August. It was a really scary time—just thinking about how I was going to take care of them and afford to feed them. Looking back, I feel I was programmed to feel that since I was the man of the house, my role was to provide financially. I was frantic, thinking, what am I going to do?
What really helped was that my wife was willing to go back to work shortly after our girls were born because she didn’t want me to get a job, where I would be miserable, just to have a job. I’m really thankful that she was willing to be the primary financial provider for the family. I became a stay-at-home dad and the primary parent of our twin girls for 18 months. It was an amazing experience.
Q. Was it hard to transition from being anxious about providing towards being excited about being a parent?
It was kind of hard. After the 5th or 6th interview where I just kept getting “No”s — to be honest I still don’t know why, as I have a BA and Masters in HR, in addition to five years of work experience in a multibillion dollar company—but maybe in the bigger picture God had a different plan for me.
None of what I’ve accomplished so far would not happen if I landed a job and didn’t stay at home with my children. When they were six months old, I felt that I had the parenting down pat and I was looking for other ways to contribute financially, as we were bleeding financially. I was wrapping my head around, “What is the problem I have? What is the solution for it?” And that’s how the business came to be.
Q. Can you tell us more about the business, BabaHero?
It's a subscription box business for new dads to help them transition to fatherhood. “Baba" translates to dad in many languages, and “hero" is any dad or parent who just wants to be a hero to their child. In the box, you may find baby wipes, teethers, books, hand sanitizers, bath toys, etc. Every box will include a gift for dad — a way to say thank you and encourage them to bond with kids. Some dads will find socks, gadgets, tools, coffee or edibles.
When we conceptualized the business, there were a ton of subscription boxes for new moms but nothing much catering to new dads. There were “survival kits," but I chose a different philosophy. You’re not supposed to survive fatherhood—if you approach it that way, you’ll always be stressed. I believed that you should embrace fatherhood and really enjoy the time of being a father, including the ups and downs.
Q. What was it like starting a business while parenting?
It was a busy time. They don’t go to sleep until 11pm or 12am, so I start working on the business from 12-3am. When our kids would wake up throughout the night as infants, we split the labor 50-50. As one of them didn’t want to nurse—she only took the bottle—I would feed her, and my wife would nurse the other one.
Q. In your ideal world, what would society expect of parents?
Society is changing—two years ago, I got one day for paternity leave. NYC is changing its paternity leave structure to be more supportive of fathers. Ideally, I would like to see us head in the direction where being a stay-at-home dad or mom is okay, where it’s not shocking for a father to take care of the kids, to change diapers, etc.
Q. Has Forefront Church has been helpful at all in your journey as a father and an entrepreneur?
I would definitely give Forefront credit. Recently, we attended a family small group, which has been amazing to hear other stories from parents and realize that we aren’t alone, and that there are people going through the exact same things we are. The group also gives me insight into how other parents raise their children, what products they use, etc. It’s also been a great experience to see my girls interact with other kids during Kidstuf (Sunday school) — they are under two so they haven’t attended daycare, so being with other kids helps them develop their social skills.
Q. Has Forefront been supportive of your family’s parenting structure?
Yeah, definitely. Forefront has a female pastor, which hasn’t been true of some of the churches we’ve attended in the past. The community has been open and receptive to me being a stay-at-home dad. Quite honestly, it’s refreshing, especially compared to down South where I grew up. Forefront is a very open church—they talk about issues that really matter in society, such as the LGBT community. They’ve challenged my upbringing and my programming after 20-30 years of attending certain churches. Jonathan is very good at preaching in a way where I can relate to him, where he allows us to come to our conclusions instead of twisting the words of the Bible to fit an agenda. I grew up Southern Baptist and then later on attended predominantly Chinese churches with my wife. Forefront was an opportunity to start over and open my mind to what church really could be.