Rad Dad: Mark Hansen
Back in 2008, Mark Hansen and his partner Jedd Rose were feeling frustrated with their office jobs and the intangibility of the work they were doing. Outdoorsmen through and through, they holed up in Jedd’s basement and started making backpacks, neither quite sure where it would take them.
Fast forward a decade and what started as a passion project has exploded under the name Topo Designs—one of our favorite outdoor clothing and gear brands. As they tell it, they’re “rooted in mountain culture and outdoor living, but love exploring cities and world travel.” The brand’s inspiration comes from retro styles of eras past while their designs are fueled by modern needs (think: nostalgic, bright color combinations paired with smartphone sleeves).
A true adventurer, Mark’s determination to wring out every drop of life is evident in everything from the way he’s building his business to the values of fun and fearlessness he's instilling in his daughter.
Read on for Mark's thoughts on his daughter’s first rock concert, a little game called “Yellow Car,” and why he’s not giving up motorcycles anytime soon.
“Favorite fatherhood quote? ‘Because I said so.’ Just wait. You can’t help it.”
Tell us about some of the things you used to do before you were a dad, and then tell us about how you do these things now, with your daughter. How has the experience changed?
Who you are before is who you can be after. I think the concern that you’ll never be able to do anything you “used to do” is a bit of a myth. Sure, some of the lesser things in life might slip for a bit, but anything that’s core to you can still happen. My daughter’s first camping trip was when she was 3 weeks old, I still go see rock shows at night, I still ski, I still ride motorcycles, and as my daughter grows I’m loving introducing her to the things I care about. Now she skis with me and it won’t be long before I have to decide who her first concert will be.
"My daughter’s first camping trip was when she was 3 weeks old, I still go see rock shows at night, I still ski, I still ride motorcycles, and as my daughter grows I’m loving introducing her to the things I care about."
I know a few dads who sell their motorcycles when their kids are born or stop doing some of the activities they did before and I think it’s too bad. I’m not promoting being a reckless person by any stretch, but I think it’s good modeling to show your kids you have adventure, that you live life, that you do things. I want my daughter to grow up in a household where appropriate risk is something to be embraced, not shied away from. I’ve gotten so much joy from adrenaline activities I can’t help but want to share that with her.
What do you find is the biggest challenge for balancing business, family, and self-care?
I’ve always felt the mistake with “finding balance” is that people put too short of a time frame on it, wanting to find balance of everything in a single day, for example. It helps me to think of balance more seasonally, so I know there’s times of working hard and then times of spending more with family or taking a break for myself. Stretching it out that way takes some of the pressure off and I think makes it more realistic.
Is there an under-appreciated app you love?
I was recently introduced to Tabata as a way to time a workout. It’s simple enough it actually helps a guy like me who is terrible at working out. And I'm a sucker for Hotel Tonight. Finding last-minute hotel deals always keeps it interesting.
Speaking of hotels—top 3 places on your bucket list?
Comporta, Portugal. I’ve been dying to visit Portugal and this seems like the nice easy beach town to make the destination. And sailing off the coast of Croatia. And hitting Japan in January for some Japow. Anyone who’s been on these trips and has tips, let me know!
Are there other dads out there you look to for guidance? What do you like about their parenting styles?
I’m fortunate that I have quite a few friends who had kids earlier than I did so I’ve been able to watch their adventures and am now seeing the result of their kids as they go through college and become true young adults. I have two friends in particular who couldn’t be more different from each other or in their parenting approaches, and it’s been fun to see that both their kids are great. It’s a good reminder to me that not only is there no single path to great parenting, but that your kids are their own people and so much of how they end up is up to them—which is both terrifying and a huge relief. What I see in both of those dads is just an incredible, solid love for their kids, so that’s the thread I’m holding on to.
"It’s a good reminder to me that not only is there no single path to great parenting, but that your kids are their own people and so much of how they end up is up to them—which is both terrifying and a huge relief."
I also have a set of friends who have kids my daughter’s age and are in the same stages of working it out as I am. We often sit on the porch and compare stories of our failings and our kids’ successes—it’s great to have other dads around that I can talk to about how I lost my temper or handled some situation poorly and have them relate and tell a similar story.
One thing I’m still looking for—and maybe I’m thinking too far ahead here—is dads who have managed to keep a close relationship with their kids as they’ve become adults. Maybe it’s something I just need to deal with once she’s older, but having a kid really shows you just how fast time flies. So all you dads with great relationships with your grown kids—let me know what helped!
What’s something you do (and enjoy doing), now that you’re a father, that you never would have imagined doing?
I never thought I’d belt out a Disney soundtrack (Moana) around a campfire, that’s for sure. I’ve never enjoyed the beginner runs at a ski area so much as watching my daughter conquer them. All the simple things are brand new again—a basic walk through the neighborhood becomes a fun exploration and adventure in its own right.
Besides Moana, any other Netflix recommendations?
My TV viewing is less than sophisticated, but I’ll admit to being a sucker for lightweight, British crime shows. Death in Paradise and a new one I found lately, Grantchester. No heavy documentaries here—I’m all about light, summer fun.
Any new podcasts you're into?
I’m not breaking new ground here, but I really enjoy Masters of Scale on the business side—it’s great hearing stories of people building business, both successes and failures, and often there’s some great nuggets in there I can try to apply. I’ve also been listening to GQ Style’s Corporate Lunch as it’s fun to hear people nerd out on fashion in an obsessive way. And I’m a friend of the pod (if you know, you know).
How about books—book that's changed your behavior the most?
A change in behavior is a tall order, and I’m a stubborn one, but a book that definitely left a lasting impression on me was The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck. It was a mass seller through the 80s so it’s easy to find in any used bookstore. The first page alone talks about the idea that life is difficult and it’s in the way we respond to it that matters. It’s early pop psychology, perhaps, but there are some really great, timeless thoughts in there.
Do you have a favorite quote about fatherhood (or life in general)?
“Because I said so.” Just wait. You can’t help it.
Walk us through your evening routine after a long day. Do you have regular things you and your daughter do together each night to wind down?
The routines change as she gets older but we definitely still try to get in some full-on “silly time” every night where we cut loose and dance crazy. I’d fully endorse this behavior to anyone with or without kids — it’s a great way to drop the stress and seriousness of a long day. After a book we often spend some time just chatting, which is when I get to find out what upset her or made her happy that day. It’s the most relaxed part of the evening and feels really special to us.
What’s your strategy for getting your daughter to do what you want — go to bed, eat her veggies, not have a tantrum?
This is a constant challenge. I’m most successful when I treat it like a game—how am I going to get her to eat more, get ready, or whatever it is. And keeping a sense of humor about all of it really helps prevent things from escalating. When I get too intense or upset she just ups the ante and meets me at that level, which doesn’t end well for anyone. It’s much better to shift our focus, laugh a bit, and try again.
The trick for me is making sure I’m in a healthy spot, overall, so I have the patience and reserves to keep calm rather than just get upset. Preparation is another huge advantage here—I’m a last-minute guy so it’s tough, but things go way smoother in the morning when you’ve picked out your clothes the night before.
Do you think your style has changed since becoming a dad? Have you ever gotten style advice from your kid?
I don’t think my style has changed much, but I will say I’m a lot more relaxed about certain things. Like walking around publicly holding a stuffed animal (while my daughter runs off to play) or sitting while she endlessly ties ribbons in my hair. Those are definitely things that didn’t happen before.
"My daughter challenged me to 'not shave until you can walk properly again' so right now I have her to thank for this ridiculous beard I’m sporting."
I remember my first Skype call with a new factory and because of the time difference I was at home and during the whole call my daughter was practicing braiding my hair—fortunately the factory owner has kids of his own and found it all pretty amusing. I recently shattered my heel (See? Doing things!) and my daughter challenged me to “not shave until you can walk properly again” so right now I have her to thank for this ridiculous beard I’m sporting. So yeah. Maybe I better rethink that first comment that my style hasn’t changed… She’s definitely influencing my style.
What’s something that your daughter introduced you to that you secretly (or not so secretly) enjoy?
I just want to warn you before reading the following: you will get hooked. My daughter picked this game up at school and now our family plays a pretty competitive version of a little something called Yellow Car. Much like Slug Bug or similar, you gain points every time you see a yellow vehicle. There are, of course, very specific rules—school buses and taxis don’t count, yellow VW bugs and yellow motorcycles are 2 points and a yellow bicycle is 5 but someone has to be riding it when it’s spotted. It’s gotten so out of control that now my wife and I trade photos over text of yellow cars we see during the day and I don’t even see my friends’ selfies on instagram anymore, just that yellow car in the parking lot behind them. Our Japanese distributors recently spent a few days at our house and by the end of their trip they were yelling out “yellow car!” from the back seat—had us all cracking up.
What do you do when things get totally out of control? What are some of the ways you deal with the stress of taking care of another human being?
One of the most surprising discoveries is realizing how much she is taking care of me—not just making me a better person, but expressing a love that is nothing short of nourishing. So yeah, who is really taking care of whom? I definitely didn’t realize how much I’d get back from her, and that’s been an amazing surprise. So that’s the good side—there are definitely nights I lie awake worrying about her safety and all the things that could go wrong. One of the things I’ve done to reduce that worry is really limiting my consumption of the news. News loves horror stories and too many of those inputs can get me into a bad space. Keeping it positive is key.
What advice would you give to other new dads?
Watching my friends have kids before me I started to notice a pattern with their second kid. They seemed way more relaxed and less intense—which seemed better both for them and the kid. So my mantra to myself while my wife was pregnant was “pretend this is your second kid, pretend this is your second kid.” I think it really did take some of the stress off and reminded me that kids are durable. Extremes in parenting produce extremes in kids’ behavior so I believe the more one can take the intense edge off, the better off you are. Of course like all good advice, easier said than done!
What’s something you learned from your father that you’ll one day teach your kid?
Optimism turns out to be the best plan. I’ve often joked that if my dad was hanging around a party when a nuclear bomb dropped he’d get everybody up on the roof to check out the mushroom cloud. Just an indefatigable source of looking on the bright side. As a moody teenager (and, err, young adult) this drove me absolutely crazy.
"I’ve often joked that if my dad was hanging around a party when a nuclear bomb dropped he’d get everybody up on the roof to check out the mushroom cloud."
I desperately wanted him to feel the burden of life—now all I think about is how to become more like him and what an amazing path to life success it is. And I’ve realized it’s not a lack of awareness of what’s happening around him, it’s just his choice of response. That makes him amazing. As for me, I’m still working on it and my daughter gives me reason to work even harder. That, and skiing. That was a gift my dad worked super hard to give me and I’m stoked to be passing it on to my daughter.
What’s one thing your daughter has taught you about yourself?
I’m not as calm, cool, and collected as I’d like to believe. I never realized I could go from laughing to being furious so quickly— she’s definitely expanded my awareness of my range of emotions. There’s something about a little person that not only knows you so well but is flesh of your flesh that can really wind you up. It’s part of the human experience that—cliché as it is—is really hard to fathom without doing it.
What’s one piece of advice or wisdom you’d like to pass on to your daughter?
You catch more flies with honey than vinegar; a gentle answer turns away wrath; and always, always, always, work the problem. I do think doors are opened with kindness and positivity and I think there is immense value in hard work and not giving up. I hope I can model these beliefs for her.