“I was a stay at home dad and struggling artist trying to figure out how to make ends meet,” Glen Henry, the creator behind Beleaf in Fatherhood, responded when asked about the inception of his video career. His original intention was to use his YouTube channel as a medium to promote his music, but the community he drew online had other ideas. “People wanted to know more about fatherhood than they wanted to hear me rhyme. I started to create videos on the practical aspects of fatherhood and the challenging parts of it. I didn’t shy away from anything. I could talk about it all. It became this insider’s look at black fatherhood.”
"I didn’t shy away from anything. I could talk about it all. It became this insider’s look at black fatherhood.”
That insider’s look filled a much-needed gap for viewers who were accustomed to the media's portrayal of black fathers as uninvolved and absent in the lives of their children. His narrative was so uncommon that when the channel first started garnering attention, and as Henry shared with the news site Popsugar, some viewers began commenting with jabs like, "He's going to leave his family in a week" and "I didn't know black fathers existed."
Instead of shying away from those stereotypes, the stay-at-home father of four met them head-on, using his platform to share an unfiltered look at his life.
“[The thing that's] interesting about being a parent, it's one of those concepts that people try to make studious like you can learn how to be a parent through a book. But your parents usually don't tell you how to be a parent,” Henry explained. “They usually just survive it and are like, ‘well, I'm glad that's over, good luck.’ Being a father, I realized no one was pointing out the potholes that were coming up, I just kept falling into them. I was hoping someone would take me under their wing and help me be a dad. But most men were like ‘dude, I'm trying to figure it out as well, so don't come over here and try to get any mentorship from me.’”
With nothing to learn from but first-hand experience, he decided to share those lessons in real-time, paying it forward to the next generation of dads.
“I realized that if I was feeling this way then so were the people that were coming after me. So I decided I would try to show a very authentic, unscripted look at fatherhood. I don't know if I'm doing this right or wrong. It wasn't like I had the answers. It was just like, ‘you know what I just learned?,’ or ‘I screwed up,’ or ‘make sure you do this if you have the opportunity to.’ It was just about [the audience] learning with me. It wasn't like I was trying to teach you.”
"It was just about [the audience] learning with me. It wasn't like I was trying to teach you.”
Backed by the support of a thriving and constantly growing community, Henry has published a book, shared the ins-and-outs of being a stay at home dad in a widely streamed Ted talk, started a successful podcast with his wife titled, How Married Are You?, and has plans to bring the story of fatherhood to another podcast this fall called Dead Beat Dads, where he’ll sit down with a recently incarcerated friend to talk about his transition back into society and the nuanced and complicated world of parenting.
Henry admits that success did not happen overnight, and he does not shy away from the hardships he encountered in the first two years of Beleaf in Fatherhood. In fact, when he first launched on Patreon, after hearing Amanda Palmer talk about her success with the platform during a Ted talk, he felt like running his page was an extra time expense. Then, he realized the real value wasn’t just in creating exclusive content for his patrons — it was giving them the opportunity to support a cause they believed in.
“The membership model became realistic to me when I saw the depth of how people were being affected by the content,” Henry remembers. “It wasn’t like ‘oh man, I love your stuff’ it was like, ‘I'm 12 years old and I never wanted to be a dad until I saw this, or ‘I haven't talked to my dad in eight years, but because of one of your videos, I gave him a call.’ I knew people would be willing to invest in that.”
One of the biggest issues creators run into is finding an audience that will give them the financial independence to create full-time. However, Henry shares that the most important thing is not what your audience is willing to pay for, but what value you’re willing to give them, something he refers to as speaking your audience’s language.
“It's not so much about finding the audience that will support you financially, it's more about finding the people that you can affect on a deep enough level that they would want to,” Henry shared when asked about what advice he’d offer to creators looking for their community. “I would say continue to ask questions that will cause you to tailor your content. So, when you ask your audience a question on an Instagram post, what you get back from that question is intel. I would ask someone, ‘hey, when it comes to fatherhood, what is the scariest thing in your mind?’ and someone could say, ‘I'm scared that I'm going to leave,’ or ‘I'm scared that I'm not going to be able to afford the baby,’ or ‘I'm scared that my wife or my spouse is not going to be able to participate.’ Then you get all that information back and you say, ‘OK, what I'm going to do is tell you how to not be afraid of being a father.’”
The next step, according to Henry, is answering those questions in the medium you use to connect with your audience (in his case, video), and then offering extra feedback and more in-depth versions of that content exclusively on your Patreon page. He also suggests offering virtual gifts at first to cut overhead and to save time, and that, sometimes, making sure your audience knows they’ve been heard with a simple “thank you” is enough.
"The balancing thing is such a myth, it's all about juggling. It's all about learning how to catch something when it's falling and having the capacity to send it back up."
The last thing Henry shared with us were his surprising thoughts on finding balance; in short, he doesn’t think it’s possible.
“In the beginning, you'll never be balanced. In the beginning, you'll always be stretched and uncomfortable,” Henry explained “You’ll always be sore in places that you thought you weren't going to be sore or if you’ve ever tried to stand on a Bosu ball at the gym, you get on by miracle and then your legs start shaking and you're like, ‘what am I supposed to keep still, my ankles or my legs?’ You just don't know. And so it's not so much about balance as much as it is about juggling. When you juggle (and) you toss a ball up into the air, that ball is ascending while two other balls may be in your hand. And then the ball is coming down. So it's not about keeping all the balls up in the air. That’s levitation, it’s impossible. What it's about is making sure that once the ball is falling, you can catch it and you can toss it back up. The balancing thing is such a myth, it's all about juggling. It's all about learning how to catch something when it's falling and having the capacity to send it back up."