Bo Petterson has six children, who range in age from 28 to 38. But over on TikTok, there are 1.3 million followers leaning on the 62-year-old Washington resident for fatherly advice on everything from buying a car, to shaving, to picking yourself up when you're down in the dumps (a hot beverage helps, he says).
"All the advice I share is advice I've given my kids their whole life," Petterson tells Yahoo Life of his popular Dad Advice From Bo platform, where he dispenses moral support and heartfelt life lessons alongside handy how-to videos on changing tires, checking credit reports and whipping up his go-to "easy dad meal": "weiner wraps."
While Petterson disputes that he's a "dad influencer" — "I consider myself a dad," he says, "the same dad I am to my kids and same dad I would be to anyone else's kids; I'm not trying to influence anybody, I just want to pass on the things I've learned" — he's part of a growing group of men who are building large social media platforms inspired by their experience with parenting. Yes, mommy influencers continue to dominate the field, but they're no longer the only ones sharing kid-friendly lunchbox hacks, or jokes and memes commiserating over chore charts and children's birthday parties or doing thoughtful deep dives on different parenting styles and kid behavior. From Simon Holland's witty tweets to Marvyn Harrison's Dope Black Dads podcast celebrating Black fatherhood to Utah-based father of four The Modern Dad to Terrell and Jarius Joseph's YouTube channel showcasing their life as a gay couple with two children, fathers are finding their voices and their footing.
Mental health professional Kier Gaines first started vlogging after the birth of his daughter, Emery, three years ago. What originally began as a means to get those early precious family moments on camera soon started resonating with other parents, gaining him a celebrity following. This January, Gaines posted a video announcing that he was leaving his job to be a full-time digital creator and dad influencer sharing his insight on mindfulness, toddler emotions and more.
"There came a point where I realized that I was more passionate about sharing my fatherhood and life journey through a mental health perspective," Gaines, who runs the Kier & Them YouTube channel with his wife, Noémie, tells Yahoo Life. "Many people don't know that I am a licensed therapist and I didn't see anyone bridging that gap with parenthood, so I saw an opportunity and ran with it."
The transition hasn't always been seamless, Gaines admits.
"Being a dad influencer is a little tricky because it feels like people care about you, the parent, but not necessarily you, the person," the Washington, D.C.-based family man says. "In the beginning, when I used to post pictures of myself and my interests, I would get a wave of comments asking where my child was without addressing me at all. But now that I've gotten more comfortable putting the focus on me and what makes me the kind of dad that I am, people are able to recognize and gravitate toward my genuine self, which I really appreciate. Now, I feel like people recognize Kier, who is a real person, who happens to be a dad."
By contrast, Petterson says he was initially "terribly uncomfortable" with his unexpected internet fame. His Dad Advice From Bo videos were posted, he says, at the behest of his daughter Emily, who suffered a traumatic brain injury at age 18. When Emily's condition worsened due to complications in 2019, Bo finally agreed to share his advice with the world, explaining, "I had never been on any kind of social media in my life, but I would do anything to help her pain." Along with a huge outpouring of support that has given Emily "a distraction from the pain and a purpose to keep going," the family has since received monetary donations that have helped fund her medical treatments.
Gaines also credits his daughter with helping him see the possibilities of his platform. In addition to teaching her about emotions and passing on affirmations to help "form an internal dialogue that will speak to her when she's older and feeling low," he hopes he's giving other parents the tools to do the same.
"When my daughter was born, I became more of a feminist than I ever was," he says. "I was able to see the world, as we're currently living in it, through her eyes and was able to identify how different things that girls have to put up with in the world that weren't in my line of sight. I was better able to see my privilege as a man and help equip her with tools to hold her own and navigate the world as a strong and confident young girl. Now that I have this platform, I want to be loud about my role as a girl dad."
And he doesn't underestimate his role in representing Black fathers, saying, "stereotypes imply that Black men can't be vulnerable, but in actuality, there aren't many safe places for us to do so."
While he acknowledges that fathers are "underrepresented" in the parenting space, he expects that to change as rigid notions of masculinity and paternal norms get redefined.
"The concept of warm love expressed by men is welcomed now in a way that wasn't in generations prior," Gaines says. "However, our conceptualization of fatherhood hasn't changed much since then. I feel like it's going to take a while for the mindset to catch up with the expectation, but I think we're headed in the right direction."
Petterson is more circumspect.
"A lot of people think dads are these all-knowing superheroes when really there is a lot we don't know and we have just as many flaws as everyone else," he says. "So I stay away from topics I don’t know enough about and try to remind my followers that this is just how I do things, take it or leave it."
Despite his massive audience and the fact that his own children now look up his videos when they're doing a DIY project — "I said, 'Hey! You still have to call your dad!'" he jokes — the father of six considers himself more of a dad and less of an influencer, though he's happy to go along for the ride.
"I'm just a regular dad," he insists. "I buy shirts from the thrift store, have had the same two friends since high school and watch cowboy shows in the evening. I'm as regular as they come, but maybe the internet needs a little more of that. I always tell people that you are never too old for dad advice and you can never have too many dads."
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