Bobby Barzi ‘94 admits he sometimes finds himself singing along to Justin Bieber – one of his kids’ favorites – even when his kids aren’t around.
“I guess that’s how you know you’re comfortable with yourself,” he jokes.
The economics alumnus, entrepreneur, and father of Pierce, 7, and Royce, 4, relishes these lighthearted moments; singing along with teen pop stars wasn’t always his M.O. But Barzi says becoming a dad changed his life for the better. And it allowed him to notice that not all dads were as naturally open to those changes. That’s why in 2012 he founded fodada, a global for-profit clothing company dedicated to fostering the invaluable relationship between father and child. Even the company’s name reflects fatherly dedication – it was inspired by Barzi’s older son who, as a toddler, would bring his dad little toys and trinkets with the announcement, “fo’ dada.”
fodada creates everyday clothing for men, women, and children in addition to partnering with corporations for custom productions. Instead of pocketing all the profits, Barzi – known around the office as Chief Dada – has made it his mission to fund and host activities for families around the globe that cultivate a community of like-minded dads.
Philanthropy has always been a priority for Barzi and his wife, Amanda Fowler, fellow social sciences alumna and executive director of global corporate giving for Edwards Lifesciences. Their careers are built on supporting those in need, and they make time to volunteer as a family.
One of fodada’s main goals is to deconstruct the societal stereotypes around fatherhood. Traditionally, dads are seen as less engaged than mothers – the “stoic breadwinner” as Barzi calls it. Although dads today want to be involved with their kids and are splitting childcare duties more evenly, traditional role persists.
“I am nothing like that traditional model, and I find other dads who aren’t either,” he says. “But I also see some fathers who are only comfortable being more engaged and involved within the box of their family. I see dads who don’t have a close relationship with their kids, and I see not only how much their families are missing out, but how much they are missing out as individuals.”
Barzi finds that by hosting events – from yoga, to hiking, to science camps – fathers and their children find common ground. With every activity, Fodada strives to include elements of social engagement, education, physical activity, and service. By doing this, Barzi says, kids begin to associate fun, rewarding experiences with dad, which ultimately nurtures a strong and productive relationship.
“The Dad and Me Program is meant to be kind of an excuse,” he says. “It’s a pre-programmed opportunity for dads to hang out with their children where they don’t have to try to come up with something on their own, they just have to show up and interact.”
UCI has hosted several fodada events. The School of Engineering recently held a free, Halloween monster robot-building event, and last spring, fodada partnered with the cognitive sciences department and the Cognitive Anteater Robotics Laboratory (CARL) to teach dads and kids how to program robots.
“It was so cool because I didn’t know how to do it, my kid didn’t know how to do it, so we learned together on the same level and goofed around, messed up, and had so much fun,” Barzi says. “And now every time we drive by UCI my son brings up that experience. It’s a great memory and in the process he learned and he got exposed to higher education.”
Barzi’s main criterion in choosing community partners is how the organization will help benefit the community. He recently worked with the Snake River Correctional Institution in Oregon to hold a special two-day camp for incarcerated dads and their kids. Statistics from the Texas Department of Criminal Justics, Barzi says, show that close to 70 percent of children with parents in prison could end up in prison themselves. By giving the men a chance to be dads and role models, he hopes to help change that.
Participating fathers had to complete an 18-month program within the prison, working on parenting and life skills. Those who followed through on their commitments were rewarded with a special visit from their children – some of whom they had not seen in five years. The fodada-coordinated activities included yoga, face-painting, bread-making, and overall bonding. Barzi hopes the experiences will help end the cycle of familial incarceration.
On Nov. 19, fodada sponsored the fifth annual International Women’s Self-Defense Day. The aim was to bring a two-hour class to 3,000 women in 45 U.S. cities and 15 countries.
“The women’s self-defense day came about because – as a father, a son, a husband – I care a tremendous amount about the women in my life,” Barzi says. “And I wanted to make sure that as fathers and husbands we were advocating for this concept of empowerment and women’s safety.”
Each year for the last five years, cities all around the world have held self-defense courses and seminars with fodada’s help. From India to Pakistan to Singapore to Orange County, women are learning how to protect themselves while their loved ones are taught the importance of empowerment and respect.
“At the core of it what we wanted to do with fodada was start something that promoted, celebrated, and supported the role of a great dad,” he says. “Including what that means to everyone involved; the child, the father himself, the family, and the product that comes to the community.”
In short, Barzi recognizes the tremendous value in his relationship with his sons and wants to see everyone experience that joy.
“If I have a bad day, all I have to do is close my eyes and think about my kids for one minute,” he says. “And then whatever is bothering me doesn’t seem like a big deal any more. At the core of life that’s what it’s all about—that opportunity, that responsibility, that relationship with my family.”