Shanghai Dad: Q&A with Charles Liao

On global adventures, change in priorities and business inspirations

by Alex Sheffield | Thu, March 02, 2017

Every month, we reach out to a Shanghai dad to discuss family, life and being a father. This month, Charles Liao talks about his daughter, Mila, their global adventures, change in priorities and business inspirations.
Charles Liao
Name: Charles Liao
Job: Co-Founder at Mila (
Nationality: American
Children: Mila (7)
School: SAS Puxi
Time in Shanghai: 8 years 

When did it first register that you were actually a father and what did you start doing differently?

The first major adjustment I made was to my schedule, specifically sleeping. Having little Mila meant very early ‘wake-up’ calls, which in turn led to finding out my breaking point and just how little sleep I needed to function properly. From there, it was easy! Now I get up around 5am, enjoy an hour or so of quiet time (usually doing my emails), and try to end the day as early as I can to spend time with Mila after school. I value my time much more than I ever did before because of spending it with her. I work more efficiently, sleep less, and I’m pickier with how and whom I spend my with time with.

How has fatherhood changed you?

I changed my priorities and my priorities in turn changed me. I’m more focused, more determined and a lot more Zen. I’m a single father and I feel compelled to – or at least try to – do it all; and most days I feel like I’ve gotten okay at looking like I know what I’m doing!

What has been your worst parenting moment?

It has to be winter 2013, when the air pollution hit a record high in Shanghai – it was a very difficult time for me. I felt so helpless, like I was letting Mila down. We wore masks, minimized our activity outdoors – all in hopes that we could somehow hide from the pollution. However, once I went online and researched a bit, I learned that staying indoors was futile; we were still breathing in poor quality air despite being inside. We weren’t safe even in our own home. Eventually, it pushed me to regroup and I started an air purifier company named after her.

What is one of your most memorable parenting moments?

Our travels together rank at the top of my best parenting memories so far. The first solo trips we took were to China’s Hong Kong, Thailand, and Spain last year. They made me realize that Mila is my absolute favorite person in the whole wide world; not just as my daughter, but as my friend and companion. Spain was especially memorable because we did as much – if not more than – any two able-bodied adults could. With early morning runs, sights and adventures between Madrid and Barcelona and late-night dinners, Mila was a trooper.

In what ways have you noticed your children are similar to you?

The similarities are everywhere because she’s my sidekick, I love to have her with me always. We do loads together; run, climb, skateboard and ride bikes. Some of my personality has definitely rubbed off. Mila can be stubborn and has slight OCD like me; but she’s 10 times more mature, and 20 times funnier.