New Dad Diaries – week 11 – Rob Parsons OBE (Part 2)

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Chronicling life as a new father to his beautiful firstborn child – daughter Thea – Chris Kerr’s goal is to provide all men experiencing fatherhood for the first time with some invaluable tips and tricks as they are learned – the hard way. This week, more from Chris’s conversations with Rob Parsons OBE, one of ‘The Father Hood’ – a group of dads helping provide tips and wisdom.

I was over the moon when my wife Alicia told me that she was pregnant. I had always wanted to be a father, and now I was about to become one with the woman I loved. For a few days, I was on cloud nine – until the worries came. Perhaps the biggest worry was one that many men have had: How can I be successful at home – as a husband and now a father – and at work? Any one of these on their own takes work, time, and energy, and now I had to balance all three. And I work for a law firm that does encourage employees to have a good family life; imagine what it must be like for new dads working for organisations with less accommodating cultures. 

A couple of books were really helpful for me in this respect: Andy Stanley’s When Work and Family Collide: Keeping your Job from Cheating your Family, and Rob Parsons’ The Heart of Success: Making it in Business without Losing in Life. This week, Rob and I look at this oh-so-difficult balance. 

IIs it possible for dads to have a successful career and an excellent family life?  How do you navigate that tension?  

I was speaking to a big bank, just before lockdown. I was talking about not missing your kids’ lives. In the Q&A at the end, a man asked, “My wife and I work for the bank, and work long hours; are you telling me we shouldn’t do that?” 

I said, no. If you need to work long hours to put bread on the table, you should do it, but don’t miss your kids young lives for the sake of a Lexus and a second holiday.  

So, can you have a successful career and be a good dad? Yes! Can you do everything? No. Time is limited. We cannot be in two places at once. We can choose to work until 9pm at night. That means we cannot be there with our children. Every choice precludes another. When we get it wrong is when we think, “I’ll spend time with them tomorrow”. When we do this, we miss our kids’ lives one day at a time. Our sons and daughters will only be our ‘kids’ until they are 18. That’s 6,570 days. If your daughter is now 10 years old, you have 2,920 days left, but we don’t think of that.

When Katie was small, I would read her a bedtime story. As I was reading, the phone would ring downstairs. I would tell her I was just going to take the call. She would plead with me not to. I would tell her not to worry, that I would be back very shortly. After 30 minutes, I would remember I had not yet finished the story. The princess was still stranded in a castle somewhere. I’d rush back upstairs. The light would be on and the book would be on the pillow next to her, like we had left it. But Katie would be asleep. She had fought as hard as she could to stay awake. 

I have had an interesting life. I have been a Partner in a big law practice. I have been in murder trials, I have lectured all over the world, I have written almost 30 books. All those things have involved me having thousands of work calls, all described as urgent. I cannot remember one that couldn’t have waited ten minutes until I finished the bedtime story. That’s the problem.

It really does take discipline. We have to take an active decision to spend time with our kids or we face losing their childhoods, one day at a time.   

I know of a number of companies who make it impossible for staff to be promoted unless they spend all their time at work.  What would you say to them?  

They need to acknowledge that it is total foolishness to ask your employees to leave their home troubles at the office door. You may as well as them to leave their left leg there. Really bright companies understand that if you have employees who are as satisfied, happy and secure as possible, they will generally be more effective in work. 

There are a couple of things the business leader can do. The first is that they can lead by example. In many businesses, there are periods where you have to work long hours if you are going to get the job done or the deal through. But do not slip into a long hours culture for the sake of it.   

Many of us, particularly men, and forgive me for the generalisation, are more insecure than we let on. One way we prove ourselves is by working long hours, the ‘jacket over the chair’ culture. When I was in the law practice, I could have often left the office at 5pm, but I would check that file one more time and stay later. It was like I was saying to the law firm, how on earth would you get by without me? The answer is actually simple: “Very easily Rob”.   

I was giving the KPMG leadership lecture some years ago. The Senior Partner came up to me and said, “What you say is right Rob. If you want to find out how much they miss you when you are gone, take a bucket of water and put your fist in it to make a hole in the water. The hole that is left is how much they will miss you!”  

One thing that complicates home life now is the digital world.  People can email or contact us 24/7. How can we manage that issue?  

Men now have to be very intentional about not using their phones and social media when they should be spending time with their children. Too often, fathers are in the room with their kids, but they are not present. Our kids are sat with us watching Peppa Pig, and we are watching an online video.  

Logically, what is wrong with that? Our kids are watching what they want to watch; we don’t want to watch it, so we aren’t. Well, we are not in this together. In 10 years’ time, the dad will say to that kid, “Do you fancy doing this?”  And that kid will say no. You missed that chance to connect with your kid for the sake of a cat video.   

In Part 3, released exclusively on sortedmag.com shortly, Rob and I discuss what makes a dad ‘great’, and how to navigate the different challenges of parenting.  

Chris Kerr

Chris is a husband to Alicia and father to Thea, who is the subject of his columns on Fatherhood for Sorted.  In his spare time he works for a national law firm in an executive capacity and provides crisis leadership consultancy support for non-profits across the UK.  He attends Urban Crofters Church in Cardiff.  A keen weekend adventurer, Chris is regularly spotted in the sea or on mountains.
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