Sunday, February 3, 2013

Celebrate Fatherhood: Life as a Work-at-Home-Dad | Guestpost by Daddy Kenneth of Singapore Bike School

Sakura Haruka is not a blog just about celebrating motherhood. It shares the joys {& frustrations!} of parenting and of families as a whole. Inspired by my hubby's thoughts on being a dad, Celebrate Fatherhood is thus a monthly series where daddies from all walks of life share insights about what fatherhood means to them, and how we can appreciate their role in a family too.

I sincerely thank all those who took the time to guest post for me. Most of those I approached were very supportive and enthusiastic about this new series, sharing my belief that being an involved dad, and getting the dads involved, is important in building a strong family. If you have a story to share, please email me at sakuraharuka {at} live {dot} com.

When I was a young man, full of big plans and thinking about the future, I always pictured my family as two dogs and a wife who would be my partner-in-crime. Career-wise, I assumed I would simply continue doing what I was doing – being a creative person in an ad agency.

Now many years later, I find myself blessed with the best wife and friend a man could have, dogs many times over and a bonus – two beautiful daughters. As if inversely proportionate, on the job front I’ve gone from big international agency to local start-ups and my own studio to working from home.

I was neither downsized, nor was it a deliberate choice to work from home. It just gradually happened. As the needs of the children evolved from diaper changing to school and after-school activities, I found myself taking more flexible hours from the office to be with them when needed. Eventually, it simply made more sense to close the office and work at home. Working at home was nothing new as I was always bringing work home anyway – too often projects that demanded the burning of midnight oil.

About a year ago, my main client underwent ‘restructuring' which left several projects hanging and no new ones on the horizon. After a few futile attempts to pitch for new business, I started to apply for full-time corporate jobs – with no success. Desperate, I combined my passion for cycling, love of teaching and need to pay the bills to embark on a new career and founded Singapore Bike School.

I no longer have a job, I have three! I currently have two businesses that I run from home – one as a designer and the other as a cycling coach.

Coaching in the day and designing at night makes for some very long days. But overall, it's worked out well, although at times I really find it a struggle, especially if I had a full day of coaching in the sun and urgent design work to complete in the night. I try to schedule work during the day while the kids are occupied, in school, at tuition or playing by themselves and at night after tucking in the kids and spending some time with my wife. As a designer, this means I can’t lose myself in a project for hours like I did when I worked in an agency. For a perfectionist who takes pride in a job done well, it's frustrating to have to bang out work with what seems to me to be the minimum of standards. As a cycling coach, it's equally challenging to get adequate rest, keep fit, healthy and on top of my game when it comes to skills.

I believe working from home is more difficult than just working at one job. I’ve got to do ‘dad stuff’ like shuttle the girls around for tuition and enrichment classes, run errands (groceries, post office or bank) and do home repairs... and ‘designer stuff’ such as meeting with clients, writing proposals, conceptualizing and designing… and ‘coach stuff’ such as preparing lesson plans, scheduling sessions, maintaining the bikes and physical coaching. Add in answering emails, phone calls and other paperwork, and my plate can get rather full.

This is why I am sometimes defensive when my wife innocently asks, "So what did you do all day?”. I’m constantly afraid that my wife thinks of me as someone who “does nothing” at home. And because both businesses are still starting up, I also worry that she thinks I intentionally chose to burden her with the financial responsibilities of supporting a family while I pursue ‘an easier path’.

Easier path or otherwise, I'm not free from the pressure that is on every man to earn money. It has been hard going from breadwinner to bread eater. The reduced income steam means a constant worry about money. I know this weighs very heavily on my wife as she is by nature, a worrier. However, she is the one who so admirably helps out and keeps me going with advice, affirmation and support. Still, when the bills come each month, it does take some measurable effort to stay positive that working-at-home is what’s best for the family.

When the going gets tough, moms often turn to one another for support in juggling work and family, but for dads, there is no support group. Occasionally, I meet another dad at school concerts, sports days and parent-teacher meetings, but dads with kids in playgrounds and at the supermarket are still rarities. Even if we meet, men are not known for openly sharing our feelings of insecurity, doubt, worry and self-criticism.

Knowing my wife appreciates what I contribute to the family makes it slightly easier. Right now, I focus on the fact that we're blessed to be able to have a parent at home and a parent at work. I am still sending out job applications because the money from a full-time job will come in handy, but in the meantime, I intend to enjoy the time I can spend with my children and doing what I enjoy to eke out a living. I know I need to make money, but I also want to be a father who is around for my girls and a husband who has time for my wife. At the end of the day, nothing will define me more as a person than who I was as a father and husband, not whether I was the one bringing home the lion’s share of bacon, right?

Apart from money issues, I have few complaints about my life right now. Generally I am healthier if not wealthier. When I coach, I get to meet interesting people (and little people) from all walks of life. I love the look of joy on a student’s face when they cycle for the very first time. When I am at home, I love the fact that I can take a work break and go see what the children are up to. I love being able to connect with them, spend time with them and play an active part in their lives all day long. I love the big hugs. I get to witness all the precious moments and precocious antics. I love having them sit and chat with me in the study while I work (except for when I am swamped). I love having them give honest critiques of my work. I love being able to fetch my wife from work every evening, instead of being stuck doing overtime in the office. I’d like to think that by working at home, I demonstrate to my children the importance of work and family – that both are important.

I do think that all in all, this arrangement is good, and I’d love to have it continue at least until the girls are more independent and don’t need me around as much. But who knows what the future has in store.

A designer and creative director for over 20 years, Kenneth now creates better and safer cyclists through Singapore Bike School, the country's first cycling school. When he's not designing, coaching, parenting or spending time with his wife, he rides Singapore's mountain bike trails, watches Adventure Time with his two daughters or potters about the garden.

Working from home seems like the "ideal" system for parents but it is definitely not easy striking a balance and keeping both realms distinct from each other. It takes a lot of discipline and responsibility. However I think the important thing is no matter where we or our partners work, it is being done, and we need to appreciate each other for it. Working in a office doesn't mean you are working harder than someone working from home, and vice versa. It's not the environment, but the effort put in.




Rumah Dijual said...

Lovely story. I wonder how you manage your time with those three jobs. I myself find it is difficult to manage my time although I have only one job.

--andy-- said...

Daddy Kenneth is having his hands full, Good inspiration :)

An Apel a Day said...

This is great!!! My husband works on the weekends and stays home with the boys 2 days during the week. For awhile he had my 2 nephews as well. At one time he had two babies and two 2 1/2 year olds. That was interesting! Especially since my nephew wouldn't take a bottle for him. :(

Theresa Mahoney said...

It sounds like you are a busy guy, but you have found a good balance of work and family, and that's not easy to do!

Thanks for sharing your story!

Unknown said...

Loved reading this. My husband did stay at home dad time for 6 months while working on freelance projects, taking over from me as a stay home mum when I returned to full time work for a while. Lets just say that since then, he's never ever asked or said anything along the lines of "what did you do all day?" Or ask why the dishes are still in the sink!

Husbands that aren't afraid to roll up the sleeves and be daddies are great. Good Jon, Kenneth!