Being a dad is one of life’s greatest roles and it shows up very abruptly. Something that was a concept instantly becomes reality. Suddenly you're deprived of sleep, and your life, which used to revolve around you, now belongs to another. It instantly changes you, goes without saying of course.
In the moment of our first born arriving into the world I didn’t know what it really meant. The whole process was magical and mysterious. It was an amazing moment, but for me it wasn’t the emotional high many people talk about. That happened with our second. I think it was because I was kinda freaked out if I’m honest.
The whole process has definitely made me a better person. A better leader and creative. I’m calmer, more relaxed and focused. Someone who can roll with the punches no matter the situation. I think it's because you get used to dealing with things you can’t control (slightly mental kids, stinky nappies and projectile vomit), that you simply become more familiar with chaos. You also learn to stop and smell the roses more. Not to sweat the small stuff as much. Watching your kids take in the world moment by moment, growing and exploring is inspiring. It has helped me realize the importance of slowing down and living in the moment.
The first two years with our eldest Taylor were tough, she wasn’t colicky but she cried - a lot. It was tough on us both but actually brought me and my wife closer together - I learned to be a better listener. It got much better around the time she turned two because we could communicate. Everyone always talks about the terrible two’s but for me I love that age. It’s always felt like a turning point where they became little people and their personalities came out to play. We’ve had many daddy daughter days with special moments to bond. My eldest is a lot like me in many ways which can work both ways ;)
I remember one moment driving in the car and our eldest Taylor was in the midst of losing her mind screaming. She’d been crying a lot, we hadn’t slept a lot. You soon realize it's not the child, it's you. Only you can control how you react. It’s been a big aha moment; I still have times where I have to tell myself to chill the F out and step back, to try another approach or angle that works for both of us. You’re forced to really grow up and that’s a great thing.
With a second child you’re so much more relaxed. It’s not such a mystery anymore and you’ve learned so much from the first child. You really stop sweating the small stuff and simply enjoy the ride.
I highly recommend it. While it certainly doesn’t make life easier (as you have to go it alone without a family support system) it’s been an incredible journey.
Nearly ten years ago my wife was working as a stock broker. It was around 2008 during the financial crisis, she was pretty unhappy - many people were losing fortunes. I didn’t want to see her like that, she’s such a good person. Being on the front lines when people are losing money is obviously rough. Life is too short to be unhappy.
At the time, I was a relative newbie in advertising. I’d recently left a lovely boutique agency called One Method and was at a much larger agency McLaren McCann in Toronto. I went from Senior Art Director/Designer to Group Creative Director in something like seven or eight months. A huge jump where the stars just aligned. We had an incredible team of super talented creatives, I was very fortunate. We won all kinds of awards and had a blast together, it was a special time. I started getting calls from south of the border. The dollar and pay scale were so much better in the US than Canada.
Moving south into the States suddenly meant my wife could stay at home with our daughter which has been so healthy for all of us. I’d always dreamed of living in Californian surfing everyday so we packed up and set off. Left our families behind and went to San Francisco where I took a job at AKQA working on Nike. It was a dream come true but not the ideal Cali we had imagined. We were there for a year, then went LA for another five (that was much more the Cali I dreamed about surfing before work etc.). Each move has been tough for my wife because there’s zero safety net. You take for granted having family and close friends as a support system but it also makes you stronger together. From our experience it takes about two years to really build a network of reliable friends you can look to when times get tough. Moving every couple years is exciting but also can be pretty stressful. It’s been well worth it though.
We have loads of awesome friends in LA and memories to last a lifetime. But it can also be a very materialistic singular culture. While we were still a young family I wanted to truly experience Europe beyond a couple weeks vacation. We were also worried about our impressionable daughters growing up in an environment that was so centered around wealth, material goods and lacks real socioeconomic diversity. You need a little tension and grit in life. It makes you appreciate what you do have and gives you motivation to work hard.
Seeing the world is the ultimate classroom. We have all grown immeasurably from the experience.
To be honest I think my daughters have helped me just as much if not more that I have helped them. Their childlike wonder of seeing the world for the first time is magical and infectious. You tend to lose that as an adult if you’re not careful. Both of my little girls have taught me to reconnect with that. Stop rushing, enjoy the journey. Slow down, look around and be open to new experiences. If we aren’t careful we end up buried in our phones and lose sight of what’s really important.
My wife is really creative always drawing, painting, creating games and art projects with our girls. We look for interesting experiments and get Arduino kits where you put together electronics that do things like tell you when the plant needs watering or create interactive instruments. Working at Google is wonderful because they have so many online resources like Made with Code and Be Internet Legends, events and courses that are really interesting and helpful.
I get to direct films and have a deep love for storytelling so I talk a lot about that with my eldest who is also interested and has an eye for it. How to create great characters, what a story arc is, why that’s important etc. I have taken her on several shoots and she has been my Assistant Director getting behind the lens helping line up shots and stuff. She’s a great kid. So when we're on trips or on our way to school we'll sometimes tell stories back and forth and we will critique them. We'll talk about photography, about shot selection, and how light is something to paint with, character development. We take pictures on my phone when we're out together, it’s so much fun.
We also take advantage of all the mind-blowing museums here in London and across Europe. There is so much inspiration and history to digest. It really leads to interesting conversation. History is a also fantastic classroom when you take the time to listen and learn.
I travel a lot and have been lucky to go to really exotic destinations all over the world. When I travel, I try to bring my family along to as many places as I can, by extending the trip over a weekend - it’s so much easier here in Europe. I want to give my daughters a well-rounded view of the world. To see how lucky we are to have been dealt the cards we have. It’s more important now than ever to ensure you get out of the bubble we are fortunate enough to live in. Creativity comes from putting abstract concepts and ideas together so it’s important to experience life through as many lenses as possible.
There’s this fun exercise we do when I get home sitting around the dinner table to get my daughter to talk about her day. ‘Two truths and a lie’ The goal is to share two things that actually happened and one thing that’s made up. It’s quite difficult to get little ones to actually remember clearly the things during the day that stood out and this leads to really interesting conversations and insights. Hopefully it’s not teaching her the art of deception ;)
Our kids don’t really have access to technology. They don’t have a tablet, phone or computer. It’s a conscious decision. We want them playing outside. Not tied to games or social media, but running around outside with friends using their imaginations, reading books, learning an instrument or playing sports.
Technology is definitely important because it’s such an integral part of our society (and their future) so we create experiences that utilize computers and code to learn but it’s not about using technology as a baby sitter. It’s about finding fun and exciting ways to harness it and grow.
I think we work really well together. She is a legend. I need to try to do more - it’s too easy to come home and flop on the couch after a long day. She is the glue and driving force of positivity keeping us all in check. It can get a little nutty around our house. Seeing through the moments of angst and stress and knowing when to hand off to each other - knowing when you should step away or step in is important. It’s easier in those crazy moments for you to lose your cool which only has a negative effect obviously. You have to be careful. Actions definitely speak louder than words with your kids but when you’re in a good rhythm with your partner that support system makes all the difference in the world.
My wife is really good at sitting down and getting through things like school work which can take hours of focus and patience. Something I’ve had to get better at. It’s taught me to stay cool, calm and collected in the face of things I can’t affect right away. Homework’s a great example. You can’t control your child’s ability to grasp a tough concept, or identify with something they've never encountered before. It just takes them a while to get there. My wife has always been super patient with that. My demeanour is action orientated and I can be impatient, but that doesn’t work with kids. You need to step back and give them the time or try another avenue. Frustration is a dead end.
It’s really about your own behaviour. You see your good and bad behaviour reflected back at you. As fathers of girls, we will become the standard of what they look for in a male role model. Doing things that are damaging or negative sets a really low bar and bad standard.
If I holler or get upset, it’s just teaching my kids to react in a way that doesn’t work. That’s not the gift I want to give them. You’re molding them into a version of your best or worst self. It’s horrifying to see when you get it wrong. Your short comings and best qualities all show up. It’s a daily reminder to check yourself and react with kindness, positivity and understanding. My wife is great about giving me ‘the look’ or calling me out and pulling me back from making bad decisions.
One of the hardest parts for me is coming through the threshold and leaving work outside of the home. Compartmentalising my life. I often take a moment on the front step to get my head right. We have a rule when I come through the door, my phone goes away and I can't touch it for a couple hours. My team knows that between these hours I won’t be available. Shutting work off and being present for the kids and my wife is supremely important - it’s something I keep working on.
I’m lucky, the opportunity at Google in Brand Studio was to build and lead a team pretty much from scratch. That means I can help set the pace and how we work. Where we realize the importance of shutting off and having a work life balance. No email after 8 and on weekends. It’s been a game changer coming from agency world where the boundaries are pretty much non-existent.
Two years ago, our littlest had an epileptic fit. She stopped breathing. It taught me about the important things in life. That’s what kids teach you. Before kids I’d be constantly sweating everything. Big and small. Kids teach you what’s really important, having those magical moments with them. Funny enough, not sweating the small stuff is a mechanism for freedom if you take the time to learn the lesson.
It’s easy to get stressed about small things that aren’t really important. Kids come along and shatter that whole belief system. You end up being 'what the F was I thinking, that's not important'. It’s been a paradigm shift of the highest order. Being a dad is a lot more awesome than it is hard actually but it will test you in ways I didn’t imagine.
Great question. I think that I’ve been the best dad I could possibly be and that my girls turn into well rounded, happy people who leave the world a better place than they found it. That I gave them the chance to experience as much of life and the world as possible. That they caught the wanderlust bug, thirst for never-ending knowledge and curiosity. If they grow up happy, confident and well rounded that would make me proud
I think the biggest gift you can give is showing them we all make mistakes along the way. That it’s ok to fall down as long as you get back up. Let them see that you’re not perfect. It’s how we all learn.
We talk about leading by example a lot. About how our eldest has such an effect on her younger sister. Last Christmas my wife was in the bathroom, getting the presents out. My daughter walked in to see my wife. 'You lied to me! Santa’s not real!' she wailed. 'Why did you lie to me?' she asked devastated.
We explained in the moment at 2am it wasn't a lie, it's about a magical moment. Magic on two sides. One side is around receiving as a young child. The other side gets it’s energy from giving, and that's where the real magic lies because that's really what the idea of Christmas is about. Giving people special moments and gifts they will remember forever. So we told her she was now part of the more powerful giving side, the adult side. She is now responsible for creating magical moments for her sister and all the other little kids. Not to break the magic but create it. She thought that was pretty cool. She also now demands to sit at the adult table for dinner.
I'm really proud of her. For her birthday this year and last, she had friends over for her party. We asked her what she wanted for her birthday. She said she didn’t want anyone to bring any gifts for her, she wanted them to bring canned goods to give away. To help the refugees. When she said it the first time me and my wife were pretty blown away. We see her talking about doing the right thing but that was her really thinking about it and acting on her beliefs. That made me incredibly proud.
Most of the credit has to go to my wife. It’s much easier to be the fun guy who comes through the door at the end of the day fires the kids up then reads them books in bed. She does so much helping to shape them into thoughtful, kind little humans.
It’s the ultimate responsibility and opportunity to mould these blank canvases into people that reflect your values and ideally make the world a better place. To be happy and confident. To be gentle but tough. It’s the craziest journey I’ve ever been on. The highs and lows. The most memorable moments I have are with my girls without question. It’s changed me in ways I didn’t expect. It forces you to grow up and become a better person.
It’s awesome, humbling and all consuming. You can’t dip your toe in the water and that’s what’s so great about it. You’re all in from the first second you hear her wail her way into the world.
My advice would be just try to relax and take a deep breath. Trust your partner, be there for each other and that it’s going to be OK - because it will. Enjoy the ride, don’t sweat the small stuff and take loads of pictures. It’s all goes by so darn fast.
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