Andrew Hill is an associate editor and the management editor of the FT. He writes regularly on leadership and interviews leaders of the biggest businesses in the world. He has a son, 20, at university and a daughter, 16, currently studying for her A Levels. He lives just outside London with his wife and daughter.
We had been working in Milan, me for the FT and my wife for a law firm. When we came back to London at the end of 1996, we had talked about having children but didn’t expect it to come so soon. Within a month of establishing ourselves in London, my wife was pregnant.
I remember walking through a square in Bloomsbury, having just registered our son’s birth, a pack of nappies under my arm feeling proud. Then I was told I’d got my wife’s name wrong on the birth certificate so had to go back.
Looking back, we both thought we’d have a longer run up to settle in London. It meant we didn’t have the conversation about how we wanted to bring up kids. Recently, I was interviewing Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO. We found ourselves reflecting that neither of us had that discussion with our partners. As a result, our wives took on most of the responsibility.
I have to give her a lot of credit for doing the hands on child care until about 10 years ago when they become more independent. Over that time, she’s developed a thriving career as a languages tutor.
I find that you’re always in the moment of parenting you're currently in. We’re currently in the university years. That’s a different world to new borns, toddlers and young children. I find it hard to think back.
I find myself sceptical of dads who say they have a plan and stick to it. I think it’s more evolving than that. You think in the moment, about how you should have done something differently and what you will do next time.
I have found that even when you have a plan, it doesn’t work out as expected. You notice this more with teenagers. There's a cliché moment of eye rolling accompanied by ‘oh dad, we already know all that’. There is a sense of knowingness that teenagers have, you find yourself stumbling into it.
I asked my son this morning about what I’ve done well and poorly. To my surprise he said I’ve been good at listening. I worried he would say I lecture them too much, but I feel proud of that, it’s a tribute.
I think that's why my son Facetimes us often from university. I know other’s children are more inclined to go quiet for the duration of the term and then reappear at the end. My son wants to share what he's excited or nervous about.
Maybe that’s a compliment to us. You can read it another way though. Maybe they keep coming back to us for advice because we haven’t given them the independence to make their own decisions. Maybe. Sometimes I worry about this alternative version.
I think this comes from our parenting style, which it not imposing our choices on them. We’re open and talk a lot with them. At age 11, we let them choose the secondary school they wanted to go to, with guidance of course. I sometimes wonder whether they might have missed an opportunity because weren't pushier parents.
The dilemma I have a lot is whether we are giving them enough chance to decide things on their own.
You have to understand they are different people. I think about that a lot. Oddly, more now than when they were younger. I remember when my son was 8 or 9, I wanted him to try cricket. I did the thing of coaching a team because it was more interesting than sitting on the side-lines. In the end I think he was just coming along to please me, not himself. I realise now, there’s a danger of thinking they will want to do the thing you enjoyed at their age. Cricket’s a small example, but I do worry about how we've subtly influenced their decisions. How our reactions to things have shaped their decisions; whether we should push harder on things, or not. These are all unanswerable questions for any parent.
I do know that you have to give them lots of opportunities. You have to remember it’s not that they are lazily not taking them, they may just have different interests.
Through my job, I go to things about the future of work. I worry that the period my children went to school in might be the tail end of a hopelessly inadequate system. One that's not equipped them with the right things to succeed. Is there something else they should have in their kit that will help them take the best opportunities? If so, could, or should we have done something more to give it to them?
My wife and I completely agree on not forcing or nudging our children into school subjects that others say are the 'right' things to do. I feel they should enjoy the subjects they are doing. People who do things they enjoy are going to succeed, whereas people who don't, won't.
You change. My son’s decided he wants to be a football journalist. He’s into the European game, which I think comes from my wife's side of the family, her father’s a big Real Madrid fan. My son knows a lot about the European game. I wasn't interested in football, but now I am through him.
Similarly, my daughter is a very keen swimmer. I wouldn't have imagined spending so many Saturday nights in a humid pool watching people swim. It’s the kind of thing you do, led by your children. It’s obvious how euphoric my daughter is at the end of a swimming session. For that I would go a long way.
I’ve interviewed a lot of chief executives, mostly men because of the period I’ve been working in. Rarely do they raise fatherhood, except for Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO. He's big on empathy so it fits with the discussion. You wouldn't really expect parenting to come up in interviews about business though.
It goes into this problem of having different silos of work, life, parenting etc. I do think we bring a different person to work. We literally suit up. Yet family is a good moderator of work behaviour. Never do something you would not be happy to explain to your children. I've noticed a shift in leaders being more emotionally intelligent, although they know this is important, so if I was being cynical, I would say they are just presenting it.
The role of women in the workplace has brought fatherhood into the limelight more. But, there’s a definite trope of male leaders who say things like ‘I wouldn’t want this to happen to my daughter, that’s why I’m…’ I roll my eyes at that, because women should have the same opportunities in the workplace regardless. It is a sign of the transition we're in though. From one where men in powerful positions don't talk at all about emotional issues, to one where they do. While it makes me uneasy, it is a symbol we're moving in the right direction.
If my children are talking in warm terms about their childhood, that would be some measure of success.
I'd like to hope they feel they can still come to us with their worries and uncertainties. We would be shocked and upset if they didn't stay in touch. I am always unsettled to hear about people who have lost touch with their own parents, or who don't contact them regularly.
My dad died when my son was young. I have never had the benefit of asking him about what I should do as a dad. I missed that. I spend a lot of time talking to my mum about the children. I miss the opportunity to ask my father at various life stages of what he did and what he would have done when I was young.
Something I admire about my children, which we can’t take credit for, is their sense of humour. They both know how to use humour to defuse heated family discussions. Last year we went to California, rented a motorhome. I thought it was a recipe for family feuds, but actually, the children defused these situations through humour. That's a high for me, knowing we were able to do that, and not just survive but thrive, because they knew how to deal with those situations.
You're always thinking of them. The way we communicate now makes that more present, because I can reach them via WhatsApp or text or Facetime. That’s been an interesting change in the last few years.
It will be strange for us when neither is living at home. It will be strange planning things without them. It’s a bit of a cliché that you always worry, but you do think about what their next big step is. About how much I should be involved in helping them make it, or not.
Throughout fatherhood, I’ve wondered about the balance between being encouraging and positive, and whether that sets expectations that are impossible to meet? It goes back to everything we've discussed. You want them to be independent, but to still want and need us as parents. Above all I just want a great relationship with my kids.
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