Jon Forsyth is an ad man entrepreneur. He Co-Founded and headed up communications strategy at the advertising agency Adam & Eve. Established in 2008, the agency’s reputation for creativity led to rapid growth. In 2012 Jon and his three business partners sold to Omnicom and became adam&eveDDB, which they still run. His second venture’s Exeter Street Bakery, which sells some of North London's best bread, not far from where he lives with his wife and two daughters, aged 8 & 11. Follow him on twitter.
Being a dad is an enormous privilege. I love people, which is why I got into advertising. If you love people, children give you abundance because they are a different person every day. My eldest will come down in the morning and say something quite grown up, just one small thing, but it’s a change every single day. That’s from day one. You won’t be able to experience that forever because one day they leave home, so you’ve got to enjoy it while you can.
If you've the opportunity to be a dad, you've got to make the most of it. Back in 2008, when I set up the agency, adam&eve, my wife and I did a deal. It meant putting life on hold for a few years while I invested everything into the business. The plan was always to sell it in around five years and we did. For the first two years I was an absent dad. Every weekend and most nights, so I have a constant sense of trying to make up for the time I wasn’t with them, I don’t want to waste a minute. There’s a sense of doing my part in the deal with myself and my wife. That was what we set out to do and this is how I am going to be a good dad. It sounds quite calculated when I hear it like that, but it's true.
I keep asking myself if I’ve done the right thing. Even though it’s done and we've sold the business, I still ask myself if it was the right decision. I wonder where the pressure came from to do what I did. Was it because I really wanted to be an entrepreneur? Or is it because we've been conditioned as dads to be the provider of security? I think it's somewhere in between the two.
It completely changes your perspective because you've got responsibility like you've never had before. Having a child to look after gives you such a sense of meaning and worth. It’s the game changer.
When we had our first, my wife was having a slow labour. They said I should go to sleep having been up two-days straight. I took a roll-mat and woke up 45 minutes later with all the alarms going off. I stood up at the head end, rolled up my sleeves and turned to the doctor, who was standing at the other end. He looked at me and said “No, no, you stay there.” Honestly, what the hell was I was going to do?! I think that shirt-sleeves-rolling-up moment was my start to being a dad though. It’s a rollercoaster and has been ever since.
I remember leaving the hospital and asking the midwife for some advice. She said “I’ll give you one bit of advice, the only bit of advice you’ll need. Just remember that the baby revolves around your world, not vice versa”. It was just what I needed. You could easily slip into things being the other way round. But that’s not how it works when you’re putting them in the car seat when they're screaming, or doing controlled crying. Having the right mind-set is really important. It's obviously a two-way thing, but there’s a real danger in going too far one way.
Trying to work out the right balance is the hardest thing. Should you invest all this time, building a successful business to give you a more comfortable life so you can spend more time with your children in the years to come? Or is that false economy? Is it best to spend time with your kids from the ages of 2 - 10/11, making that the most important thing and everything else is secondary? Working out the right choice is hard.
I made a conscious decision to give the business my all and make that successful because I think it’s best for my family. It comes down to when’s the best time to have input as a dad. Is it when they are 3 - 8, or 10 -16? I think I’ll have a bigger input now in those later years, but if you have to choose which is better, I just don’t know.
It’s tough to know what your kids want to do in the time you spend together. Your perceptions about what they think is fun is often quite materialistic. You want to go and spend some money on something, like going to a theme park or whatever. Often though it’s the normal things they want to do, not the stuff you spend money on. Things like spending time with you in their bedroom talking about a toy they want to play with. Something really simple and far less eventful than you might think, but for them it’s absolutely brilliant. Working out what those things are is hard.
Thinking about your kid’s future is also tough. Our eldest is going to secondary school, getting into the big bad world where her life skills will be really tested. I think she's good on that and has all the right attributes now from primary school, but whether it will work for her or not, who knows. How much reliance do you place on life skills versus getting your head down and being more academic? Whether they go to a school that’s more academic or one that’s more creative could make a big impact on their future, but you just don’t know. I've definitely done better with my creative skills over the academic side of things, finding the balance is an interesting challenge.
I believe that if you're good to people and you listen to people you'll get the most out of life. So I want them to be well-rounded, kind people who listen to others. I don’t have any ambitions for them to be this, that or the other. For them to be grounded, without any of the insecurities that get forced on you today, will be an amazing achievement because there are lots of not well rounded characters in the world.
Sitting under that is my desire to see them set up in the best way for life and to discover their passions. That well rounded character is where I want them to be. How to get there now from where we are is a challenge.
I used to try and squeeze work in around the side of being with my kids, but you quickly realise you can be at work even though you are physically with your kids. If you mix the two you’re not doing either very well. I worked out quite quickly that you have to carve out the time. The only way to do that is to put yourself in situations where you just can’t work. Swimming is great for that, because if you're not paying attention they're going to drown!
We’re also quite religious about doing things like Centre Parcs, some people hate it, but we love it. For the kids it’s a little slice of paradise.
I think you just find the things that you know work really, really well. You give that your concentrated time and then go back to work.
When we did the deal with me setting up the business, it was something we were really clear about. There was a danger we could have just drifted into it and that wouldn’t have been healthy at all.
We’ve kept on track by talking about it in a good way though, no big interventions, just talking. My wife made it clear that now I’ve sold the business and done that stage, I need to change and be around the home more. When I look at my calendar for the month ahead there's more dad things in there, it's peppered across the month, whereas before there'd have been one day. It’s a big change from the dad I was before to the dad I’ve now become.
My wife's been really, really great. I couldn’t have done what I do as a job without her, absolutely no way, with or without the kids actually. It's not always easy, but if you have the backbone of that to fall back on, you can do it. We go away together every year, for a New York trip, it’s our thing. We’ve got this understanding that there are things we're sticking to, a structure to work to that gets you through.
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