I’m a full time father.
Before my new “career” began four years ago, I’d been an art director for 14 years. But none of that compares to, or prepared me for, the challenges of raising two young children who are now five and six years old.
Early on in our relationship, my wife and I were very focused on building our careers. We were both highly motivated, we enjoyed our professions and, fortunately, we were both fairly successful. But we always knew that one day we’d start a family. What we hadn’t really thought through, however, was how that would affect our careers and our relationship.
So off we marched into the wonderful world of parenthood. First, our son was born, then 20 months later, our daughter. Suddenly—or so it seemed—we had two beautiful children.
But all was not well.
In this profession, evenings, weekends and holidays are not held sacred. Travel for meetings and production will always loom. As a creative you learn early on that there is no way to gauge when the magic will happen. Ideas can rain down one moment then they can dry up and leave you stranded in the Mojave the next.
Being a parent as an advertising creative is challenging to say the least. There’s the inconsistent and unpredictable schedule. In this profession, evenings, weekends and holidays are not held sacred. Travel for meetings and production will always loom. As a creative you learn early on that there is no way to gauge when the magic will happen. Ideas can rain down one moment then they can dry up and leave you stranded in the Mojave the next. The client can kill all that good work, assuming the agency hasn’t already, throwing you into a fire-drill-like panic. And let’s not forget the colossal time suck: the new business pitch.
It got to the point where I dreaded calling my wife to tell her I’d be late or that I’d be spending the weekend at the office or I’d be gone for weeks at a time for production. While we did have family who would help during the day (which was incredibly fortunate) much of the parenting responsibilities were landing in my wife’s lap. To say that my job was creating stress at home for both of us was an understatement. This wasn’t the way either of us wanted to raise our kids, especially since I couldn’t be very involved in the raising.
We knew that a change was needed. Nannies and day cares are great resources for many, but we learned they weren’t for us. We both wanted to be heavily involved in our kids’ upbringing.
So what should we do?
By some twist of fate my career suddenly became even more erratic, requiring more and more time away from home. Throughout all of this my wife’s job was stable, fairly predictable and more lucrative.
The answer became obvious.
It’s funny, when I randomly run into someone from my past ad life, inevitably their first question is: “Are you freelancing?” Even though they know I’m a full time father, I guess there’s an assumption that I have a bunch of free time. As any full time parent knows, that is far from the truth. I didn’t decide to leave an agency to freelance – I left to be a father. Sure, freelancing gives you flexibility but parenting doesn’t. It’s the most full time job I’ve ever had. And that’s saying a lot.
Our marriage, while always strong, immediately felt the freedom from the old tension that came from a) her knowing I was not able to come home (yet again); and b) my desire to keep everyone at work and at home happy while knowing that was impossible.
The benefits to our decision were immediately felt. Our marriage, while always strong, immediately felt the freedom from the old tension that came from a) her knowing I was not able to come home (yet again); and b) my desire to keep everyone at work and at home happy while knowing that was impossible. And now, because I am focused on the kids full-time, my wife has been able to focus on her career, substantially reducing her stress. Now she doesn’t worry about what the kids are doing, who they are with or when she has to be home. I know she really appreciates that.
And it means a lot to me that she trusts me and believes in me to be the primary parent. Outside of getting married and having kids, it was the best decision we have ever made.
However, there are days when I feel like I’m in way over my head. Parenting is hard. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. With my previous career there’d be aggravating meetings, annoying coworkers and clients. But you could always escape, at least briefly. When you’re raising kids there is no escape. It requires constant and relentless focus. It’s tiring. I truly had no idea what I was getting myself into.
Parents need to rely on their instincts. But what do you do when you realize your instincts are wrong? I’ve learned more than can be imagined from my wife. She is a wealth of knowledge and I am a firm believer that when it comes to parenting, a mother often knows best. She has taught me how to be a much, much better father – more compassionate, more patient, more understanding. As with my previous career, my goal has been to constantly grow and get better, but since there isn’t an end of the year review, it’s hard to know if I’m doing a good job.
My wife hasn’t fired me yet. But I know there are times when she (or my kids) would probably like to. I know I’ve made mistakes and will continue to do so. There’s a lot of pressure to succeed at this. Failure isn’t really an option.
We have two amazing, curious kids who I love more than anything. As they grow and learn, so do I. If I’m lucky, in a few years we’ll have raised two confident, ambitious young people who will be ready to venture out into the world.
And then maybe I’ll go freelance.
Demian Fore has spent 14 years as an art director, 12 years as a husband, six years as a father, four years as a full-time father and 43 years gravitating toward shiny objects. He lives in Austin, TX.