Hands-on Dads: How Do They Work and Parent?

The ‘how do they do it all’ question is usually reserved for working mums but with hands-on dads becoming increasingly common, we decided to ask dads who work and play an active role in their kids’ lives the same question… 

Parenting is challenging. It means making constant sacrifices – either work, social life, ‘me-time’, time with your partner, holidays…  Something has to give. Traditionally, it was the mothers taking the majority of that pressure; giving up work to look after the children, but as fathers are playing an increasingly big role in their children’s lives, that pressure is evening out between both parents.

We wanted to know how it feels to be an involved dad – and what that means – so we spoke to four men who consider themselves hands-on dads. We wanted to know how much paternity leave they took, how the childcare is split now, who did the night shifts when their kids were babies and what their relationships were like with their own fathers. This is what they said…

Meet the hands-on dads

Kevin- hands-on dads - theearlyhour.com

Kevin Lorch, 41, lives in Surrey with his wife and their five-year-old twins Louie and Lexie. He runs WooPitch – a software product connecting PRs people and journalists

He says:
“My current business is a software product called WooPitch. It’s designed to help PRs accurately target the right journalists for their news. We’ve been in development stage for about nine months and are just launching. Prior to this, I’ve been running a sales agency helping SMEs who don’t want the overheads of a full time sales person.

My wife and I were married for seven years before we had children. Having twin babies and a business to look after was fun. We were also renovating a house at the time so things did get a bit manic but it was great to be able to be around for their early years.

I didn’t take any paternity but just worked around their schedules. And I helped with night shifts. Although my wife breastfed the children for nine months I’d still get up and help her at night, we made it a bit of fun by turning on the iPad each feeding time to catch up on box sets! In the mornings, we both get up with the kids.

I’ve always worked from home, I have an office here that I can lock myself away in so I worked whenever possible really. At first it was difficult but then they settled into a routine and that meant I could come in and help if needed. I do most of the cooking but my wife does the rest of the housework. I’m not the tidiest!

My wife has a fitness business for women called fit4mum.com. I think the fact that we both own our own businesses works for us as it means we can share the childcare. We haven’t paid for childcare, except a couple of mornings a week at nursery between the age of three and five.

On an average day, I get up around 6.30am then the kids rise at about 7.15. A couple of days a week my wife has early clients so I’ll get the kids ready otherwise we will do it together, we then try to cycle to school as a family. I’ll then work until pick-up time and again, we try to do this together. Depending on workload I’ll either go back to work or we’ll do something fun with the kids. There’s no specific schedule we have to keep.

As the kids are getting older, weekends have started to be more about their activities and parties, however we try to do everything together and get away as much as possible.

My dad was always around as a kid, he did work full time but very rarely stayed away or worked too late. He was always there and I felt it was important that I did the same. I worked in London pre kids and if I’d have kept going I’d have only seen them at weekends. I wanted to play a big role and that helped make up my mind to step out of the corporate world.

I would always say to anyone that wants to start their own business to go for it. You’ll regret not giving it a try and just because you have a family it doesn’t mean it’s too late. I’ve been lucky enough to be there every day of their lives and see every moment. All of which has benefited both me and them enormously.

Life isn’t a trial run!”

Julian - hands-on dads - theearlyhour.com

Julian Keel, 46, lives in West Horsley, Surrey, with his wife Sara and their three children Lauren, nine, Plum, seven, Ottilie, five. He is a chiropractor and travelled the world with the Grand Priz circuit as the first chiropractor in Formula One before settling down and setting up his own practice

He says:
“I met Sara in 2003, we married in 2004 and it was then that I stopped travelling and bought a property for the clinic in Barnes, southwest London, to be able to really focus on my own business and develop my chiropractic practice: Barnes Chiropractic Healthcare.

We decided after a year of marriage to have a baby. At that time, I was lucky enough to live close to work allowing for popping home at lunchtime and quieter times to be with Sara and Lauren. I didn’t take a paternity leave as such, being self employed, but was able to cut down clinic hours for a week or two so that I could be home more.

Sara expressed some milk in the evening, so I could do a bottle feed late on, but as Sara breastfed and I was needed ‘on form’ in the clinic, I got to sleep through the nights. Both Sara and I got up with Lauren in the morning, but I think this is when I started to be the breakfast cook, making sure that all were fed well at the start of the day.

I used to work on Saturday mornings, but I stopped that when Lauren arrived, instead working some later evenings during the week to accommodate City workers wanting to schedule their chiropractic care on their return commute. I also stopped working in clinic on Fridays whilst Lauren was very young, so four full days and three days off a week was a great way to be home more.

We went on to have two more children. How have I managed all this while heading up a company? I think it’s been a lot to do with marrying the fabulous Sara and having three content babies! There’s motivation to succeed in business and provide for the family.

Sara has started a business in the past three years, and works from home building her amazing company that manufactures and sells the ever more popular Babycup First Cups. We have had someone to help with childcare the odd day here and there during the week, if Sara has needed to go to a meeting whilst establishing the Babycup range.

Regarding housework, Sara does it mainly, while I cook/prepare breakfast everyday, cook an evening meal perhaps on Friday or Saturday, help with some cleaning at the weekend. It’s a never-ending tidy-up in our house! The children are just starting to help a bit more now…

On an average day, I’m up at 6.45am, cook eggs – dippy, poached, omelette (we have different desires between five people!), make a fresh smoothie, serve, kiss the girls goodbye as they leave for school. Then shower, shave, drive to work for a 9.30am start. Treat my patients through to lunchtime, back on till 7.30pm and drive home to dinner with Sara, (girls are in bed, so a quick kiss goodnight). TV or reading before bed at 11pm. Fortunately, I get home earlier on Wednesdays and Fridays now finish at lunchtime so I have time to help with school pick up, bathtime and stories.

At the weekends, typically I’ll do some exercise first thing on Saturday morning, then after breakfast is done, Sara and I will be ferrying our daughters to and from their various ballet, gym and drama clubs until lunchtime. The rest of the weekend is free to do what we like, which may depend on weather conditions, helping with homework or if one of the girls is attending a birthday party (there are many invites when you have three kids!) We are lucky to live backing onto woods where we can go cycling together, or locally we have the Surrey Hills, National Trust properties, or Wisley Gardens to explore or we play games in the garden.

My dad was great at making up stories to tell us, building climbing frames and obstacle courses for us to balance on and teaching us to build bicycles. He helped develop an interest in nature and the world around us, perhaps inspiring the worldwide travel and work that I do. He has always cared about his children and now loves to see his grandchildren growing up.

When it came to having my own kids, it never felt like there was any other way that would be as fulfilling. I’m grateful to be a big part in their lives. I wouldn’t want to have missed any of those magical moments. We started a family later in our lives and feel very fortunate to have three wonderful and beautiful girls. Who knows, if we’d met earlier, perhaps we’d have four or five!

Building a busy and successful business is hard work, but rewarding and fulfilling. It’s allowed flexibility for spending more time with family during the week, which means I can be more than just a weekend parent. There are so many parts of my children’s development that I can be part of. There’s a drive and motivation to succeed in business to provide a safe, comfortable and happy home for my family.” 

 

Owen - hands-on dads - theearlyhour.com

Owen Jobling, 36, lives in Hertfordshire with his wife Karla and their two kids: Roman, 21 months. Rocky, six days. He is CEO of BeecherMadden, which he founded in 2010 – a niche recruitment company with offices in London and New York, employing 20+ staff

He says:
“Children were not on the agenda until early 2013, as the business was my main focus. Roman arrived 18 months later, which turned out to be good timing as the business was well established at this stage. Although, I am not sure there is ever a good time, there is always more to do at work.

Having a baby and a business to look after was tiring and stressful! I am very hands-on with the business and my staff and I have always worked long hours. I didn’t want to reduce the amount of work I put into growing the business but also wanted to be very involved with the baby.

I took a week off when Roman was born as we had a short hospital stay. After that, I did a lot of work from home for the first month. With Rocky, I have only taken three days. We now live closer to our family and second time around, we know what we are doing a little more.

I like to think I did my fair share of night shifts and helping out in general, especially as Roman got a little bit older. Karla went back to work relatively quickly, so we were all up at the same time. I try and drop Roman at nursery one day a week and while my wife was pregnant, I was around to help her.

Once Roman was two months old, I started working one day a week from home, so that Karla could go back to work. Luckily Roman was an easy baby so working while he was young was relatively easy. It got a bit harder once he could walk but having that time with him was really special. I am lucky that my job gives me the flexibility to do that.

The work I do is based on relationships and communicating with people, rather than being in a certain place. I am lucky with that. I can be emailing, taking calls or online from anywhere. I launched our New York office not long after Roman was born, which meant that I really did need to work around the clock.

It is very early days with our second baby but for these first few weeks I am focussing on work. We are going through a period of significant growth so the business needs me more. I think we know what we are doing with baby number two a little bit more, so it has been easier to split our time. I have scaled back on the late nights at work so that I can see both of the boys and support my wife at home, which is the biggest change. And our social life will certainly suffer for a little while!

My wife works with me, in recruitment. I think this really helps us balance the business and children, as she understands the demands of running a company. Roman was three months old when she went back to work. We both worked a day a week from home and he went to nursery for the other three days. When it comes to meals and housework – that is one area we let slip! But I like to think we split it 50-50.

On an average day, I leave the house at 6.15am so that I am in the office early. I leave a little earlier than normal, often about 5pm, so that I make it home in time for bedtime. I help with bedtime and dinner and spend a bit of time with Rocky. Then I try and get as much sleep as Rocky will allow me, ready to get focussed on the business again the next day.

I want to be a hands-on dad, who has a good relationship with his children. I am lucky enough to be able to choose to do that and I hope in the future, they will appreciate it too. We were reluctant to put the children into nursery every day but my wife wanted to get back to work. This was a good compromise that works really well for our family.

On the weekends, if I am lucky I get a trip to the gym, to de-stress from the week. I often take the children to the park or to their grandparents and we spend lots of time together as a family. Then back to work in the evenings.

My own dad was always around and very involved in my life. He also ran his own business for much of my childhood, so I think he taught me a lot about work and what is possible. I never really thought about the role I’d play in my kids’ lives, as none of it has been planned. I wouldn’t want it any other way, though, and even though it can be hard work, I love that I can have that balance.

To another dad looking to start a business and have a family, I’d say… There are things that you have to sacrifice, it isn’t easy and you should make sure you have a good support network around you too. Spending time with your children doesn’t mean that you stop focussing on your work; you just have to be determined to make it happen.”

Andy - hands-on dads - theearlyhour.com

Andrew Charles Barr, 39, lives in Gloucestershire (‘the rural bit’) and has three kids: Keaton, six, Oscar and Sefi (twins), four. He’s the owner and managing director of leading UK consumer digital agency 10 Yetis

He says:
“We decided to start having kids around three years after launching our business. Both my wife and I set the business up and worked in the business together.

The hardest part was in the initial few months having had Keaton. We were lucky in that we had grown the business to the point where we had a team in place that could cope with everything thrown at them but the nature of a small business is such that the owners are the first people the client turns to if there is an issue and they don’t always care about your personal situation.

You can never, ever, ever prepare for the feeling and sadness you have on the night before you have to return to work and the thought of leaving your little one, and wife, home alone. With hindsight, this was probably the lowest point and the saddest I have ever felt.

For Keaton I took around three weeks off for paternity leave and then went back full time but trying to work from home a bit more. For the twins I took around two months off because of the hard work that goes into the early stages of having twins! As one fell asleep, the other woke for feeding. We slept downstairs on our couches for the first few weeks as we just could not get them settled at the same time. It is not 1950 so of course I helped with the night shift.

When it came to getting the baby up in the morning, I would like to remember it as we took turns, depending on sleepiness of the other person, but I fear my wife probably took the brunt of it. We take getting up in turns now at weekends. Being a lighter sleeper than my wife, I get up in the night if the kids wake up nowadays.

On and off I was working from home, and I tried to work from home more after having the twins. My work, public relations, makes that hard though. I tried to work from home at least two days a week with the twins and get home for 4pm to 5pm. This quickly fizzled out though because the business started growing at a faster rate than we had planned for.

There are times when it is a struggle in terms of, as a parent you want to be at every event that your kids are involved with but sometimes that just isn’t possible. There were also moments where I was really sad that I had missed key ‘first things’ like first words and steps. My wife was amazing through this though and I feel she often pretended it was the first time she had seen various stages of their growth too, like first words, just so I didn’t feel bad.

My wife has now set up her own, hugely successful, art business and her work is displayed in several galleries across the UK. Jilly is still a director of 10 Yetis but has taken a step back to concentrate on her growing artistic career.

Regarding childcare, we used nurseries for Keaton from when he was 12 months old and the same with the twins. We have never had a nanny or alike. Nurseries are expensive enough, let alone being able to afford a nanny!

We have had a cleaner since well before having kids and they have been an amazing help. We take it in turns to prepare the meals although I love making curries for the family at the weekend and roast dinners… one of the best things about being a dad!

Now the kids are a bit older my day is fairly flexible. I go to the gym before work, at around 6.30am, so that I can get home at a reasonable time and I like the early morning start to get myself going and get stuff done. I try and have less overnight business trips now and have turned down a few business conference speaker opportunities because I don’t like being away from the family. I don’t regret turning them down at all, I love the time with the family.

Our kids are now of an age where we are starting to ferry them around to various clubs and events every weekend. Football, rugby, gymnastics, Go Ape, swimming and hockey, you name it, our kids love to play it. I secretly love this though, I want them to try as much sport and activities as they want.

I feel that I am really there for my kids but if you were to ask them, “am I about as much as they would like?” they would undoubtedly say no. You don’t realise how much time your own parents dedicated to you until you become a parent yourself. If I become even half as good a father as my dad was, I will be happy. My dad was very involved in my life, even though he had a tough and very demanding job and career.

I think we’ll stop at three kids. Unless I massively over-indulge in prosecco, that is! I think three is enough.

To another man looking to start a business and have a family, I’d say… There is never a good time to start a business and you can find a load of excuses to put off having kids. Just go for it. Be there as much as you can and nothing can ever prepare you for the time where you have a really bad day in the business but come home and see your beautiful children, and they immediately make you smile and soothe your problems. It is amazing.

Another one tip I tell myself every time I catch a child drawing on our couch or breaking a bit of the new car; these are the good times. I will miss these moments later on in life so enjoy the chaos.

Man I sound soppy!”

 

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