By Andy Jonak
I love being a father. Being a father is one of the most defining parts of my life, and I wouldn't have it any other way. So much so that I can't picture my life without my kids, as I imagine is the case for most parents. I feel their successes and accomplishments in my life as much as they do, and I hurt as much as they do when they have challenges, no matter how big or small. Their happiness makes me happy, and their pains pain me. However, I am always so proud of all they strive to accomplish, whether big or small, whether they succeed or not. That's a big part of my job as their father.
I wholeheartedly believe that family comes first, and I've chosen to approach all things in life in that way. I know most feel that way, but we all know it's not always easy, especially in what we all do in IT, as IT is one of the most demanding career choices, period.
Whether we like it or not, there's no actual "off switch" in IT. Since IT is integral to our customers' businesses and operates 24x7, most of us in IT feel we need to be on and available 24x7. You can see that as good or bad, but that's the reality of our industry. So when those outside of IT read these words, please don't feel bad for us as it's the industry and career we've chosen. If I didn't want to be in IT and all it entails, I would find something else to do, and I hope you feel the same way. But there's no other place I would rather be than in IT.
So how do you balance family and career, especially in IT? It's not easy, but just like anything else important in your life, it's about priorities. If your family is your priority, as being a father is for me, then that will reflect my actions in all areas of my life, especially my career. If your career is your main priority (not judging here, my family is my top priority, but to each their own), your actions will reflect that in your choices and actions. You and you alone have to judge the consequences of that. My choice is clear. Family comes first.
I've found that putting family first, and being a father first, have made my career better in immeasurable ways. How so, you ask? First of all, it constantly reminds me of what I am working so hard for, taking care of my family. Outside of reminding me that family comes first, being a father helps me dictate the actions I take throughout my career, from strategic to tactical, as the choices I make and things I do (or choose not to do) will affect my family. It's a package deal. As goes my career, so goes the effect it has on my family.
Being a father is pervasive in my daily work routine as well. For example, if I have a big meeting to attend, a big presentation to give (in person or remote), or have to go up on stage to MC or host a big event, I often picture my kids sitting in the audience watching me in the crowd. It helps me visualize and reminds me of what's important, which is them, and it inspires me. If I perform well with my kids "watching" me, that will hopefully be the case for the rest of the crowd. That's a direct result of my being a father.
Being a father also helps me boil things down in who I am. I say this a lot to people and groups we talk to, but your work persona and your family/father persona should be the same. It's like we always say in sales, you must be genuine. I joke with them and my kids that with me, what you see is what you get. I am the same person in a business situation as I am at home, and I believe it's reflected in how I act, speak and write, which I think you'll see if you've read anything I've written.
I talk the same, have the same goofy smile I've always had, the friendly personality, and my unfortunate (some say) ability to speak and write too much at times, and it's all done with the same mannerisms I've had pretty much my whole life, which reflects what I've learned from my father. I'm not a different person in business versus at home, nor do I want to be. It's who I am, and you can take it or leave it, my quirks and all, and you know what? Being a father is the reason for it, and my kids remind me in all they do and how they act. That's a wonderful thing.
My kids are 20, 18, and 16 as of this writing. As my oldest was about to be born, I remember worrying about how I would balance being a father with a demanding career in IT, especially in sales. Then I saw her after she was born and realized it was the other way around; how will I balance being in IT with being a father, which changed everything for me. Holding my firstborn, beautiful daughter for the first time made me realize without question that she and my family came first and career second. I felt the same way as my middle daughter and son were born, and all I kept thinking was family first. My kids reinforce that for me as does my wonderful marriage to my wife of 26 years.
How has the past year and the pandemic affected how I am as a father? First, it's helped me double down on what's essential, reinforces what's important. Second, it helps me make sure I do my best to carve out time for them as every moment with my kids is precious, especially as they get older, spread their wings, and do more things outside of the family. I'm so proud of them for doing so, as all parents undoubtedly are, even though it makes me a bit sad at times, as I want more time with them.
Part of me misses when they were younger, and we did everything together, but like just about all parents, I am proud of every step they take throughout their lives. As they get older, their interests pull them in many directions outside of family-oriented activities. That's OK, and what's supposed to happen. Working through the pandemic and the WFH environment has made time and priority with my kids even more important and precious. My kids see me working hard but yet making time for family and what's important. I want and need that to be a lesson for them that they carry throughout their lives. Work hard in all you do, but don't forget what's important. But not only don't forget (that's just words) but live it every day.
As my kids get older, getting them to be part of family activities and vacations is not always easy, as any parent will know. With school, work, and friends, they have lots of commitments. My oldest has moved out of state (she grew up in NY but is now in TX), my son is joining the military next year and will be leaving NY, and my other daughter in nursing school, so we all feel it's so important to get together and celebrate being a family. In August, we are all heading to a resort. This trip will allow us to be together and for me to (selfishly) celebrate being a proud father.
As I write this early on a weekend morning as the sun is coming up (my favorite time of the day) with my wife and kids still asleep, I reflect on the balance of being a father and the other things in my life. I don't want to write this post after they are up since we have things to do, and I don't want to take time from being with them, so that tells you my priorities.
As I said as I opened my post, I love being a father. Being a father brings me profound joy and makes my life better in ways too many to count. I can't imagine it any other way and don't want to.