We married male entrepreneurs face a much different set of challenges than our forebears. The “traditional” family structure of the husband providing 100% of the family income while the wife stays at home with the kids is dead. Two-income households are the norm, and with women at work, men are required to take on additional household responsibilities. As an entrepreneur, father, and a husband to a wife who is also an entrepreneur, I have found balancing responsibilities to be more a matter of choice, than adherence to traditional cultural norms.
This article is inspired by a recent Atlantic article, Why Women Still Can’t Have It All, by Anne-Marie Slaughter. Mrs. Slaughter wrote about her experience being a mother while holding high positions including Director of Policy Planning at the State Department (2009-2011) and Dean of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. While it would be presumptuous of me to attempt a summarization of the article, which I recommend you read in full, it made me think of the challenges that I face.
This is what I would like to discuss with you today.
Let me start by saying that I do not presume to compare my challenges to those of Mrs. Slaughter. Our circumstances are quite different, making direct comparison impossible. Nor am I saying that my challenges are less than or greater than her challenges. They are what they are, for both of us.
Having said that, let’s continue.
A Little Background On Me
My parents, both of which are 40 years older than I, followed the traditional and expected path of going to college and then getting jobs. My father worked for the U.S. Justice Department as a Civil Rights Attorney for 31 years before retiring. My mother, by the time my sister and I came along, coordinated all family investments and activities, and was also a successful realtor for many years. You can imagine their surprise when I took 10 years to complete college, and started a few businesses along the way.
I’ve been married since I was 23. I will be 34 in a few weeks. My daughter Palamee was born in 2008 on the same day as her mother, and the day I started my MBA. It was a great day for me.
Eight years past I had a computer instructor who worked so much he literally missed seeing his daughter grow up. He regretted it and told me as much. That was not going to be me. I wanted to be present in the lives of both my wife and my daughter. At the time though I wasn’t capable of balancing all of the responsibilities.
My wife Kookkai, who had done very well in both the timeshare and real estate industries, took care of Palamee full-time, while I went to school on the weekends and worked on my business during the week. If it wasn’t for Kookkai I never would have been able to do as much as I did, and obtain my MBA.
We had always wanted to go to Thailand for an extended stay, after taking Palamee there for her first birthday. We saw our chance in the summer of 2010. However it was cut short by rioting in Bangkok, causing us to spend 6 months in Minnesota before heading to Thailand in November of 2010.
It was during our time in Thailand that I came to better understand how to balance the responsibilities of being a husband, father, and entrepreneur, and what each of those truly means.
Clarifying The Challenges
As an entrepreneur, you do everything yourself. And I mean everything – sales, marketing, operations, finance and the work of creating products and/or providing services. There is no single manual to help you along the way – you learn as you go. And there’s a hell of a lot to learn.
Being married I want to spend time with my wife. Developing a relationship takes active participation. I also want to help her with her business as much as I can.
As a father I want to spend time with my daughter. I want to help her learn more, understand more, and become the truly exceptional person I know she will be. I once read that children spell love as “T-I-M-E”. Nothing is truer. My daughter is content simply to snuggle while we read a book, or curl up and watch cartoons.
So the balance I speak of is between these three facets of my life – husband, father, entrepreneur.
Putting Family First
The choice I made is to put my family first. Does this mean I must have less ambition? Absolutely not. Having to choose between family and business is a false choice. Let no one tell you differently. How does this choice manifest itself if my life? Scheduling.
During the week my daughter goes to school. I have her schedule for the coming week in advance, and when I receive it, I plan my week. First onto the calendar are time for family breakfast and extended dinner. In the morning I do not check email or do any work until she is off to school. During dinner I put my phone by my computer and don’t check anything. To be present you must be present.
Guys: We Don’t Live An Episode of Mad Men
We have a new generation of young men who have been raised by full-time working mothers. Let us presume, as I do with my sons, that they will understand ‘supporting their families’ to mean more than earning money. – Anne-Marie Slaughter
Don Draper has one main responsibility in his personal life – to provide money for his family. To be fair, he does a few school activities. But when it comes to doing stuff around the house, well, that’s work for his current wife. For men today this is not reality. And if your wife works, you know it’s not like that by a long shot.
I made an agreement with my wife when we got married – if she cooks I’ll do the dishes. I definitely got the better side of the deal. However the responsibilities don’t end there. There’s laundry and house cleaning, shopping, activities for the kids, making sure the kids are fed (with healthy food) and much more.
Being a mother is more than a full-time job. It isn’t over at the end of the day. Mothers deserve a lot of respect for everything they do. Their jobs are extremely important, they are literally raising our future. We, as husbands and fathers, need to help them. We, as employers, need to understand and support them.
I call weekends semi-flexible because I always try to spend at least one full day with my family. During the day I do zero work and I don’t check email or social media sites. That has to wait until night time when my daughter is asleep.
Since I don’t have any employees, I do end up working some weekends when new clients come onboard, or I have a metric ton of work in the coming week. This is one of those weekends.
If I’m honest with myself though, because I control my schedule, this too is a choice. I can choose how much work I take on. I can choose what expectations I set for my clients.
Irrespective of circumstances, I discuss it with my wife. It’s a team effort here.
Travel With Family When Possible
I’ve been fortunate to have the ability to travel with my family. We’ve traveled to conferences all over the US together, and were also able to travel as a family to Europe during my MBA. We also took a 6-week road trip in the US to visit my clients, and have been to Thailand three times since Palamee was born.
I’ve been on two business trips to foreign countries without my family. I’d like to thank Tim Berners-Lee for the Internet, and Skype for creating an application that allows me to talk via video with my family using that Internet.
Having A Business Does Not Mean Sacrificing Family
If you have been made to believe that you have to sacrifice family life for growing a business, it’s time to put that misconception on the shelf. I’m sure you’re pretty incredulous so allow me to explain.
For years I believed that in order to have my own business I had to work 26 hour days 8 days a week. I did that in my first business and burned out once a month. I would be down for 3-5 days sick as a dog. It’s no way to live, and it’s unnecessary.
There is no doubt there is always something to learn, be it marketing, sales, finance, operations, or how to improve your products and services. That will never end. But no one said that just because you work “alone” that you are alone.
I speak with my business consultant Lauri Flaquer on a regular basis. I’ve had a life coach. I speak with fellow entrepreneurs on a daily basis, passing ideas by them and getting their feedback. I have business partners in various ventures.
I understand that if I want to achieve my goals and not completely freak out along the way, I cannot do this alone.
It’s impossible and it’s unnecessary. No man is an island. And as humans we’re not built to be alone. We need each other, and that’s a good thing. It’s not a weakness as I once believed. Only ego holds you back from accepting this fact.
Don’t allow your ego to get in the way of your success and happiness.
Choice, Beliefs and Priorities
In life you get a lot of advice. It comes from all directions – parents, teachers, friends, religious figures, politicians, the media, books, magazines and blogs. But unlike the sheep that some would have you be, you have a choice. You always have a choice. And because each choice has a tradeoff associated with it, your beliefs and priorities determine the choices you make.
Here’s the thing about beliefs – you choose them too. So what do you choose to believe?
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. – The Declaration Of Independence
Being happy is also a choice. What makes you happy?
Building a business I am proud of makes me happy. So does spending time with my wife and daughter, and helping them achieve the things that make them happy.
Do I have to make tradeoffs because of my choices? Absolutely. And I’m fine with that, because I don’t allow, to the best of my ability, the expectations of others to dictate my happiness.
I choose what I believe. I choose what makes me happy. I choose to make my life what I want it to be.
What do you choose?