What the (Modern) Approach to Fatherhood Should Be

This was published by Mike Jones CEO of Science, Inc. June 2019. Read it.

For starters, there should be no dad or mom, only a parent, with time to give. The term “father” to me has always had a low-ish bar. Even the best portrayals in the media are likely to show men who value work over family so that that family feels blessed just having his presence.

The worst portrayal, meanwhile, is of an angry individual whom the family simply tries to not disturb. So, often, we’ll see a hybrid of a drunk and an angry 1950s door-to-door salesman. Or we’ll see a character like Bobby Axlerod on Showtime’s Billions, who shows up in a helicopter to his sons’ baseball games, yet doesn’t visit the kids more than once a month.

The higher up the ladder a father is at work, the less family time is expected of him. Because of this portrayal, fathers who are entrepreneurs often have the lowest bar of all. Steve Jobs, who initially denied he was the father of his daughter Lisa Brennan-Jobs, despite a DNA test showing otherwise, often gets a pass. Some reviews of his 2011 biography don’t even mention his daughter’s existence.

These are some of the reasons why I end up hearing what I describe as low-bar father statements at social events. “It’s so good you come to her games,” one person will say. Or, “It’s so nice of you to visit for parents’ and teachers’ day.” But let’s face it: Society already has a low bar when it comes to fathering, reflected by the fact that just showing up from time to time is enough to win you a “congratulations!” from another parent.

Replacing “father” and “mother”

Before I dive into what I do as a father to make the most of my time with my kids, I want to start by just replacing the words “father” and “mother” with “parent.” As a parent, there is no “have-it-all” mentality. If you want your kids to grow up to be happy, self-actualized individuals who stay connected to the family, you’re going to have to put in some time — and time demands sacrifice.

In this world of ours, that kind of sacrifice needs to come from both parents, regardless of their individual roles. And those roles? We are past gender-based roles. It’s time we moved into a more functional approach to parenting duties.

Beyond that, as an entrepreneur who’s a parent, you will likely have a degree of flexibility that not all parents get. You call the shots, which means you’re fully in charge of how your time is spent. Not all entrepreneurs take advantage of this, and many take it completely for granted, opting for unproductive late nights at the office and work trips with little chance of ROI.

With that in mind, here are the ways I focus my time and optimize my life around my kids. Everyone’s situation is different — certainly these won’t work or fit for everyone — but they do for me in my role within our family and may be of use.

Do the math.

If time is what builds amazing family and kids, then time is our most precious resource. This exercise is easy: You have 168 hours in a week. Assuming you sleep on average 7 hours per night (and if you don’t, please do), you have roughly 119 hours per week to spend on waking activities. If your kids are in school, that really leaves just 6 hours per weekday, and 12 hours per weekend. That means a total of 52 hours per week of possible family time.

For me, the numbers break down like this: I work 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., which is 45 hours per week. Add in my commute, and you can assume I am not 100 percent with my family those 55 hours per week.

I also have access to my kids during the week. I get one hour in the mornings on weekdays, three hours in the evenings on weekdays and all day on each day in the weekend — totaling 52 hours a week.

This means I’m already behind. My family is my priority, so I should try to spend at least the same amount of time with my family as I spend at work. If my work time is a minimum of 55 hours per week, and I only have 52 hours per week with my kids during the school year, then something has to give: I have to be home in the evenings to grab those few precious hours.

And I need to book all weekend with them — otherwise, I won’t even get close to matching the time I devote to work.

This means that if I want to spend those hours with them, I cannot do things like go to the gym, hang out with friends or participate in non-family outside-of-work activities during the times my children are available to me.

In addition, work dinners or time that eats into those few hours each day needs to be cut to a minimum, which means eliminating all non-essential work evening meetings.

Another result is that I can rarely travel for work unless that’s absolutely necessary. If I do travel, I need to keep the trip as short as possible and book it with back-to-back meetings until I’m back in the air.

If you’re an entrepreneur who’s fallen into the trap of late nights and pressure to network (even though 99 percent of networking is a waste of time), I recommend adopting this same mathematical approach to how your time is spent and then being fiercely protective of the time you reserve for your family.

President Obama, for example, set a rule that after he was inaugurated he would have dinner with his family five nights a week, and he enforced that rule strictly. His former body-man Reggie Love used to say that the meal was “like a meeting in the Situation Room. There’s a hard stop before that dinner.”

Establish one-on-one time with your kids.

My wife Jenn and I have two kids and want to give them equal one-on-one time. The only way we have found to do this is to switch which parent puts which child to bed each evening. One night, my wife might put our son to bed while I put our daughter to bed, and the next night we’ll switch.

If you can’t get home in time for a few hours with your kids after work, then this bedtime ritual is the next most precious thing. That 30 minute-to-one-hour time before lights out is the most critical time we get with our kids. It allows one-on-one conversations, and it opens up time and a space for our children to express their feelings to us about their day.

While my daughter likes to provide a chronological expression of her day, class by class, with detail, my son prefers to play. After he plays, he relates the positive or negative experiences he had at school that day.

I try to not bring my phone to their rooms during this time — and I try to let them set the conversation. I don’t probe; but I do work to hear more about their day. The longer we have done this as a family, the more meaningful conversations we have had.

Find shared interests.

One thing that seems universal to all kids is that they learn and thrive within play; and structured play means games. Games allow children to have a dynamic with you that is at an equal level. They can be equally matched and have the chance to beat you (which frankly they love).

When our kids were younger, we got very deep into card games. They played Pokémon, not the iPhone version, the card game. In order to connect with them, I played too. We played aggressively and competitively. I got as deep into it as they did; frankly, just talking about this makes me want to play. I saw other parents placate their kids by pretending to play; they didn’t really care about the games they were playing, and they looked for opportunities to exit the game.

I took the opposite approach; I played to win. I discussed and researched strategy with them. We took our cards with us on trips. And, yes, although their first choice would be to grab my iPhone and play an iOS game, their second choice was Pokémon. By playing, we developed a wonderful rapport and competitive spirit that satisfied their desire and need to play games but also satisfied my own desire to interact directly with them and engage deeply and genuinely with what they were doing.

Then, as they aged out of Pokémon, we graduated to chess. Similarly, we traveled with our chess board and competed in chess on the road. Again, Jenn and I played to win. This was not us just humoring our kids, but us honestly engaged in gameplay.

On a related note, video games aren’t the answer, but they aren’t avoidable. As a kid who grew up gaming, I love video games. But I didn’t want to lose my kids inside a monitor for eight hours a day — which is where I often found myself as a kid. I wanted experiences where we could work together, without hearing my 10-year-old yelling “Headshot!” as he took a sniper rifle to someone’s cranium.

Eventually, we found our way to League of Legends, a team-oriented, five-on-five game with defined roles for each player.  I learned the game with my kids, and now we play together exclusively. They don’t play without me, and we always play as a team together.

As for immersive video games, we restrict any immersive video game time to two hours on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. At times we’ll play a little less or a little more, but we use our time prescription as a guideline for our kids. And during that time, I have to be playing with them for the entire two hours. I won’t tolerate seeing them locked in a room talking with strangers on a headset.

Instead, we’ll talk with strangers now together, and if things get out of hand, I can cut off the conversation to keep the game civil.

Overall? As a society, I believe we need to move past the idea of separate roles for mothers and fathers. We are all just parents — that role should not be a societally defined gender role. It should be a mutual approach to raising incredible people who go on to do amazing things in the world.

And behind all this energy stands one thing that can make it all go well, or not: time. So, my best advice to current and future parents who want to lead by example, and build amazing humans, is to give them your most precious asset, time.

Cut out things that are non-essential to reduce your time away from them and engage with them genuinely. Find activities you both love and do them together. Also, find dedicated rituals where you can connect personally and have non-rushed open time to hear them. Because hearing them is what it’s all about.





The current culture of “I ‘Gram therefore I am.”

This was written by Tom Goodwin, EVP Innovation at Zenith.                It’s brilliant.

A Life Without Focus

I didn’t take my phone to Hudson Yards, the screaming new development thrusting above the once empty train depot on the west side of Manhattan. A mistake on my part, because this isn’t a place to go, or be in, it’s a place to share. It’s a place to be seen in, but from afar, digitally, with your cliched pictures, your pre-set shot list, your pose on the step and repeat. Hudson Yards is a new permanent fixture on the Instagram game, holding up the Tower of Piza, glimpses at the Mona Lisa, crafted Cappuccinos, wonderful wing shots, we now have a new destination.

This is a shopping mall with seemingly nobody carrying shopping bags, just phones held aloft while people stand pointlessly stand in queues for the celebrated food du jour, FUKU Fried Chicken, Van Leeuwen Artisanal Ice Cream, Kith Treats, being the same as people you aspire to be like has never been so easy. The global aesthetic has never been more accessible.

For years, we’ve had destination architecture: Frank Gehry put the post-industrial gloom of Bilboa behind it and the city on the map, with one of the many buildings as icons, as catalysts, or as travel brochure fodder for a visual age. From Roger’s Pompidou center to Calatrava’s Milwaukee Art Museum, we’ve seen the late 20th century move towards architecture as bait. A way to bolster civic pride, foster identity, signify change, but now about all else lure in the tourists and let them make our city go viral.

As McLuhan said, “First we shape our tools, then they shape us”, and the rise of a visual web, the social platforms of Instagram, and an attention span that favors quick rushes over slow delectation, we see the world become one filled with the same visual cues and metaphors. We now see Instagram not just as a way for people to share the moment, but as a creative brief for chefs, interior designers, and architects. From the relatively benign, oversized 3D-lettered place signs to real-life photo filters to Instagrammable meal kits and to the now ubiquitous fiddle-leaf fig trees and Edison lightbulbs, the world becomes a backdrop for images. Pop-up stores exist on the single premise that one day, they won’t be there. Hurry to buy something you don’t need because you won’t be able to later. Museums curate collections around one strong image for the Instagram generation, with perhaps a hashtag thrown in.

Hudson Yards becomes the new proof of concept. A new case study in the Urban Millennial. A place for two audiences. The Peloton and Juicero class-goers to spend their unexpected wealth on $160 Heretic candles, ironic mechanical typewriter iPad keyboards, underwear as a service, and other expensive things to make up for a life without problems, but also without meaning.

The real crowd is those with a thirst for validation, who seek meaning from likes, purpose from followers, and for them, this isn’t a shopping mall to buy from, it’s a stage set for Instagram. For those collecting images, not experiences or memories, turning life into a game of social media metrics, an ever-changing leaderboard of high scores. Art, like those wings on walls, becomes dating app profile fodder. This is a destination for those who don’t live life, they broadcast it. If it’s not liked, it didn’t happen.

This is a shopping mall for a planet where each destination becomes a collectible stop in life orienteering. The Eiffel tower, the Marina Bay sands pool in Singapore, the tower of Pisa, the wing sunset shot. It’s not Starchitecture, it’s Inst’Architecture. Expensive stores attract meandering, purposeless shoppers inside, with things not to touch, feel or buy, but to take pictures in front of; space capsules, ironic signs, taxi cabs with plants, big quotes with accessible wisdom, but at the center of it all, like a fountain for a quasi-public square serves as a focal and social point, the ancient lay lines of Instagram run right through the Vessel.

The Vessel is part stairway to nowhere, part giant Kebab. It’s the centerpiece and alter to a lost tribe, whose religion is social validation. This becomes their cathedral. Some think the sculpture come building is Escher-like, with its strange angles, its complex array, it’s mesmerizing, curvaceous and impossibly deep copper shiny-ness, pulling in phones with its gravity. Perhaps the Vessel is a real-life demonstration on lost perspectives. A moth-like generation, drawn towards it with the captivating light of screens, and the drug-like rush of social engagement. This development serves as a monument to a planet with lost motivation, confused sense of reality and the hypnoses of a blended and digitally augmented world.

We’ve only ever said yes to technology, without asking why or how. We’ve let it fill the pores of our lives, hack our feedback mechanisms and biochemistry. We’ve added phones and a barrier to all moments, including real-life interactions. The phone becomes the shield behind which boredom cannot hit, we waft nonchalantly down our feeds so we never have to feel empty, sad, disconnected or self-reflect. We can celebrate the metrics of connectivity, not discuss with close friends the futility of it all.

We live ever more isolated and connected, more adept at ever on social media, less capable than imaginable in real life. We’ve lost meaning and purpose, we’ve lost the ability to bond, but we’ve become better than ever at curating moments in our lives, to broadcast who we are, to live the lifestyle our personal brand demands through brands that specifically represent who we are.

As technology continues to exaggerate and propagate divides, we feel empty if we let life in for one second. Loneliness only sets in when we are without our digital pulse. Maybe now is a good time to reflect on the role of design and culture and technology in our lives. Maybe we need to fight to feel alive in earnest ways, embrace the delight of reality, enjoy the poignance of smells, get validation from accomplishment and connection, feel part of a tribe of one, and more than anything else, fight the current culture of “I ‘Gram therefore I am.”

The world now allows frictionless experiences. We can buy culture without worrying about feeling it. We can live in large cities and deal with the stink of garbage, the threat of interest, the authenticity of reality. This is a world where efficiency has streamlined life like a critical path analysis. A world driven by optimization and code, in which our steady path to death becomes not about touching the sides, but of winning.

Perhaps now is a time to take a step back, to welcome boredom, to celebrate the hard, to enjoy the weird, to feel alive.