Becoming a Dad is a series of autobiographical posts about my journey into fatherhood. By definition, it’s a journey that doesn’t end. I’ll try to tell the story in a somewhat chronological order, with some minor details changed for privacy. In general though, I hope it provides some insight into manhood and fatherhood today as gender roles change and men search for a more meaningful, positive, and fulfilling role at home, at work, and with the people we love.
In my close-to-six years with Deloitte - half with Monitor Deloitte in corporate strategy consulting and now half with Doblin in innovation and human-centered design consulting - I’ve done a lot of work with the Canadian Big 5 banks. A few years ago, I got on a plane with a group of C-suite executives and flew to San Francisco to meet a bunch of innovative startups in the wealth space that we had curated.
Among these innovative companies was a robo-advisor startup: one of the low fee, highly diversified, and mostly automated investment platforms that seem to be leading the charge on disrupting the wealth industry. Our executives, along with almost every other Big 5 bank, knew robo-advisors were something to understand and understand well. They’re the ideal entry point for early investors - people like me with a paycheck, a tiny bit to invest, but too small to need a one-on-one investment advisor relationship. They could be the gateway to onboarding younger clients as their investments and wealth grow over time.
So what makes these robo-advisors so attractive? The answer is ETFs, or Exchange-Traded Funds. They are funds that trade like a stock on a stock exchange, but they’re comprised of a basket of stocks and bonds that are highly diversified. In essence, they are a mutual fund without the high fees. These characteristics make it incredibly easy for someone with only a few hundred dollars to invest to get diversification at an affordable price, which is the hallmark of long-term passive investment strategies.
A year or so before this trip to San Francisco, back in Toronto, a baby-faced man stood in a conference room at Deloitte in front of me and several other consultants to pitch us on his own robo-advisor offering, with us as his potential customers. He ran through the benefits of investing with his platform, and central to his opening argument was that stock-picking, where either on a hunch or a well-researched point of view, you pick only a handful of stocks and bet your money they will grow faster than the market, has been shown to be unsustainable in the long-run. In other words, if you want to invest for retirement, or to send your kid to school, or for a long-awaited vacation, diversification and sit-and-wait is the best way to invest. This way, you smooth out both the peaks and the troughs of market fluctuations, and you stand the best chance of succeeding in the long run.
I was sold. Within a month, I had my small nest egg of savings moved over. Now, a few years later, Michael Katchen - the baby-faced man presenting to us in the room that day - is the CEO of probably the most well-known robo-advisor in Canada (and now the US as well). His company, Wealthsimple, has won a long list of awards and he stands as the poster person for financial services innovation.
This is why I love my job. It always feels like we’re getting to explore the horizons of what new offerings, business models, or experiences are going to trickle down into the day-to-day lives of Canadians. Getting to work with these executives, and advise them on our points of view, is incredibly rewarding. As a design-led strategist that focuses on human experiences, being able to bring humanity and empathy to the process of designing and delivering new strategies, products, and services is something I’ll always be passionate about.
About two and a half years ago though, the focus of my passion began expanding. I still love working with banks, insurers, and retailers to build human-centric experiences, but more and more I’m focusing on a different experience: that of men and masculinity at work and at home. As I’ve researched, discussed, and learned more about this topic, this blog has recorded some of the steps in that journey.
What I’m most excited about though, is the journey I’m about to embark on. On February 8, 2019, I’ll leave the Deloitte building downtown Toronto and not return until September 3rd. For almost seven months, I’ll play a totally different role as the primary caregiver to Elin (our daughter), supporter to Erin (my partner) and manager of the household while Erin returns to work after a year of playing these roles herself.
I’ll admit, the timing of this transition is not ideal. I have a huge research report at work that’s about to launch publicly which I’m super passionate about, and I’m going to miss a lot (but not all) of the opportunities to participate in socializing this report with clients, media, and the general public. I’m also taking on more senior roles at work, so leaving for seven months at this juncture probably means I’m going to stall a bit in how quickly I advance into those roles.
But then I look at Erin, or any women who has chosen to give birth, and I realize the privilege that I have as a man, or more specifically a father versus a birth mother. I do have options. I have the option to not take any time off. I have the option to pay for childcare or meal delivery services or house cleaners if I want. Erin though, never seemed to have those options. Once she was pregnant, whether she wanted to or not, she would be taking time off for the birth of our child and the timing of this leave wasn’t really up to her.
Now on the cusp of us exchanging positions though as Erin returns to work and I take my turn at home, I’m struck by how she’s grown and added whole new dimensions to her womanhood. She’s had a crash course for almost 12 months in time management, efficiency, patience, healthy dieting, trust, unconditional love, support, and at times, restraint. Why wouldn’t I also want to build these skills? And what would happen to our relationship if I didn’t get the same chance to grow in the way that Erin has over the past year?
This is the fallacy we men have about paternity leave I think. We don’t view it as an opportunity to learn and grow new dimensions of our manhood. We instead see it as a step away; away from our careers and away from our advancement. But what if we have it all wrong?
There’s an article from CNN that talks about happiness with work and home life among millennial men. What they found was that millennial dads - the men with children - were happier overall with both work and home life than single millennial men. Further, of the millennial dads, it was the ones that most equally shared the responsibilities of childcare with their spouses that were most happy overall.
I compare this finding with an article from CBC that states the biggest killer of men under 50 in Canada is suicide - more than cancer, more than car accidents. Overall, men account for three quarters of all suicides. From a survey in the article, they found that 70% of men would not report their mental health as ‘good’. In the US, white middle-aged men account for 70% of all suicides, with nine tenths of these men coming from a lower socioeconomic class. These also happen to be the men that are losing their employment the most from mechanization and outsourcing.
It’s not a stretch to assume that people that are happy overall with both work and home life aren’t the same ones that are committing suicide at such a staggering rate. And what appears to be the driver of both work happiness and home happiness? Emerging research is increasingly showing its men who are participating more fully in society’s changing gender roles and embracing their role as a caregiver and supporter to their spouse. It’s the men with kids and who are involved with those kids that are most happy.
This perspective is reemphasized in a series of articles from HBR this month that declare time is more important than money when it comes to happiness. Beyond a minimum standard of living, people are happiest when they pursue lives that give them more time - they spend money on time-saving solutions (like house cleaners) or choose to prioritize fulfilling personal activities as opposed to pursuing activities for the sake of making more money. People aren’t happier when they sacrifice time to make more money so they can have more freedom in the future. What really happens is we overemphasize how much free time we’ll have in the future and we never get to cash in on all the time we spent making money instead of enjoying our passions in the moment.
So this is why I’m choosing to take paternity leave for seven months at a time when my career is seemingly primed for a next step. I don’t want to be the stock-picker - the investor that chooses one or two things to be really good at and then puts all their eggs in those baskets. Mike Katchen taught me this is a fool’s errand and ripe with risk if I want a happy life. Instead, I want to be the highly-diversified ETF. I want to find joy and reward in many areas of my life. I want to be a great consultant and leader at Deloitte; I also want to be an amazing caregiver and supporter to Erin and run a household just as well as I can run a project team. I want to learn what it’s like to truly put someone else’s needs before my own on a daily, hourly, and minute-by-minute basis for months on end. I want to learn how to bake - actually. And cook meals - actually. I want Elin to cry out for me just as much as she cries out for Erin when she needs a warm snuggle. And I want to love someone so unconditionally that it hurts me to my core to be away from them for even a second.
The evidence is there for us men to see. We’ve placed too many eggs in the breadwinner bucket, and when it doesn’t work out for us, like the thousands of middle-aged men in low socioeconomic classes who are losing their jobs, we harm ourselves and we harm others. Caregiving - whether to children, or a partner, or elderly parents, or anyone else in need - can be an antidote. This world has historically been completely cut off to men. But increasingly, as gender roles change, we’re having no choice but to take these roles on. I am making sure that I embrace this role and squeeze every last bit of learning and growth I can out of it.
So when I walk out of the Deloitte building at 5PM on Friday, I won’t have regrets or miss the opportunities I won’t get to take on. Instead, I’ll be happy; happy about being with Elin, happy about stretching a part of my identity that hasn’t had a chance to grow yet, happy about Erin succeeding in her career, and happy about what my future holds as both Erin and I will have the same core skill set to share our caregiver and supporter roles equally in the future when we both return to work.
The opportunities will be there when I get back. And I’ll have a whole new perspective on how to succeed and grow in the workplace based on what I learn over the next few months as a well-balanced and diversified human primed for long-term happiness as a man.