Soon after the NYC Dads Group hosted our Equally Shared Parenting event last year, I was contacted by Jessica DeGroot, the founder of the ThirdPath Institute, a nonprofit organization that assists individuals, families, and organizations in finding new ways to redesign work to create time for families and other life priorities. ThirdPath is one of the first organizations to recognize that men are also seeking the right fit between work and family, and their latest newsletter included an inspiring story of a grandfather who has recognized that it is never too late to reset his priorities, while still being an effective leader. Below is his story and a transcript of a recent interview that Jessica conducted with Ivan, an inspiring father and grandfather.
Ivan is the chief operating officer of a West coast business management practice. They have 130 people in their office and two satellite offices. He is responsible for the day-to-day operation of the office. All of the departments, technology, human resources, and finance report to him.
A year and a half ago, Ivan made a significant change in his life to create more time for his granddaughter, and Ivan knew he’d find a way to make it work – even if his wife and daughter had their doubts.
Ivan is a man who has worked hard his entire life, and although he was an attentive father, he had followed a traditional path for men. But now his daughter, Kimberly – and perhaps more importantly – his granddaughter, Madelyn, needed him. Kimberly was going back to work, and instead of using full time child care, she was flexing her work and getting her mother to help out one day. But she still needed someone to watch Madelyn on Mondays. That’s when Ivan stepped forward. He surprised them and volunteered to watch Madelyn every Monday.
After working through a system for checking up at the office by phone and email, and making sure that system fit Madelyn’s nap schedule, Ivan discovered that his new flexed schedule continued to allow him to be effective at work. What he didn’t know, was how transformative the process was going to be for him as a person.
Transcript of an interview ThirdPath did with grandfather Ivan where he explains just how this happened and what’s made it work so well.
Jessica: I bet you feel like you’re developing a very unique relationship with Madelyn.
Ivan: Honestly, this goes back to before Madelyn was born. I didn’t spend a lot of time with my kids during their early years. I went to all the school programs, but I went to work early in the morning and I came home late. My wife used to feed the kids dinner late so I could see them before they went to bed. I probably had what was a typical relationship for that time.
So, I jumped up to take this responsibility for a lot of reasons, but the primary reason was really for me to create a relationship with her that I didn’t have with my daughters growing up.
Plus my parents were terrific grandparents. They spent a lot of time with my children, and to this day my kids love the relationships they had. But they didn’t have it very long because my parents died when the kids were still young.
I want my granddaughter to remember me. I want to have that special relationship. All of that was behind my desire to do this. Because we never know how many years we have, and I wanted them to be as great as they could be and to leave something with her for the future. That’s what directed me to do this, and it’s been more than I could have expected.
J: So this is something that’s felt very worthwhile?
I: Yes, I’m organizing my day around her. That way I’m spending time with her, watching her develop and looking at the skills she learns and the things that she does. I watch her from week to week as she grows, developing and learning new things everyday. When she comes in the front door and sees me, or when I go out to the car to get her and she’s sitting in the car seat, she’s shaking her legs and shaking her arms because she is so excited to see me. There isn’t anything better than that in life. It’s those kinds of reactions I live for and I have the same feelings for her.
Finding ways to be able to interact with children and grandchildren just has a reward you can’t get out of work, and you can’t get out of just having some more money or a better lifestyle. I was there when she started to walk and all the things that come next. And now we go places together and do things together. We do to the mall to walk around, have lunch, ride the merry go around and just hang out together. She brings a smile to my face all the time and there is no better reward.
J: I remember your daughter and wife told you they weren’t sure you were going to follow through with having Mondays available for Madelyn.
I: Yeah, they weren’t overly confident to start with, but in a relatively short time they realized that I was serious about doing this. And I did. The biggest part that I’ve had to manage was my communication with the office during the day.
J: And it sounds like you’ve learned something?
I: Yes. At the beginning, it had been a long time since I dealt with babies and their needs. I expected her to take a bunch of naps and sleep for quite awhile. Well, Madelyn didn’t go that route because she rarely slept more than about 30 minutes at a time during the first several months of our journey. While I thought I was going to get a couple hours at a time that was not the case. I just couldn’t just pick up the telephone and get on calls because my focus was on her.
So I figured out when I could check my emails with a laptop or PDA, and we laid out some times during the day that I could call the office or they could call me to discuss things that really can’t wait for the next day. And other times I’m just not available because I’m with her.
Sometimes when there are conference calls, which for one reason or another have to be on a Monday, I have them early in the morning because my daughter drops Madelyn off around 9:30, which gives me time to get quite a few things done. We used to keep her through dinner too, so after that I could take care of certain things for the next day to let people know what to do or respond to questions I couldn’t deal with during the afternoon.
J: So people kind of learned, “Oh, he’ll be here Tuesday?”
I: Well, it is interesting that on Mondays I do not get as many calls as I do on other days. And the office is aware that I’m not in.
Actually I recently got an email from someone in the office saying, “I know you’re out today, but I have this problem. Could you please approve it?” I approved it as soon as I saw the email and we moved along. So there is a kind of understanding, both in the office and out, that I’m not around unless there is something really important. Occasionally, I do work on a Monday and switch days with my wife as she cares for Madelyn on Thursdays. When this does occur, many of our employees will ask why I am there as they have now gotten accustomed to my Monday ritual.
J: We’ve also often noticed when somebody designs a solution like yours they unexpectedly improve how they are getting their work done. Did you notice this in any way?
I: The days that I’m not in the office I find that my staff take more responsibility because they don’t want to bother me unless it’s something really important. There’s a tendency when I’m there to just stop by my office and run something by me. When I’m at home they can send me an email or handle it themselves. So I have found that once we settled into a natural pattern, that clearly on the days I’m not there, life goes on and the business goes on. And not being there that day really has not inhibited us from making progress that day.
And I see a little bit of that also happening during the week as well because I think we’ve become more clear about what issues really need my input and what issues can just move along as part of the process. So they can make the decision and if something needs to be changed later then we will deal with it. I find this has made my working relationship with my staff more efficient, and they’re taking some additional responsibility, which is good.
Now that Madelyn’s older, when she takes an afternoon nap she’s asleep for a couple of hours and I can do all kinds of things as far as talking to the office if needed. There are blocks of time now that weren’t there when she was younger. So during the day, from like 1:30 to 3:00, they can call me, and if I get an urgent email I’ll call them. So we try to coordinate during that couple hours after lunch to take care of anything that truly does need some serious time for discussion.
J: Have you noticed whether you’re more efficient in other ways?
I: Well, I think about it rather than to just do it. When I’m at home, without the interruptions, there is clearly more quality time and I do try and leave certain projects for Monday’s where I can sit and think more about the process and execution. During the day, I don’t know how many times somebody comes into my office, 20 is certainly a reasonable guess and it could be more, and that doesn’t count phone calls and all the other interruptions. So there isn’t much time when I’m there that I can really focus on a subject and challenge myself as to what we’re doing.
J: Thanks. We’ve heard a number of leaders say the same thing. But now let’s shift back and talk about your family some more. For example, how has this impacted other relationships in your life, such as your relationship with your wife?
I: My wife’s really impressed that I’m doing this. I think she views me as a good father and good grandfather, but she was really skeptical that I truly would figure out how to balance this work/life issue and make it work. I don’t view myself as a workaholic, but my wife does at times. She wasn’t sure that I’d be able to give Madelyn the time that I said that I was going to give to her. So I think from that side she’s been very pleased with what’s gone on.
J: How do you think it’s impacted your relationship with your daughter, Kimberly?
I: Oh, we’ve always had a very good relationship, and I have another daughter who I shouldn’t leave out, who is two years younger. But it’s absolutely made the relationship with Kimberly stronger. She looks at this like something that I’m giving to her as well. It’s been great for her because they haven’t had to put Madelyn into childcare. When my daughter and her husband, were recently over with Madelyn to go swimming I made the comment, “I’m looking to see both of you just as much as Madelyn. It’s not just Madelyn I want to see.”
J: It sounds like this has been an all around win.
I: This has been such a positive experience for me. A few months ago my daughter said, “Well, the year’s up dad.” I asked her what she meant, and she said, “You told me at the beginning that you’d do this for a year.”
I told her, “I don’t remember saying I’m doing it only for a year. I just said I was going to do it.”
The truth is I’m going to do this as long as I am able. This is my life. I live for this now, and I would love to do this for the rest of my life. In fact, maybe their will be a second grand daughter and I can do this all over again.
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ThirdPath Institute is a nonprofit organization that assists individuals, families and organizations in finding new ways to redesign work to create time for families, community and other life priorities.