People ask me how I do it all. My secret is simple.
I have an amazing partner.
A couple of days ago, I woke up early and decided to do some work from home before heading in to the office. I was in “flow” mode— as I often am in the early morning hours— and next thing I knew, I had missed all the available ferries that would get me to work in time for an in-person appointment I couldn’t miss. I knew I was way too late to find parking at BART. So my spouse drove me to BART and dropped me off.
As I boarded the train that would get me into the city in time for my meeting, I tweeted this:
After I tweeted that, a bunch of people told me how much my tweet meant to them. So I thought you might want to know more about why David is a stay-at-home parent, how we made that choice, and what our life is like because of it. To tell you that story, we have to go back in time, to right after we got married in our early twenties.
David built an amazing career for himself
David wanted to be a filmmaker. So when he went off to college, he majored in TV & Film.
David didn’t know anyone in the film industry, so he had humble beginnings. Some of his first jobs after school were on a film crew for ESPN, filming an antique car road rally (The Great Race), a small indy film titled “Divorce: A Contemporary Western,” and (ahem) one of those naughty, late-night cable TV shows. One of our favorite memories is when my mom once sang the theme song from said naughty, late-night cable TV show to David at Thanksgiving dinner in front of our entire family. She had been so proud of him she had recorded the whole series. He was so embarrassed.
David got into music video and commercial production after that, working his way up through the ranks from Production Assistant to Coordinator to Manager to Producer. He worked with many famous artists, including Prince, Mariah Carey, Outkast, Missy Elliott, Britney Spears, Sting, and a bunch of the boy bands who were popular in the 90s. He also filmed live concerts and near the peak of his career, produced a television commercial for the Super Bowl. His work took him all over the world.
But things changed
David was about 10 years into his career when the rise of digital filmmaking changed everything. Before digital, movies were made on film. Yes, that’s right. Actual strips of film, rolled up and stored in actual cans. There was a certain amount of overhead related to that kind of filmmaking. But not having to shoot on actual film anymore meant that anyone with a phone and a laptop could shoot a film project. It was equalizing and exciting for young filmmakers. But it meant that many of the big production houses David had worked for either had to reinvent themselves, or went out of business.
David was still working, but the budgets were smaller, and he was having to book more jobs. He found himself feeling less satisfied with his career. Meanwhile, I had taken a job at an up-and-coming tech startup, and had just moved into a role as a project manager. I was finding my way in tech and it looked like I had a promising career ahead of me.
And then our dreams came true
It was a little girl.
After a few miscarriages, we were finally pregnant. We saved and organized, and we found a way for David and I to take 6 months off together with our newborn daughter. I’m sure as you’re reading that, you’re stunned. A couple getting to take 6 months off together with their first child is unreal, and I’m well aware of my privilege. As I mentioned, we saved up to do it, and we also went on a strict budget. Because David was freelance, he passed on any jobs during that 6 months.
As I look back on that time, I know there were hard days, as we learned to be new parents together. But I mostly remember the unbelievable happiness. It was a good 6 months. I never regret that we took that time.
Then we had to go back to work
Which meant we had to figure out what we were going to do for childcare. We asked ourselves, should we send our kid to daycare? This didn’t seem right to us. We had friends whose parents were helping with childcare, but we didn’t want to ask family to take care of our baby. Our local relatives were already focused on providing care to David’s grandmother.
Which left hiring a nanny. We researched how much that cost and almost fainted when we saw the going rate for a nanny in Los Angeles. We figured we might be able to make it work. But that’s when it hit us.
David could stay home with our kid
Why not have one of us stay home with the baby? And why couldn’t it be David? After all, I had the more stable career with full-time employment and benefits, and it seemed like the tech industry had a good future, whereas David’s field seemed uncertain, and as a freelance employee, he didn’t have benefits like I did. Plus, he was already in a place where he wanted a career change. To save money, we stayed with David’s family for a couple of years.
Here’s what our life was like: I went to the office each day, and David took our kid to the park and out for walks in the stroller. He read books to her, took her on playdates, and packed organic snacks for their afternoon visits to friends and family. On the weekends, I would take her to the beach, to the park, and when she got older, to Disneyland, taking advantage of the heavily discounted Southern California annual pass you used to be able to get.
The result? David and our daughter bonded in ways that dads and daughters sometimes struggle to do. Our daughter grew up in a house full of extended family, friends, and love. And she really loves Disneyland. :)
It wasn’t all peachy
My daughter didn’t say “mama” and mean me until she was around 18 months old. She used to say “mama” and mean pretty much any woman around. That really hurt, and I was convinced it was my fault for choosing to go back to work.
Some people didn’t understand and/or support our choices. They thought it was weird that David didn’t go back to work. They didn’t understand why we were living with family, when we could easily afford a home if we had two salaries.
And it was hard not being in our own house. We didn’t have a lot of privacy.
But we chose a different kind of life
We made it work and we found happiness. After a few years, I got a new job, which meant relocation. New city, new home. At this point, I think a lot of people assumed David would re-enter the workforce.
But we were happy with the way things were. My career was taking off, and our kid had a busy schedule of after-school activities. We did the math and figured out that if we lived pretty simply, we might not need two incomes.
So we kept it simple. We took modest vacations. We live in a modest house. Even now, I still drive my old Toyota. And most importantly, we didn’t buy stuff. Seriously, let’s just pause for a minute here and talk about this. How much *stuff* do we all really need? As it turns out, a person can be extremely happy without buying a lot of stuff.
We’re going on year 3 now of this and we are happy.
David runs our household. He makes our kid breakfast, packs her lunch, and takes her to school. He takes her to activities and makes dinner for the 3 of us during the week. He volunteers at her school and is active in our community. He also is in charge of making me laugh.
I am in charge of our kid’s baths and storytime, and I earn an income to sustain our family. Plus, I deal with our composting and I keep trying to take over dishwasher duties, but David doesn’t like the way I load the dishes.
On the weekends, we take turns spending time with our kid, so that we both get downtime, and we also spend time together as a family.
So really, the secret to my success is…David
People say things to me like, you seem to be everywhere at once, doing everything. I answer emails. I tweet. I lead meetings. I write. I give talks. I introduce people. I take calls. I work out. I volunteer. I blog. Yes, I do a lot of things.
But I’d never be able to do those things without my partner. Not just the ways that David manages our life at home, but the way his family helped us when our daughter was young.
I suppose I’m writing this because when you see someone who looks like they’ve got it all figured out, you may not get to see all the people who helped them get there, or are still helping them today.
Right now, as I’m finishing this, David’s saying to me, “I don’t need a big blog post to know that you love me.” But here’s the thing, David. I want *everyone* to know it. And now they do.
Thanks for reading.