The Working Dads of the Year’s Best Advice for Work-Life Balance

The Working Dads of the Year are doing it right—and we’re celebrating them for that. For more 2019 Working Dads of the Year, click here.

AbbVie

Name: Nelson Caudillo
Title: Manager, Clinical Operations Business Systems Children: Holden, 11
Location: North Chicago, IL

“I found out I was going to be a parent at the age of 20. I hadn’t graduated college and was living over 1,000 miles away from my hometown and support network. I was told while on break at work and asked my then manager (and informal mentor) if I could have some extra break time and utilize his office. Sensing something was wrong he joined me as I sat stressed out and on the verge of tears. I shared with him the news and that I was scared because I wasn’t ready to be a parent. He then told me his story and presented his advice.

He said, ‘I was married for a couple years, with a house and good job, when I found out I was going to be a father, and my first thought was, ‘I’m not ready.’ Most parents, even those who are not surprised by having a child, start to worry about being ready the moment they learn it’s actually happening. You’ll see that being ready to be a parent is about loving your kid and always working to give them the best in life no matter what your personal situation is.’

My son, Holden, is my North Star. Whatever life has put in front of us, and anytime I hesitate in the face of changes and challenges, I think about that advice. I don’t always feel ready and maybe even still a little scared. Working overnights while finishing my undergrad, being a single parent while starting a new career path and most recently bouncing back from health issues, I’ve realized that with a positive mindset, faith, determination and Holden’s happiness and well-being as my end destination, I will always find myself on the right path.”

American Express

Name: Baal Surujpaul-Huddleston
Title: Senior Manager, Operatonal Excellence
Children: Emmanuel, 3 / Riley, 2
Location: Mineola, NY

“As a working dad, my biggest firsthand learning experience is time management and prioritizing a busy personal and work schedule. It’s so important to ensure you make time to spend with your family and be part of key milestones. Those milestones are truly a once in a lifetime thing, and if you’re not present in the moment, you might not get a second chance to recreate those memories. Kids need time, love and attention to thrive, and I can’t stress how important this is. While it can be exhausting, it’s so rewarding to see the impact you’re making on their lives and well-being. For me, time management and prioritization means taking a quick 5-minute shower, power napping and multitasking between laundry and conference calls. Then, I can make certain I’m able to participate in team activities at work and still be there for my kids’ important moments.”

Arnold & Porter

Name: Arthur Luk
Title: Partner
Children: Grace, 5 / Henry, 2
Location: Washington, D.C.

“Be honest! Perhaps this should not come as a surprise, but receiving the assurance from a trusted mentor that it is fine to discuss the challenges of being a new parent, that juggling the competing demands of family and work in a client services industry is not easy, and that it is OK to ask for help when something unexpected comes up has been a big stress reliever.

Parenthood is incredibly rewarding, but it also is demanding in ways I could never have appreciated before I became a parent. As soon as I feel like I have things down, and that my family has a routine in place, everything changes! Fortunately, I work at a firm that is instilled with a true team-first attitude and with a number of colleagues who also are parents. They understand and appreciate how delicate the balancing act is; kids get sick, babysitters cancel, there are school events you just cannot miss. We all work together to balance the roles we each play at work and at home.

The birth of my son is a good example. He arrived a few weeks early, unexpectedly in the middle of the night. It also happened right in the middle of an intense period of discovery, for a case that was headed toward trial a few months later. Even though they did not get much notice, the rest of the team pulled together to ensure that I could take parental leave without interruption. I am grateful for the comfort I had knowing I could lean on them for help.”

A.T. Kearney

Name: Doug Mehl
Title: Partner
Children: Justin, 19 / Tyler, 17 / Haley, 14
Location: Southfield, MI

Doug Mehl was an ambitious consulting partner with an intense travel schedule when his divorce in 2011 left him a part-time single parent to three children, then ages 6, 9 and 11. “Everything changed. No splitting responsibilities. When I had the kids, it was 100%.” Doug immediately recognized he had to make some tough trade-offs. To be the father he wanted to be he knew he had to make changes at work. He transitioned to a different role with reduced hours and then took a job outside the industry. These choices would have been unimaginable for the career-centric man he had been in 2011.

Doug also had to create tighter boundaries with his time. Splitting parenting time meant he had to be there for the children on select weekdays and weekends. Doug’s client work demanded significant travel, which often conflicted with his parenting commitments. He started pushing back on meetings, scheduling them around his parenting time. Though the juggling continues to be a challenge, Doug found that once people understood the circumstances they were generally accommodating. Along the way, Doug learned to get help, not try to do it all alone. Once he was single, he hired a part-time nanny to facilitate the kids’ participation in activities. He notes that some people would perceive getting help as a negative, as a sign of weakness as a parent. Doug sees it differently. “I wanted to make sure the kids were fully engaged, getting outside, staying active and getting the most out of life.”

Doug is the first to admit things aren’t perfect. “We have our challenges, often daily. Early on, I was leading a meeting with a roomful of the client executives. During the presentation I received a text from a nanny that said she couldn’t deal with the kids any longer and was quitting! I made a beeline for home!” Reflecting on the last several years, Doug says, “My kids have been through a lot and need their father. It’s a constant struggle to balance work and being there for them—sometimes overwhelming, but also unbelievably rewarding.”

Bain & Company

Name: Nirad Jain
Title: Partner
Children: Rohan, 10 / Isha, 7 / Pia, 5
Location: New York, NY

“A dual-career family can be a constant juggle. My spouse, Amee, is a pediatric cardiologist. Amee’s hours are unpredictable; there are weeks when she is on call and it is important that I am more available. There are other weeks when I have to travel for a day or two. We diligently manage our calendars, and make trade-offs at work to guarantee one or both of us is present for important events in our children’s lives. It is critical to be transparent about what is important to you in your life. It makes you human and when you share your challenges and victories, you can build deeper people connections.

Over my career, I increasingly shared the details of my life with my teams and my clients. As a parent this means sharing what is going on in my family’s life. After having such positive experiences sharing within Bain, I started to share with my clients and have received incredible support. My closest clients now know my family. They know that my children are an important part of my life, that Amee has an equally demanding and rewarding career and that I may need to make trade-offs along the way. Importantly, they share the details of their lives, and that allows us to support each other more fully.”

Bank of America

Name: Alberto Montano
Title: Customer Service Specialist
Children: Alexander, 16 / Christopher, 4 / Jonathan, 4
Location: Las Vegas, NV

“When Jonathan and Christopher came into my and Fabien’s lives and we made the decision to adopt them, we faced some big challenges. The boys had been severely neglected by the previous family they were living with and at 10-months-old they weren’t able to turn over or sit up. We had a therapist in our home daily and medical appointments weekly for the first few months. Needless to say, we were mentally and physically exhausted.

Throughout that time my Bank of America teammates were there for me in so many ways. During the adoption process my manager helped me adjust my schedule so I could attend doctor appointments and court hearings, and after their adoption was complete I was able to take 16 weeks of paid leave to stay home and bond with my sons. The bank also assisted with some adoption expenses through the company’s adoption reimbursement program which was recently increased to include reimbursement for eligible fertility and/or surrogacy expenses.

Today I’m proud to say both boys are thriving and happy and are becoming bilingual in English and Spanish!

So here’s my question for you. I know all companies are different, but do you know what benefits and programs are available to you as a working parent? If not, find out and most importantly don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it most. Acknowledging we can’t do it all (and none of us can by the way) is OK. It might be hard to do, but I promise that you and your family will be better for it.”

Barclays

Name: Arturo Ortiz de Zevallos
Title: Managing Director, Co-Head of Equity Derivatives Americas
Children: Alejandro, 10 / Mia, 7 / Mario, 3
Location: New York, NY

“Spend dedicated phone/interruption-free time with your kids individually and together every week. It is about quality and connecting, not about time. Plan ahead—put kids’ events and functions ahead of time in your work calendar so you can block your schedule. Prioritize—you won’t be able to do everything; get the most bang for your buck. Balance—have a true partner and balance the needs of each other and tag team when it comes to kids’ time and events. Regularly spend quality time with your partner without the kids (dinners, shows, vacations). Take care of yourself by exercising and having some of your own time. And finally manage your career as a marathon and not a sprint. Be fully engaged when you are at work and focus on the things that really have an impact.”

Ceridian

Name: Jerry Jones
Title: Solutions Consultant
Children: Jace, 5 / Luke, 4 / Rhet, 2 / Lyla, infant Location: Colleyville, TX

“The first thing I would say to any parent is that you are not alone, and you are respected. It is a rewarding job, and there are many lessons I have learned firsthand and from role models including family and friends such as:

  1. Be hands on. Get involved and learn how to do things like change diapers, swaddle a baby, make dinner and more. The more you contribute, the easier life will be. Learn how your children operate so you can support them as they go through life stages. I pride myself on being a hands-on dad and my colleagues know my children, so they are lucky enough to have Ceridian aunts and uncles.

  2. Constantly communicate: Having four children who are under the age of 5, I’ve learned to give myself a chance to be imperfect. The approach my wife, MaryAnn, and I have taken is to communicate about what is working and how we can improve. Examples include: What’s the schedule this week, in case there are appointments, swimming lessons or travel? What day do we want to go for a night out, so we can plan a babysitter? (Yes, we go out and have a good time by ourselves! It’s so important to reconnect.)

  3. Give your partner a break: MaryAnn works, and just like me, she wants time to herself or with friends. I spend quality time with my kids on Saturdays, so she can sleep in and join us later in the day. MaryAnn is taking a girls’ trip in July, and I will be managing all four children while also working flexibly. This helps our family dynamic, because she will return refreshed. I have a trip in October and the same thing holds true. I use the time to recharge while MaryAnn manages the children. When I come home, I am back in the game!”

Financial Industry Regulatory Authority

Name: Bernard Howard
Title: Associate Director
Children: Kayla (adult) / Haley, 14 Location: Rockville, MD

“Over the years I have learned a great deal about being a father, and I hope I am a better father today than I was when the first of my two daughters was born. I definitely have less energy now, but I believe I am a little wiser. I have been fortunate to have good role models from whom I have learned a great deal. I also received advice formally and informally from individuals I hold in high regard. I remember someone saying, ‘Parents should be more like their children and not work to forge their children into their image.’ I dismissed this initially; of course children need to be like parents. Parents have to prepare them for the real world. Parents can’t just brood and use their phones all day. I thought more and more about the idea of being more like my children as I observed them and it hit me. I noticed my children are honest, fair, they willingly evolve and they learn something every day. (When I say my daughters are honest I mean it, they were the first people to point out my thinning hair, but I digress.) Parents have to work, children have school plus activities and neither can create more time. Working to be more like my children has allowed our time together to be more meaningful. Over the years during our many commutes we have debated, practiced multiplication tables and listened to French radio to help with foreign language grades (it did not help.) They talked about the latest school gossip or social media influencer, and I just listened because what they have to say is important to me. I also noticed my younger daughter using my dated ’90s slang and streaming ’90s music, meaning they also listen to me. I can’t be there for every event, but with the help of my wife, Alexis, we have been able to manage our work lives while keeping our girls the priority.”

Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey

Name: Thomas Kolakowski
Title: Director, Finance
Children: Dylan, 16 / Brayden, 14 / Colin, 12 / Cameron, 12 / Austin, 10
Location: Green Brook, NJ

“‘I Come to Work to Relax…And Here is Why’ was the title of my town hall presentation made to over 100 of my peers and colleagues at Horizon back in March 2017. I discussed how my wife (who also works) and I ended up with five extremely active boys all within six years of each other (no twins) and how we manage through all the chaos, both at work and at home. I ended the town hall offering anyone to stop by my office and talk about anything. I was pleasantly amazed at how many folks took me up on my offer.

Probably the biggest piece of advice I gave folks, although it sounds rather simple, is to be organized. It all starts with the calendar. The calendar is vital, both work and home, and I update each as soon as humanly possible. I block my work calendar (even if just temporarily) once I know of any family-related item (school calendar/function, sports/activities, potential time off). I communicate to my staff and key business partners in advance of my expected time off, so we can align and plan around key deliverables and timing as best we can. My wife and I share one home calendar on our phones which we find very useful. We also prepare the night before for the next day’s events (sometimes a couple of days out), taking a few minutes to make sure we both know who needs to be where, by when and who has which kids. Obviously life happens, the boys get sick, a car breaks down, and we need to make adjustments on the fly. Respecting your spouse’s work calendar is also critical in balancing everything out and making it work. We try to alternate as best we can when surprises pop up, so it’s not just one of us that always has to deal with it.”

KPMG

Name: Sean Sullivan
Title: Partner
Children: Brian, 15 / John, 13 Location: Denver, CO

“To juggle the demands of work and family I do my best to flex my schedule when the kids are out of school or have important events they would be disappointed if I missed. This means scheduling work around their time off and events and managing travel commitments in the early mornings and late evenings to be around as much as possible. I travel extensively for my job, and this means I have to be more judicious about schedules. Before kids, this meant flying in the night before a noon client lunch meeting. After kids, this meant a 3 a.m. wake-up call to catch a 5:15 a.m. flight to make the client meeting. It is really important for working dads to have a partner, in my case, a working mom to help balance everything. My wife and I coordinate our schedules on a daily basis to ensure we can meet work obligations as well as family ones. In early dad-hood, I had this notion I had to be constantly doing something with the kids and felt guilty if I wasn’t always ‘on’ with them. In later dad-hood, I realized it is OK to just be present. If I can’t get that right, I likely won’t get anything else right.”

L.E.K. Consulting

Name: Tim O’Neil
Title: Partner
Children: Olivia, 3 / Grace, infant Location: Downers Grove, IL

“The most impactful advice I have received on how to balance family responsibilities with project work is to embrace the fact that no two days are the same. By accepting that things are not always going to go as planned—travel plans change, meetings get rescheduled, unexpected client requests, childcare challenges and spouse commitments come up—I’ve found it alleviates some of the pressure of thinking everything has to go perfectly and also helps force open discussion of tradeoffs both at work and home.

My most important realization as a working parent at L.E.K. is that work and family life are each significantly more rewarding when they are both thriving individually. There is a positive reinforcement cycle that exists where the fulfillment you get from spending time with and investing in your family feeds into your attitude at work, and the sense of accomplishment you get from working with such high-caliber teams and clients then feeds back into your energy and purpose with family at home.”

McKinsey & Company

Name: Jason Wright
Title: Partner
Children: Gabrielle, 8 / Johnathan, 6
Location: Washington, D.C.

“I’m often struck by a common emotion for parents: guilt. Lately, it’s about how much more travel I’ve been doing over the last month, how I responded too strongly to one of my children because I was rushing to a phone call, and how I haven’t spent as much time with my grandson as I’d like. I combat this by thinking about the best two pieces of advice I’ve received about parenting.

  1. Accept your limitations. We are not capable of being perfect parents—omnipresent, emotionally balanced under stress, able to make a 5-year-old understand why it’s important that he pick up his toys, right now. Like, right now. Once I was able to accept that I would not and could not get an ‘A’ on this parenting thing, I suddenly became a much more patient, kind and adaptable dad and grandad.

  2. Stop comparing yourself to others. I often use the mental model of my own dad, who ran a small business and coached the local sports teams as the archetype for fatherhood. Alternatively, I might compare myself to the parents from church or my kids’ school who work more traditional 9-5 roles with no travel. However, the way our family operates simply works for my spouse and our kids. We hold to commitments regarding when we will be home, set work boundaries around our ‘sacred times’ (like playing the board game ‘Sorry’), and take great vacations together. Regarding my three- to four-days-per-week travel, my spouse actually says, ‘I don’t miss you terribly, no offense. I’m quite independent and you give the kids as much time on the weekends as most dads do during the week.’ So even if it’s not for everybody, it works for us.”

Moss Adams

Name: Justin Fisher
Title: National Practice Leader – Private Clients
Children: Julien, 13 / Tenley, 9
Location: Tacoma, WA

“My mother has always told me that my No. 1 goal is to help my children become strong and independent. This has really helped me think about how I can organize time with my children to be impactful, while at the same time release my anxiety about the inevitable events I will miss. Last year, I had to miss a few of my 12-year-old son’s baseball games for work travel. In anticipation, I asked him if he wanted to practice in advance of the upcoming week. We spent some time in the batting cages together and after practice I said to him, ‘Julien, I can’t make your games this week, but it doesn’t matter because we put in the hard work to prepare together that will help you succeed.’ Julien hit a walk-off double to win one of the games I had to miss. I called him to celebrate and said, ‘See, you didn’t need me there to be successful. Congrats.’ He was super happy and I didn’t feel anxious about missing a special game during the season.”

RSM US

Name: Patrick McConnell
Title: Manager
Children: Nolan, 7 / Landon, 5 / Jordyn, 4 / Jackson, 2 Location: Des Moines, IA

“Balancing the demands of work and home life can be a challenge, especially in public accounting where long hours during the busy season are necessary. I have been very fortunate to have great support systems at home with my wife as well as at work. One piece of advice that a mentor shared when I started on the working parent journey was to prioritize the family moments that are important to me and to be present during those moments.

For my family and me, being home for dinner and putting the four kids to bed is important. Growing up, I remember sitting down for dinner with my family and spending that time hearing about each others’ days. That was something that I cherished and wanted to prioritize for my family. Dinner and bedtime with our four young children can be hectic with food flying and wrestling matches to get pajamas on, but being there provides me with time to interact with my kids.

Getting home in time for dinner can be a challenge. During the busiest time of the year, the client demands and tight schedule can require days of 12 hours or more. To accomplish my priority, I get into the office around 5 a.m. so I can get home by dinnertime. While tiring, the kids’ smiles and stories from their days make it all worth it.”

Sanofi U.S.

Name: Kenneth Paulino
Title: Head of Vaxserve
Children: Luke, 10 / Francesca, 7 / Isabel, 1
Location: Clarks Summit, PA

“My advice to other working parents is to understand and take full advantage of the work-life and family benefits provided by your employer. Use these programs to balance responsibilities at work and to help you prioritize involvement and shared parenting responsibilities with your spouse. There is no doubt this can be challenging at times, but if we as working parents take advantage of all the tools, benefits and support available from our employers, the outcome is extremely rewarding both on the personal and professional level.”

Sony Electronics

Name: Shaka Johnson
Title: Vice President and Associate General Counsel
Children: Jaelah, 5 / Maya, 3
Location: San Diego, CA

“You have to be deliberate. I’ve learned, observed and gotten advice about this, and it’s by far the best and most important piece advice. My kids and family are my No. 1 priority in life, and my reason for everything. Yet, work always seems to have a timeline that masks itself as the short-term priority. It’s easy to overlook true life priorities in favor of short-term responsibilities, and I’ve learned that we often need to be deliberate in honoring the most precious priorities: our family. When I’m not intentional, it’s easy to miss out, not be present, or to pass up on important events. Work is demanding and constantly pulling, and it’s important to succeed and do well at work for my company, my team and myself. So I work very hard to be deliberate, and make my kids and family a top priority. I’m not perfect, but with this, I’m much better about being present and valuing the time we do have.”

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