Tales of a Full-Time Everything


I run a small software business, manage and help run a second a game company, Lunar Giant, and chair the Chicago non-profit IGDA Chicago. If that weren't enough, I'm also a dad.

My daughter Elizabeth was born almost 11 months ago. Before she came into the world, my wife and I discussed daycare and babysitting options. She's a teacher and loves her job. We didn't want to leave our daughter with people we didn't know, but what other choice did we have with both of us working?

Ever the ambitious guy, I volunteered. I could stay home, watch the baby, get some work done during the days and the rest during nights. I would have the best of every world; I could do this.

So I did. From August until my wife's Christmas break, my time was spent juggling back and forth between full time dad and business owner. Work began to slip. Sleep -- already a low commodity -- plummeted even further, and the hobbies I loved the most started to fall by the wayside. Things were more hectic than usual, but I never really paused to reflect on what all of this busy-ness was doing to me.

Then in December, during winter break, and 10 months after Elizabeth's birth, I took about a month off of work. Hobbies I'd long forgotten about (beer brewing, carpentry, heck, even building software for fun) began reappearing in my life. I even picked up a new one: bread-making. My mind and thoughts were clearer. I became a creative individual again, rather than a person running through the motions every day. Another thing became clear: I couldn't go back to the way things had been.

The decision to be both a small businessperson and a stay-at-home dad had become too difficult to justify. But was it really that simple? Was it either be a good dad or a businessperson, or did I need to find a new balance?

And that's when I realized something: While I was spending more time with my daughter, I was spending less quality time with her (and my wife, for that matter). While I was watching the baby during the day, I'd also be taking calls, programming, writing emails -- I was the epitome of the distracted dad. When my wife came home at night, I'd retreat to my home office and work until 2 or 3 in the morning, only coming down for dinner.

This wasn't good for anybody. I explained the problem to some friends and colleagues, and one piece of advice stuck out in particular: "If you don't spend time on the things you need to do, you may end up resenting the people who you spent that time on instead." I'm not sure if that would've happened, but it stuck with me.

I realize that this may seem ridiculous to some people, but being the best father I can be is a top priority of mine. I’ve enjoyed every minute spent with my daughter. It's just that my idea of what that means has changed. Elizabeth will be starting daycare in March, and when I come home, the phone and computer will (almost always!) get turned off immediately. Now there will be work time, and family time. Two different worlds that hopefully rarely interfere with each other.

Jay Margalus is a game developer at Lunar Giant, and chairs the Chicago chapter of the International Game Developer's Association. He can be reached @Poplicola on Twitter.

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