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A Return-to-Work Dad Speaks - Part 1 of 2

Dave Carty is the Director of Strategic Initiatives at Kent Place School in Summit, New Jersey. He relaunched after a 13 year career break. This is Part 1 of his 2-part career reentry journey. Dave also shared his relaunch story in an episode of 3,2,1 iRelaunch. Listen here.

My “Career Break” – The Great Misnomer

I wasn’t always a stay-at-home dad.  There once was a time when I was a jet-setting, globe-trotting, expense-account-using sales and marketing executive for a huge, multinational consumer products’ company.  I like to call this “Phase 1” of my life. I was overseas 40-50% of the time, jetlagged 10% of the time, leaving me with 40% of my time to have some semblance of a domestic life. While not exactly easy, it was often enjoyable and exciting  and it was certainly doable for the first eight of the 10 years that I did it. What changed in years nine and 10? Why did I give that all up? One word…kids!!!!  Leaving infant twins at home for two to three weeks at a time as I traveled overseas just wasn’t sustainable, nor was it the life I wanted.

In my tenth year of this, we decided to try something “unusual” - for 1999, that is. Attitudes were pretty different then.  We decided that I would stay home to raise the kids, finish my MBA (which was started while traveling and having twins!) And so began “Phase 2”. I took the plunge and became a full time stay-at-home dad, complete with laundry, shopping, and cooking. I still kept a few hours of babysitting each week to cover my classes, but for the most part, I was the “lead parent” at home.  I have a very clear recollection in one of my early days in this role – I had come down with a cold in the early morning. By noon I felt horrible, and was lying on the floor with the TV on to entertain the kids. Their toys were scattered all over.and they were crawling and walking on everything, including me!  I remember counting down the minutes until their nap time when I could crash in my bed, only to wake up to face the long evening until bedtime. And then one year later, our third child, Clare, made her surprise appearance. As my friend Mike says,  “Want to make God laugh? Show him your life plan!” Well God must have really been roaring.

With the addition of child #3, my role as stay-at-home dad was pretty much cemented and I settled into the role. There weren’t many of us at-home dads.  By my count, just two or three in my town of 60,000.  It was great. I really did love my new “job”.  While physically exhausting, it was emotionally very fulfilling and I never once doubted that I was doing the most important job in the world at the time.  Play groups, coaching, volunteering, some part-time gigs in this or that, things I could do around my role as dad. The days were certainly busy, but I was never bored.

As great as this all was, there was a price to be paid which I don’t think I was fully aware of when I took on this important role.  Here are some of my observations about transitioning from businessman to stay-at-home dad:

  1. My sense of self was altered: No more corporate identity. No business card, No ID, No corporate credit card. Etc.
  2. I felt like I lost my footing among my former peers: I watched my peers’ careers advance and flourish while mine stayed in place. Reading my college alumnae newsletter unsettled me. I knew I was doing a very important job, but in our society  we can be  judged and measured by a different set of standards that often don’t value sty at home parenting .
  3. I found new and different “peers”: When couples got together, I had much more in common with the moms than the dads. I don’t think many of the dads knew what to make of me.
  4. I needed to be very mindful of physical interaction with my new “mom friends”: It was important not to have anything I did be misinterpreted by a mom or her husband. So hugs, kisses, etc. were kind of off limits.  At one social gathering, as the men and women exchanged kisses and hugs goodbye, the moms and I looked at each other as if to say “I see you every day. If we do this now, will we have to do this at the park each time we see each other? Nahhh.”

“Phase 2” lasted 13 years. By the 13th year, we had two kids in high school, one in middle school, and it was time to start thinking about what “Phase 3” might look like for us.  If “Phase 2” was that 13-year career “break” (but let’s face it, it not a break, its hard work!), then “Phase 3” would be my next career – the thing that would carry me through to retirement.

That’s when a bit of panic began to set in. 

 

Preparing to Re-Launch – “I’m not even Google-able!”

I made the decision – it was time to go back to work. But where do I begin? I haven’t worked in 13 years. I have no network. I have no brand. I’m not even “google-able”. What skills do I have?  For years I described myself as the COO of my family – it’s easy not to realize how much goes into running a household. Not to mention all the emotional strength and grit needed to deal with the crises that can affect one-month olds to teenagers. This is not a job for the faint of heart. 

But I wasn’t looking for my next gig as a housekeeper or “manny”. I was looking to get back to a professional career.  While I used to do international sales and marketing, I knew I didn’t want to do that again with all the travel.  Still feeling a bit lost,and full of self-doubt, I held my breath and reached out to some of my old business school professors for those ”informational meetings” I had heard so much about.  While I hadn’t really kept in touch with many of them, there was one professor I occasionally bumped into - I called him and we met at the business school.

We brainstormed a bit and I left that meeting with a few contacts to call. It wasn’t much, but it felt great just getting out, putting on a suit, taking a train somewhere and talking to someone about going back to work.   I had some leads to follow up on and a business development project in South America that he asked me to do a little research on. To be honest, the real value of that meeting was that it got me out of the house and shifted my brain and body into “work search mode”. 

While at the school that day, it occurred to me that I might have some alumni privileges at the career-planning center – and I was right! It was there that I learned about this event put on by a company called iRelaunch. I was told that it was primarily for moms who were looking to go back to work but that I might get something out it.  Giant understatement! Within a minute of being at the event (as one of the only men), I knew I had stumbled onto something that would be a great benefit to me.  Their mission was to help smart, well-educated people who had stepped out of the work force for a period of time, and needed some guidance in getting back in to it.  The day was part instructional, part therapeutic, part inspirational.  This group had a plan to get people like me back to work.  It was tested and proven and had worked for thousands before me.  This was the push, and support I needed.

I left that event with names and numbers of at least five companies and people to follow up with, as well as lots of great info about how to begin the job search -- how to market myself, how to market my “career break”. This was going to be a methodical, well-organized effort.  Things were starting to take shape.  

Cliffhanger, right? Click here to read on in Part 2!

 

 

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