Father's Day Feature: Jim Coonan's Return to Work after Six Years
A hobby helped this Dad of 2 relaunch his career.
A hobby helped this Dad of 2 relaunch his career.
Jim Coonan is currently the IT Coordinator and Athletic Director at Prairie Crossing Charter School in Grayslake, Illinois. In honor of Father's Day, we asked Jim to share his relaunch story with us.
JK: What did you do before you took a career break?
JC: After a couple entry jobs post college, I took a marketing job at a Japanese company in downtown Chicago. I had learned Japanese as an offshoot of my longtime karate practice, so it was a great fit. I ended up traveling to Japan and I also met my wife, Suzanne, while at this company. I was there for four years, and then moved to another company in a sales position. I began to want to try something outside of corporate, so when a friend approached me about partnering with him to rehab houses. I said yes.
We had some ups and some downs due to the real estate market, and my role ended up evolving to being “the office and finance guy” and largely working from home while my partner was at the job sites. At around the same time, we were expecting our first child, and Suzanne’s career was taking off. Despite the fact that stay-at-home dads were kind of a new thing at the time, it was a natural decision for me to stay home and for Suzanne to go back to work after the baby was born.
JK: What was life like as a Dad on a career break?
JC: Those five years on “career break” were quite an experience. I was typically the only dad at playgroups and Kindermusik, and I got weird looks at the grocery store in the middle of the day. Cashiers would say to me: “Day off, today?” It really couldn’t be farther from the reality of my day - I could not believe how much work it was to be “at home” with the kids. I was exhausted, and frequently joined in naptime at the same time as my girls!
While I kept hearing this voice in my head saying “you should be working," in hindsight I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I got to see and fully participate in so many “firsts” that most dads don’t get to see.
JK: How did you decide to go back to work, and how did you do approach it?
JC: We always talked about me going back to the workforce when both kids were in school full-time. Luckily, the summer after our second daughter finished kindergarten, someone who worked at their school reached out to me. She asked if I knew anyone who knew anything about computers who could help out. I spent a lot of time volunteering at school and in the classroom so people knew me and felt comfortable approaching me.
It turns out that technology has always been a passion of mine, and I had kept up with it while on career break whenever I got the time. I would try to get the latest computer out there and then take apart older ones. I told the woman at the school that I could probably help out at least on a part-time basis. I put together my resume, interviewed, and was hired as a part-time IT Coordinator, which actually was a perfect fit for our family at the time. After around two years, the role expanded and I became a full-time employee at Prairie Crossing Charter School.
Over the next several years, I begin to combine my passion for health and fitness with my job by getting involved in athletics and taking on coaching roles at the school while also starting a cross-country team. Now, in addition to being the main IT guy for the school, I am also the school’s Athletic Director.
JK: How has it been to be back in full time work?
JC: It was intimidating at first, but it’s been almost ten years now and I’ve so appreciated the opportunity to walk to school with my kids and participate in their lives through my work at their school. (In 2018 Jim's youngest daughter graduated 8th grade and he was nominated by her classmates to be the commencement speaker.)
By the same token, I get to be with adults and in an office all day, instead of with little kids. I wouldn’t trade my career break years for the world, but I had been home for so long and there were many times when I thought that I would never get hired back into the workforce! I was nervous at the start because I really didn’t have a traditional IT background. I had always assumed I’d have to go back to school to get back to work.
Looking back on those years I have a much better appreciation for what my mom went through as a stay-at-home mom. It is crazy how much work it is to be at home, and that’s a hard thing to really describe when you’re looking to get back to the working world. It’s funny because when I would talk to other dads I would get questions like “What did you do all day?” – it was hard for some to understand how or why I chose that role.
JK: Can you describe any particular milestone moments as you look back on your journey?
JC: One of the milestones I can remember is when I wrote a book with my daughters as the key characters! When Harry Potter was big, my oldest daughter Katie was really into the books and read them constantly - she would always make these comments about wanting to be in the book – she so wished that Harry Potter was real. So, I wrote “The Dream Door – Journey to the Land of Mer." I’m no author, but it was a fun project and I’d like to think that it had an impact – Katie now wants to go into study English or creative writing in college, and Emma wrote a book for her final 8th grade project.
JK: Do you have any special advice to dads on career break who want to return to work?
JC: Definitely stay up on trends, hobbies, interests. Mine was IT and it helped me get a job. If you have an interest in something, use that as an angle to network. Do something to keep your career going.
Also, keep trying. Don’t get discouraged!
JK: How will you celebrate Father’s Day?
JC: We usually go to dinner and my girls make a big deal of making me a big, gluten-free cake!