Six years ago, I took a two-week vacation from my new architecture job in London to visit my family in North Carolina for the holidays. The phone rang, and it was my boss back across the Atlantic: The office was closing. All 20 employees had been "made redundant." It had been my dream job—working for an award-winning Dutch firm with a reputation for edgy work. I was stunned. My first layoff, at age 23? What would I do next?
I came back home to North Carolina, to my family, and regrouped. I chose to move to the Triangle, a new southeastern hotbed for architecture. The economy seemed sound, and businesses were hiring. After sending my portfolio to a dozen firms, I got an offer from my top pick, Clearscapes, a company that often reimagines old buildings, combining art with architecture. I was back in the business.
Fast-forward five years: The economy continues to slump, and the unemployment rate continues to do the opposite. I remain one of the lucky ones with a great job—health care, a 401(k) plan, a team of talented colleagues. Why, then, would I choose to leave this job at what seems like the worst of times?
Again, it's my family.
In late June, my wife, Stacy, delivered our first child, Oliver. His developmental milestones have sped by, but, because of work, I am away for most of each day, and the breaking news of his latest feats—turning over, laughing, blowing bubbles—often comes much later, at the dinner table after he's fast asleep. On weekends, I try to catch up. Like many parents, coming to terms with these roles—weekday professional, weekend father—has been challenging, especially since my relationship with my own father has long been a very distant one.
In countries like Sweden and Ireland, families are given anywhere from three months to a year of paid leave to devote to their newborns. This, of course, isn't the case in the United States. While the Family and Medical Leave Act does protect jobs for employees (for up to three months), families must meet their financial obligations. At the 12-week mark, Stacy returned to work, and Oliver headed to day care. He was the youngest baby in the center.
We needed another solution. With both of our careers in full swing, our combined salaries have allowed us to pay our mortgage and debts, with a little left over for savings. As a designer, I've gained satisfaction by working on exciting projects in the Raleigh area, like the Convention Center's Shimmer Wall. But when I heard the question, "Would you stay home with Oliver?" I knew—almost instantly—that my career had to take the backseat.
So I've been cleaning out my desk, digging through the remnants of five years' worth of design. I'll miss my profession and my peers, but I realize that I have an opportunity to experience Raleigh through a new set of eyes now—Oliver's. I'll be the one offering the daily report of his accomplishments now. My student loans will just have to wait.