Geek dad

Technology can consume your life. As geeks, we're always "on": we have our smartphones with us 24/7, we're constantly checking Twitter and email, and we work even when we're not at the office.

But I'm not just a geek; I'm also a dad. 

Even though the internet never takes a break, my kids need me to take a break from the internet. Here are some things I'm working on that I think will make me a better (geek) dad:

Put your ambition on hold

I'd love to start something big: to fund my own startup, hire a team, and build an amazing product. But now's not the time. I don't think it's impossible to start a business while you have young children; but it's definitely a lot harder (I should know, I've tried). Startups require an enormous of amount of energy, time and focus. So do kids! You can't give 110% to your startup and have something meaningful leftover for your kids. Based on my own experience, and advice from others, I'm going to put my dream of running a bigger company on hold.

Choose your commitments carefully

There are so many opportunities in the tech community: I can go to conferences, sign up for workshops, take a course, contribute to open source, start a side-project, go to a meetup... The list is endless! Because I value my time with my family, I have to be selective. I can't go to everything; I can't even go to the best of everything. But what I can do is choose carefully, and really maximize my time once I'm there. So, if I'm going to a networking event, I set goals: Who do I want to meet? What do I want to accomplish? What items in the schedule should I attend, and what should I skip?

The time of day is also important: as a dad, it's better if I can schedule work related commitments during work hours (9am-5pm, Monday-Friday). If an event requires overnight travel, and extends over a weekend, I'm less likely to attend.

Dock the phone

This one is hard! As soon as I get home, I'm trying to force myself to dock my phone, and not touch it (at least until after my kids are in bed). On weekdays 5:30pm-8pm is my window to enjoy my kids: t0 eat dinner with the family, do homework, do household chores, read them a story, and get them to bed. My iPhone is like a black-hole: it sucks me in whenever I'm around it. Too often I find myself staring at this little screen, while my son cheerfully describes his latest Pokemon battle. I don't think we need to spend every minute of our free time with our kids, but when we're engaged with them we do need to be present. The best way to accomplish this is to dock the phone when I get home.

Do geeky stuff with your kids

On a Saturday, my daughter and I were just hanging around the house, looking for something to do. "Dad, why don't you teach my how to build a web page?" What a great idea! Teaching my daughter HTML was geeky, and a lot of fun for both of us (you can see her first web page here). Last week my son wanted to learn how to touch type, so we downloaded a game and I started teaching him.

There are lots of other ways to include your kids in geek culture: take them to a comic book store, build a LEGO robot, and watch the original Star Wars trilogy with them (with special emphasis on The Empire Strikes Back) .

Do non-geeky stuff with your kids

Does the scene look familiar to you? The whole family is in the living room, and everyone is playing on their tablets, iPods, phones and laptops. We all need a break from tech. I work inside an office all day, and my kids are stuck in a classroom all day: we need to get outside. It's actually been challenging to find activities that we can do as a family. The litmus test for me is it has to be enjoyable for me and the kids. I don't want to be stuck on the sidelines while my kids play hockey or soccer, I want to be participating with them. We've found a good fit for us: in the winter we go skiing, and in the summer we bike or go to the beach.

It's about relationships

My kids love to take my phone and take pictures with it. This means when I dock my phone I'm importing hundreds of photos of walls, plants, their faces and... of me. I was looking at these lately and realized that in many of them I'm staring at a screen. Is that how I want my kids to remember me? My relationship with my wife and kids is how I'm ultimately going to judge the significance of my life. I think I'm a good geek; but I want to be a better dad.

Hope this is helpful!

Justin Jackson

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Published on November 29th, 2012
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