Designing A Dad

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What do you say when you see a horse for the first time?  “Hi.”

I have the great fortune to be able to experience my second Father’s Day.  The past year has brought so many monumental changes to my life.  I’ve finally stopped messing around and got my Architecture license, I’ve started my own practice, and every day has brought us a few steps closer to breaking ground on our new home.  I have a few ongoing and new design projects and am so fortunate that Studio m Architecture + Design is a success so far.

All of that is great.

Amid all of this planning for the future and looking forward and preparing for what is next, the most successful aspect of the past year is the shift in my thinking about my time with my son.  Before I started working on my own, my time with Little Guy, as it is with most fathers, was limited to nights and weekends.  Maybe, if I was lucky enough, he would wake up before I left the house, but even then it was just a quick good bye without him even realizing what was going on.  This is the norm.  This is how it is.

Unless you change it.

I Realize that I am one of the lucky ones.  I know that I am one of the few who gets to dictate their own schedule.  We can’t all own our own business and adjust our lives as necessary.  It just wouldn’t work that way.  I’m not suggesting that everyone else is doing it wrong.  There is sacrifice too.  There are more and more nights that I am awake at 2 o’clock in the morning getting work done, paying bills, drafting contracts and a thousand other things that I can’t get done during the day.  It’s a trade off.  It’s balance.

What I get in return for my efforts is that I learn to be the dad that my son wants.  With the amount of time we get to spend together, I see firsthand what works.  What makes him laugh?  What makes him upset?  How can I be the best dad I can be?  Easy.  Know my son.  Not just play with him or feed him or drive him around. . . . but actually KNOW him.  The time I get to spend with him is time that he gets to let me know who he wants me to be (even if sometimes I have to be the guy who lays down the law too).  He gets to teach me while I’m teaching him.

Do the worlds collide?  Absolutely – if you want to look at it that way.  Last week I sent out a design presentation on a potential job that I am looking at.  Of course, the next day I spent the majority of my 9 to 5 with my son, so when the developer called, I had an 18 month old running circles around me while I sat on the floor spinning to keep up.  Option one:  voicemail.  Option two: stick Little Guy somewhere safe and hope he only screams a little bit until I get off the phone.  The unfortunate decision here is ‘who am I putting first?’  If I let the call go to voicemail, it’s obviously saying that my son comes first and work can wait.  If I tie my son to a chair so I can take a call without interruption, it’s because this job is important to me and I need to remain ‘professional’ during work hours.  I want both. . . so Option three was to answer the call and let my client know that today is a day with my son, but that I didn’t want to miss his call.  He’s cool with it, my son doesn’t feel abandoned, and I get to keep my life in balance.  Everyone who I work with knows that I am, at any given time, potentially with my son.  That’s why they have emails sent at 2 AM waiting for them when they get to work.  This is time that I won’t get back if I let it go.

The past year has taught me to continuously pursue this balance.  It’s not easy at times.  There are still meetings that need to exist without a child in sight.  There are still times when the phone just needs to be turned off.  Although I very much look forward to what tomorrow brings, I try my hardest to stay in today.  Enjoy the Now.  Live in the moment when I am with my son as much as I can.  Hopefully he will learn to recognize how important the time together really is.

 

Happy Father’s Day to all of the dads out there!  No matter how you’re doing it, make sure to enjoy the minutes. . . because they do run out.

 

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Parts & Pieces

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Exploded Eames Lounge Chair – Henry Ford Museum, Dearborn, MI

At times, it looks as if a toy factory exploded in the living room.  If you’re the one on the receiving end of a Little Guy hand-off, walking into the chaos can be overwhelming and kind of confusing.  How is it possible that this is the result of a 17 month old ‘playing’?  Surely the haphazard, strewn about array of blocks… and cars… and foam tubes… and books… and cereal… must have been the result of some sort of toddler dance party.

But when you’re there for the process and you witness how the end result comes to be, it’s actually quite interesting – and not quite as random as it sometimes seems.

I’ve experienced this same feeling throughout my career as an Architect.  Numerous times, I’ve been handed a job for one reason or another, that was started by someone else.  Dive in. Get up to speed.  And away you go.  Often, whether expressed out loud or not, after a bit of orientation I start to wonder “What the hell were they thinking?”  How did things get to this point?  Where’s the reason?  The cause and effect?  Is this just a series of random shapes and spaces or did someone actually have a methodology behind what I am looking at?  But when you’re there for it from the beginning, it makes a little more sense.  There’s reason.  There’s process.

The other day I watched my son push a pirate ship out of the sun room, thru the dining room and into the living room.  He had preloaded it with two pirates and a polar bear (I blame climate change).  This should have had the simple result of a pirate ship ending up in the living room.  However, along the way he encountered a cup of snacks and dropped anchor to enjoy.  The snack was good – enough to share with a few mateys – so a few were dropped onto the deck boards of the ship before setting sail again.  A few clicks later, a bucket was used as a platform for the pirates to stand on, then used as a helmet for my son – who then decided that he needed a spoon to go with the bucket – which was next to the plastic fruit and vegetables so he grabbed an orange (have to keep the pirates scurvy free) and put it on the ship too.  He pulled the ship across the floor and all of the above cargo was strewn about within a matter of seconds.  The pirates made it safely to the couch.  The polar bear was lost at sea.  All of this happened in about 90 seconds.  It doesn’t sound like that big of a deal, but by my estimation, he’s awake for approximately 38,000 seconds a day. . . .

I knew why there was a spoon under the dining room table, why there was a smashed piece of cereal next to fake food on the floor, why a lone polar bear sat on the carpet waiting to be picked back up, and why there was a pirate ship in a bucket on the couch.  It might not make sense if you walked into it, but there was some reasoning and a process that created it.

Studio m Architecture + Design is fortunate enough to have a good, steady stream of work for the past few months – and some good conversations in the works for the future.  I’ve never felt so sure of what I was doing in my career than I have since I started my own practice, and I think it has a lot to do with being here from the beginning.  I’ve made the decisions, watched the finances, set up the structure of the company, and the projects are mine.  I start them and I finish them and the process, the reasoning, and the path that I take with each client makes sense to me because I’m the one who gets to decide what happens.  It’s very reassuring since it seems to be working too.  There are piles of parts and pieces strewn about my workspace – a stack of professional liability research and invoices, in progress marketing material, a box of receipts, and scattered sketches and notes about a few different projects.  Good luck trying to make sense of it if you were to sit in my chair. . . but I have a process. . . .

 

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Free Architectural Services!

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Waiting to surprise – Photo by Two Sticks Studios

Today, Little Guy fell down in the living room.  It was a minor fall.  Nothing worth crying about – in fact, not a tear was shed.  But he looked over to me to see what my reaction would be – which was nothing.  Everything seemed to be ok, so he got up, walked three steps, and then glanced over to me and fell down saying “ut ohhhhh, da da”.  Still no reaction. . . still no tears.  The third time he “fell down”, I asked him if he was ok and the universe exploded, the heavens collapsed, and immediate medical attention was needed (in the form of a comforting hug and a pat on the back).  Now that he had my attention, he took full advantage.

Interesting title to this post.  To clarify, I am not offering free Architectural services, only using a few words to get some attention.  False advertising?  Smoke & mirrors?  The words “free architectural services” of course imply that there may be services. . . Architecturally based. . . that may have no cost.  This is true, I suppose, in that my firm, Studio m Architecture + Design, will meet with you for an initial job meeting (at no cost) to determine if we want to work together, but after that, we’ll go into a contract for an agreed upon fee.  Look how fast that attention grabber dissolved.

“Act now”.  “Limited time only”.  “Order in the next 10 minutes. . . . “.  “ut ohhhhh, da da”.  “The diet that could be killing you”.  “10 things your toddler is going to do and almost kill himself”.  I get product recalls sent to my inbox.  Non-organic food is going to turn everyone into a mutant.  Exercise to stay healthy.  Too much exercise will hurt you.  That water has too much oxygen in it.  Stay out of the sun.  Close the blinds.  Hide the kids.  Make everything out of Nerf. . . . . . . . .

Everybody settle down.  Pause.  Breathe deep.  Now resume.

It’s interesting seeing my son learn a little manipulation.  It’s actually pretty humorous and reassures me that he is developing.  I could sit there all day with him and keep picking him back up.  Let him run into my arms for comfort again and again.  In some ways I start to question whether I am coddling him or not, but for now, it’s just a fun game as he learns to test his world.  He’ll move past it and start working us in another way; walking away and giggling after his reward of a hug.  I start to realize that our world is filled with these tests.  Little attention grabbers here and there.  As an Architect, I’ve worked with a lot of contractors.  “We’ve got a big problem here”, I’m greeted with on the phone one day.  “Hello, <contractor>.  How are you this morning?”  The “problem” turned out to be solved with a job site visit, a quick sketch on the new drywall, and actually a price reduction to the client because our new resolution was actually more efficient than the original design.  Big problems.  Major issues.  I’ve seen people get caught in the whirlwind and join the panic and bring a few others into the chaos on the way.  Pause.  Breathe deep. . . . . now resume.

I like to pride myself in not getting caught up in too many of these manipulations.  There’s usually a solution or an answer to our problems, but if you’re stressed out and fixated on the negative, you’re going to have a hard time finding the right way to go.  If everything went perfectly, maybe life wouldn’t be as interesting.  There’s a fine line – apparently – between complacency and outright panic.  Sometimes I find I have to lean one way or the other – more so for the other person.  Nobody wants to feel unheard or minimized, and others need to be brought down a bit so that they can actually hear what you’re saying.  I don’t have all the answers and I certainly have my share of overreactions.  All things I need to work on so I can teach Little Guy how to get to tomorrow.

(Amusing side note:  As I’m about to hit “publish” on this post, my son is waking up from his nap and just threw his stuffed Mickey Mouse out of his crib.  He’s now uttering “ut ohhhhh” thru the monitor in an effort to get me to come in. . . . and I can’t wait to get there.)

Oh, also. . . Act now and “like” DesignAdad on Facebook!  Hurry!  Time is running out!!

Why workdays no longer exist (and weekdays have gone too)

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“Night to Day” – Tim McLain

It sounds fantastic!  No more workdays and no more weekdays:  the goal of those who retire, win the lottery, or are on permanent vacation.  Mission accomplished, break out the champagne, time to kick my feet up!

Well, maybe not quite yet. . .

In reality, the disappearance of my established work schedule and absence of the much welcome “weekends off” is only an indicator that things are changing and things are actually starting to work.  But now what?  Studio m Architecture + Design has been very fortunate to have landed a few jobs and is actually starting to see some money come back (rather than just flow out in an effort to start the company).  So, you would figure that sitting down at 8 in the morning and working until 4 or 5 would be happening 5 days a week until “TGIF” comes along. . . you would figure.  However, that’s not one of my goals.  In fact, one of the reasons I left the firm I was working for was because I wanted to be able to introduce more flexibility into my life.  Little Guy is almost 15 months old and is into absolutely everything and I LOVE it – especially since I get to be here for most of it.  He joins those of us who are awake from 7AM to 7PM (and that does not work well with a typical workday).  How could any work ever get done then?

I work all of the time – and never.  Could that possibly make sense?  I’ve managed to get rid of “workdays” and “weekends” and any other classification of time that indicates when I should be getting work done.  In some respects, I’ve also managed to blur the lines between night and day and have learned to start thinking of things a little bit differently.  There’s just time. . . that’s it. . . and I get to decide what to do with it.    Some of that time needs to be used to eat, to sleep, and to exercise.  Some of it is allotted to taking care of Little Guy and connecting with my family.  There’s a portion of it that needs to be dedicated to my practice and the jobs I have – and just managing the things that need to be taken care of with the business.  I have some consulting “on the side”.  I have to market the firm and go to events and make sure that I’m always looking to the future or else I’ll run out of work.  Sounds like enough to overwhelm and overtake any thought of finding free time to just relax.

So how can all of that get finished at the same time?  It can’t.  That’s impossible.  And, although I am a firm believer in multi-tasking, the truth is that you can really only do one thing at a time.  So, that’s what I do:  one thing at a time.  When I worked from 8 to 6 every day, there was always a pile of things to finish and I assigned priority based on deadline, client needs, or the magnitude of the task.  My new strategy is no different except it’s 24 hours a day and the task list is much broader than before.  Getting frustrated and overwhelmed (although it will still happen from time to time) only amounts to wasting valuable time and essentially adding another task to the list that doesn’t need to be there.  At any given point in time, I’m working on whatever I have decided the priority is.  Sometimes it’s getting some drawings finished or making some calls.  Other times it’s playtime or bathtime.  Every day is a continuous mix of everything that has to be attended to.

It works – for now anyway.  I don’t have any employees at the firm, and that helps tremendously.  I don’t need to show up and be present for anyone to make sure they have what they need to work.  This may greatly influence the way the firm grows.  There may be a time where “office hours” exist and schedule and structure come back, but as long as the flexibility remains, I think that the overall strategy can work.  Hopefully I have enough time to figure it all out. . .

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Building your Baby – Guidelines for Success

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“Build a Baby Kit” – ACME Archives Direct

I’ve heard many business owners refer to their creation as “their baby”, in relation to the amount of time and effort and care that goes into creating and maintaining its existence.  I’m fortunate enough to be nurturing two babies at the moment – my Little Guy and Studio m Architecture + Design.  Both need lots of attention.  Both of them bring me great joy.  Both of them have the potential to bring wonderful things into my life.

I’ve poured over approximately 4.2 billion books, articles, forums, blogs, videos, and legal documents about my babies.  Some of the information is helpful.  Most of it is gibberish.  I’ve distilled some of my new knowledge down into a few points.  You decide what baby they apply to!

1. The first steps are the toughest – hang in there.
You will never be fully prepared ahead of time.  Something will happen that feels like you’ve been thrown off course and maybe aren’t ready.  What were you thinking?!  You’re probably going to mess it up. . . and you believe it.  It’s happening.  Step up.

2. Things may go to s#!t.  It’s what you do next that matters most.
Despite your best efforts, some things are out of your control.  The inevitable will happen and make things more difficult – and that stinks.  Each time, you learn to accommodate and become more efficient.  Deal with what you’ve been given, and try your best to make the change.

3. Make sure to set the tone early so that you have something to live by.
Rules are made to be broken, but if you don’t have them, you won’t have anything to gauge the progress.  Decide what is important to you and stick to it.  It may be the foundation for the future.  You’re allowed to change the rules.

4. Every day will bring something new to deal with.
Prepare all you want, but you have no idea what you’re going to be dealing with tomorrow.  Welcome it.  Learn from it.  You’ll find that you’re slowly building your toolbox to deal with anything that comes along.

5. Don’t underestimate how much time it will consume.
Seriously. . . . . don’t.

6. Expect some negotiations to break down.
Sometimes holding your ground works.  Sometimes it just makes things way worse.  Pick your battles.  The ones you pick, you still might lose.

7. Nobody will care as much as you do.
It’s true.  When you go to sleep at night, you try your best, but sometimes everything ends up in bed with you whether you want it to or not.

Who is this guy? A new identity emerges

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“The Son of Man” by Mike Stimpson

This morning was one of those days when you look up and think “Who is this guy?!”. . . . twice.

Little Guy is fast approaching 13 months old and will be at a nice age for the holiday season.  He’s beginning to show excitement for different things, remembers what to do with various items (comb goes on my head, socks go on these feet, and if I touch that thing over there, everyone will freak the hell out).  After we had our morning ritual of looking out the window to see the day (there’s snow today!), played with a few toys while listening to new music (this morning was Christmas Jazz), and ate some fruit and oatmeal, Little Guy walked over to the steps, turned around, and reached out his hand with a summoning “Daaad” so that I would come over and assist him with the climb. . . . then nodded his head in excitement as I started to make my way toward him.

Who is that guy?

After the “hand off” so I could get to work, I sat down, made a priority list, and dug in.  Time management is paramount with the new business Studio m Architecture + Design.  Snap your fingers and I am now a business owner with a laundry list of things to do (including. . . literally. . .  the actual laundry) to make sure I am starting off the right way with the business while maintaining the role of Dad at home.  Spring into action, sit down, bang out some drawings, and I can take a break to write a blog post if I get enough finished.  I have a proposal to write.  I wonder what we’re going to make Little Guy for lunch today.  There’s some consulting info that I need to reach out for.  Is the Holiday Train coming tonight or tomorrow?  There are 3 draft emails that need to go out today no matter what.  Oh, and I started running again – and I love it.  Pause. . . breathe. . . and we’re back.

What just happened?  Who are these new identities that have very mischievously emerged as we built our block towers and formed our new companies?  Don’t misread what I am saying, this is not a complaint.  The “hustle and bustle”, the changes, the transformation really, that both Little Guy and I have (and are going) through is not a bad thing.  It’s just very interesting to realize it as it is actually happening – and the realization may actually assist with the process.  We are changing as people and if I see it and if I know it, then I can react to it and make sure that the good things, the desirable traits and habits, don’t change too.

Who are these guys?

Although it’s been over a year since our son joined us on our journey, my wife and I still look at each other and say things like “we’re a family”, or “we have a son”, in a kind of amazed, sudden realization.  Actually, we take turns being amazed while the other is thinking “Yes, that’s great, now could you please figure out how to feed him without it looking like a food explosion just occurred. . . and change his diaper while you’re thinking!”.  I didn’t know that is what they meant when they said “The only thing that’s constant is change!”

 

Architecture/Design Products:

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A good friend of mine recently gave my son these cool foam blocks by Edushape for his birthday.  (Side note: this morning he was actually sorting the blocks by color – which I thought was a fluke until I messed them all up and he did it again!).  He has been all over these blocks (my son, not my friend) since he got them and absolutely loves knocking over the architectural masterpieces that I create for him.  Perfect gift for an Architect’s son.  Edushape – My Soft World-City 

Where to begin – a search for work

With the new company up and running, the conversation quickly turns to “Now what?”  Up until now, I have been operating under a direct cause and effect mode of operation.

I should have a business plan or some goals – done.
I need to form an LLC – hire a lawyer.
I need a website – build a website (www.studioM-ad.com).
Business cards, bank accounts, software – check, check, check.
I need some work. . . . . . . hmmmm. . . . .

You can absolutely make the case that this last item does have its own cause and effect relationship.  Marketing, word of mouth, donating time:  all of these things will, no doubt either directly or indirectly, lead to work, but aren’t necessarily energizing those new bank accounts that were so easy to open up.  Some days I already question whether or not I should have taken “the leap” – not in defeat – I think that’s just the way it goes.  It takes time to get things moving.

In the DesignAdad spirit, I have found some design projects to keep me busy!  Last week, Little Guy and I broke ground and immediately cut the ribbon on the LRCC project (that’s the Living Room Chair Castle in case you were not aware).  The completed project captures the constant draw to venture under the dining room table with the safety of a tensile fabric roof to alleviate potential head trauma on the previously referenced table.  Unfortunately, plans to demolish the structure were immediately carried out as dinner was being served.

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But what am I really looking for?  Although LRCC may be a bit on the “smaller side” of projects, it is the definitely the case that I am more able to handle the smaller now that I have my own firm.  I hear it often that ” I can’t afford an Architect”.  It’s all relative, but the chances are that I can take a look at your home renovation or maybe have some advice for your small modification.  I’m also willing to expand the job!  Just because I own my own firm doesn’t mean I’m looking to create the next architectural monument.  Architectural consulting (to other firms), drafting, shop drawings, peer review – all viable sources of work.  Ego aside, I’m here to work and spend time with my family.  The big projects are out there.  I welcome them.  But I realize that there are a lot of people out there who just need some help.

About Studio m Architecture + Design

Of course I am looking for larger projects as well.  I am fortunate enough to have worked in all aspects of many different project types over the years and that gives me the advantage of being to handle larger projects on my own.  It’s unfortunate that some professionals get categorized within a very narrow realm of responsibility while working for a firm.  Luckily I was able to gather a wide array of experience.

So, the “Now what?” is here!  Let me know how I can help you.  In the meantime, I will be exploring the qualities of the various fortbuilding materials that Little Guy and I find around the house.  Maybe we’ll venture into cardboard next….

Architecture/Design Products:

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I have not purchased this product yet, but if you’re looking to step up your fort making, this may be the way to go.  I’m sure there is an ongoing global Architectural debate about maintaining the integrity and the spirit of the home fort and utilizing local materials from the living room may be the way to go.  However, the only thing that is constant is change.  I support both the old school way of thinking and the new wave kit of parts.  www.crazyforts.com

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