I spent some time looking for a new job – I was getting really good at job hunting – and one job particularly piqued my interest. It was at a fostering agency, and it made me remember my brief time at a different agency all those years ago with affection. I was wiser now, of course, and wanted to understand more about this agency before I jumped into the frying pan. Was the culture going to be healthy? Was the job going to be interesting? I needed to prove myself to the agency, and I wanted to learn about them too.
I succeeded in getting an interview, and it was one of the most interesting I’ve ever had. The two-person panel and I were in the meeting room for two or three hours, and it covered everything that I wanted to talk about as well; company ethics and culture, a passion for improving the business, developing your own skills … it felt like a meeting of minds. There was obviously work that needed doing within the agency, and the manager clearly knew her stuff – she had a vision and was determined to get there. I admired her for that. To this day, my respect for her drive and verve is undimmed.
I was delighted when I was offered the job, and snapped the chief exec’s hand off to say yes. We needed to go through checks and references – nothing I wasn’t expecting – but I was soon walking through the front door on my first day.
The agency itself was in a multi-office space with various services, and run by a local church – who worshipped from the building as well. I was slightly nervous as to how I would get on in that situation, given that I was an atheist and often gave my views. But the pastors were brilliantly energetic and funny, the office manager was passionate, the cafe manager was a ground-breaker, and the caretaker very clearly loved his job. Despite me not working for them, I enjoyed their company.
But back to fostering. I felt a connection to the manager and chief exec immediately; they were driven, passionate, and cared as much about the fulture of the team as they did the services we delivered. I respected that, because I felt the same way. I was fascinated to discover that not everyone in the team agreed, there was a tension and a fault line that would never be entirely repaired until the team changed. Eventually it did, and the new team – it has to be said – was a lot healthier and open when some changes happened. We had a group of people on the same wavelength who were willing to fight for what they believed in and be advocates for foster families and the children they cared for in new and innovative ways. It was quite exciting to be part of that.
The job I did was an integral part of the team – every job was intregral – and I knew that I wanted to develop myself and my job as the agency grew. I was ambitious for myself and for the team; it was all integrated, and that was refreshing. I wasn’t doing any community work any more, to be sure, but it was lovely to be challenged in different ways.
You might be thinking, “Yes, but where’s the catch?” There isn’t, to be honest. The three years and a half years I spent working here was fascinating; it challenged me and taught me a lot. I’m a better parent because of things I learnt during my tenure as a member of the team; the staff taught me a lot, and I am incredibly grateful for every lesson. I’m still not a perfect parent, but I have a solid base because of these clever people.
I started there in March 2017, and in March 2020 a comprehensive lockdown started in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. We were all ordered to work from home; schools were shut; all leisure services were closed. Everything turned on its head.
I’ve never been one for home-working; it’s not really my thing, if I were given the choice. No-one had the choice during this lockdown, and we all had to work and think differently – so be it.
I was working part-time at this point, having become a father a year before – and I certainly would never have imagined still being a relatively new father to a nine-year-old son when he and I were at home together in close quarters all the time. I thoroughly enjoyed having him with me, but I was (am) a single parent, and I was conscious of his mental health; he was “locked down” away from his friends and the school that he loved, and his only company now was his dad. We have a great relationship, but I was concerned how he would cope with all these sudden changes, especially given that I still needed to work three days a week.
It was a struggle; I didn’t realise how my own mental health was suffering until it was nearly too late. My work suffered, I can be sure of it; I made mistakes, because I wasn’t able to focus on particular projects in the same way as I would in the office, and I was anxious about my son at the same time. How was he coping with the work I set him? He needed a lot of input, which drew me away from work, and my anxieties and worries grew – until, one day, I couldn’t do it all any more. I couldn’t even try to be superman; my parents were being a great support, but I felt that I was failing my son and I was starting to feel stressed as I failed to find an effective pattern of work.
I had a week’s leave after a particular difficult week “in the office”, and I have never relaxed and chilled out so much so quickly. Bryan and I really focused on our relationship, and I knew in that moment that I needed to give him my attention – and that meant sacrificing my career for the time being.
It was a difficult decision in one sense – knowing I would be leaving a company that absolutely supported my career ambitions – but also very easy in another sense; I could focus on my son so much more. I was sad to be leaving behind a job I cared about, but nothing could compare to knowing that my son needed my love and attention.
Some of the team, I think, struggled with my decision, especially when a different job opportunity came up (without any invitation from me) which allowed me a lot more freedom (and I’ll talk about in my last blog in this series) whilst also giving me a bit of an extra income that I wasn’t expecting. I can accept that; my decision to become a full-time dad might have reflected differently when I subsequently took on an eight-hour-a-week job (down from the 22.5-hour-a-week job I was leaving) – but the two decisions (to leave and then to do something else) were entirely unrelated.
If I had not taken on this role, I would then have stopped this series here; but, as I said, work was not entirely done with that.