Good morning everyone! Today I’m honored to bring you a guest post from my friend Crispy Doc. We met online and at FinCon, where I scared the crap out of him. Luckily, he was grateful for the experience. When he asked if he could share the story of Ryan Park with the readers of my site, I of course said yes.
Why should you know about Ryan? You’ll need to read on to find out. But I guarantee you’ll be interested in what he’s doing, and in the financial lessons you can learn from him.
Idle hands are the work of the devil, but special feet?
A former professor, a curmudgeonly but brilliant virologist who excelled in research, once exploded in disgust at our medical school’s adoption of a pass/fail system during the pre-clinical years
(Unbeknownst to him, this was one of the features that had attracted me to the school).
During his memorable rant, my professor lamented how American-born kids are coddled to death in a culture where last place gets a trophy, and instead of rigorously learning physics and math, kids are taught to soothe themselves by singing, “Nobody else has feet like mine, feet like mine, feet like mine, feet like mine, nobody else has feet like mine, I’m SO special!”
He cited his foreign-born post-doctoral students, Ph.Ds who knew competition of necessity and did not fear burning the midnight oil, as examples that we his American-born students ought to be following.
While my wife will be the first to concede that my feet are quite unusual, my professor was driving at an innate softness he perceived as a liability in the U.S. educational system. Too much unconditional love, not enough discipline.
There goes the neighborhood, and with it our nation’s competitive edge.
My professor was on my mind recently after my wife shared an opinion piece from the NY Times by an attorney I’d never heard of named Ryan Park.
The piece was entitled, The Last of the Tiger Parents.
It blew me away.
Ryan, like many peers I’d encountered during my own education, is a first generation American and a product of fiercely driven immigrant parents. He’d met their high expectations by attending Amherst, Harvard Law School, and subsequently clerking for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
All of which is a roundabout way of making the case that he comes from the top 1% of the top 1% academically, which gives him the credibility needed to deliver his insights to his target audience: high achieving children of immigrant parents.
He does not plan to raise his daughter the way he was raised
He intends to replace the upbringing he experienced under his tiger father’s “severe, controlling” parental style – one that he partly credits for his success – with his own kinder, softer American approach aimed at developing an open and warm relationship with his young daughter.
Ryan and his wife have given this decision a great deal of thought
Ryan’s success has brought him material wealth, status and security. It has brought his parents indisputable bragging rights. But by his measure, it failed to bring him happiness during his childhood.
Don’t misunderstand: he fully intends to impart the reverence for learning and grit that he and his wife were raised to believe in. It’s just that they intend to place their relationship with their child above the need for strict discipline.
They also plan to leave space for their daughter to develop greater autonomy and individuality than they experienced.
As the son of immigrants, I realize this can sound completely absurd to the children of non-immigrants.
The joke among children of immigrants is that we had the same freedom as any other American kids – we could choose exactly what type of doctor, lawyer or engineer we wanted to become.
Ryan cites data that the relentless emphasis on competition and performance cultivated by tiger parent childhoods can be filled with depression, anxiety and insecurity.
He describes his transformation into an anti-tiger parent as his parents’ ultimate (if ironic) mark of success – they wanted to raise a truly American kid.
They did, and surprise! Their American kid plans to raise their granddaughter differently.
Ryan is currently a Stay At Home Dad
Ryan wrote another article for The Atlantic, entitled, What Ruth Bader Ginsburg Taught Me About Being A Stay-At-Home Dad.
Boom, rocked my world all over again. Allow me to explain.
“Stay-at-home Harvard Law grad dad who clerked for a Supreme Court justice” is the medical equivalent of saying “stay-at-home neurosurgeon.”
You don’t develop those skills, sacrifice that youth, and make that kind of intellectual and emotional investment to walk away at the moment you are on the verge of reaping the reward for your labors.
Ryan’s not just an anomalous father, he’s an anomalous partner.
He made a pact with his wife: while he was clerking for a Supreme Court justice, she would raise their daughter and run the household. When his clerkship ended, he would take a couple of years as a planned break from his law career while she entered residency. This is not the way such things are “supposed” to go.
Guys with Ryan’s pedigree don’t take their foot off the career accelerator – ever. They rely on a spouse to do all the heavy lifting on the home front while they put in many, many extra hours away from the family to remain at the pinnacle of their competitive field.
If the spouse is similarly accomplished, either she pays the ovarian penalty and gives up her career to have a family, or they both pursue their careers with full gusto and never have kids.
What Ryan is doing is radical for a man. It’s radical for an overachiever. It’s radical for a son of immigrant parents. And it’s radical for our culture. Kind of like the pursuit of Financial Independence.
Sometimes the craziest ideas resonate for a reason.
Why am I so enthusiastic about a talented attorney with an Ivy League pedigree who eschewed the typical career path in order to be a stay-at-home father and allow time for his wife’s career to take off? So glad you asked!
- Many of us in medicine and comparably time- and training-intensive professions have coupled with similarly accomplished partners. We want those partners to have an equal opportunity for professional growth and career satisfaction. As someone married to an extraordinary entrepreneur, her successes are my successes.
- The traditional division of household labor is changing for many professional couples. Hands-on fathers want to play an active role in raising children. If we run our household like Mad Men, we risk creating resentful women.
- No one benefits from shutting talented women out of the workplace by virtue of their anatomy. When I graduated medical school, women composed 50% of my class. To sideline those women during their child-bearing years is to diminish their contribution (to society, to household finances, to our national GDP) in their prime earning years.
- A historically sclerotic workplace is coming to terms with the acceptance and integration of work-schedules that accommodate the needs of talented women. The gig economy has permitted parents to find work that starts when their children go to school, and ends in time to pick them up. The digital marketplace has enabled previously sidelined professionals to create online businesses that provide the autonomy and flexibility to schedule work commitments around family life.
- Work-life balance has taken on new significance for the younger workforce. The FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) community is at the vanguard of a movement to allot time based on values. Aggressive savings and reduced spending are lessons we would all be wise to learn from.
As more professionals like Jonathan Park make decisions in accordance with their values, employers hoping to retain the services of such highly skilled workers will need to adapt.
Empowering workers who make nontraditional choices to remain involved in their families is good for parents; good for children; and good for women who can participate more fully in the workplace.
Jonathan Park is a visible canary in the American coal mine.
Work-life balance has emerged as a make-or-break factor in job desirability. It behooves us to create a workplace that applauds and accommodates both the impressive Mr. Park and his equally impressive physician wife.
For those who pursue FI, there are further implications.
Life will be full of people looking to tell you that you can’t draw outside the lines. The most interesting and fulfilling lives tend to belong to those who defied the constraints imposed by others.
- Love is powerful. Parental love can smother. Although your mom’s OB remembers otherwise, many adults walk around with intact umbilical cords motivating them to pursue their parents’ dreams. To live a life authentic to yourself, you’ll need to be okay with disappointing mom and dad.
- Choosing the right partner (for those who couple) can make or break your ability to live your authentic life. Discussing career aspirations, financial goals and the logistics required to achieve them can make the difference between a relationship that propels your dreams and one that undermines them.
Crispy Doc, as the husband of a feminist, is susceptible to their wily charms. He tells his story of mid-career burnout in medicine transformed by a financial literacy conversion experience at crispydoc.com and tweets as @crispydocblog.