Ahead of Serena Williams 38th "cake day" on Thursday, her husband, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, talked to espnW about the importance of paternity leave. Ohanian, the managing partner of Initialized Capital, also spoke on the difference between "dads doing dad things" and babysitting, his work with the Mom Project and raising the couple's young daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian.
I have to support my family in a way that makes sense for our needs. There's a hunger that comes after weeks of being in relative isolation with your partner and baby [after the child is born]. Then there's all of the sleep deprivation that comes with it. For both partners, it's incredibly useful to have flexibility when getting back into work. Even if for no other reason than the nourishment that you can get from being able to work. I am fortunate because I love the work that I do, it's a nice grounding of normalcy when everything else had been turned upside down.
It's a constant struggle. Even now, with our daughter being 2, it's a constant struggle to try to feel like I'm showing up enough for her and my wife. I know my wife feels the same way. This is the new normal.
When my daughter was born, I took [16 weeks] of paternity leave. When you have this very vulnerable newborn there, and you're holding the baby for the first time -- at least for me, it was unnerving. I'm a giant dude holding this little baby, and this is the most important thing I've ever done. I didn't know what to do. I didn't grow up with kids around me. And my dad took one day off when I was born and then went back to work. One vacation day.
Having that time off, having those months to be there and take that responsibility and know that I'm not going to break the baby -- it gave me a sense of comfort and confidence to know I could handle it. I also wanted to set an example for our company and other men in the tech industry. I wanted to help normalize paternity leave. Not long after that, Dove Men+Care reached out and wanted to launch a $1 million fund to help dads who can't take paternity leave to be able to do so.
There's the dumb dad trope of not knowing how to do basic stuff. It's like: "Oh no, Dad has to feed the baby today." It's very manufactured, and frankly, condescending. Babysitters get paid to babysit. Dads are parents. It might have been amusing to think of a dad as a sitter 40 years ago, but the bar has been raised.
What social media has done is normalize dads doing dad things. Dads are posting selfies of themselves with their kids strapped to their chest while they go out for a coffee or even the dad reflexes memes. It's an illustration of fatherhood -- and yes, we can laugh at it. But it helps reinforce and normalize the need for dads to just be dads.
Recently, we've seen Chance the Rapper talk about delaying his tour, because he wanted to be home after the birth of his second child. Here's someone who has a huge audience, is a cultural icon, making such a great statement in such a powerful way. I think we're going to see more and more men, these business dads, following suit.
It's important to have an opportunity to work and care for your family. And that's why Initialized Capital, [the San Francisco-based early-stage venture capital firm I co-founded with Garry Tan], invested into The Mom Project. The company helps women, as well as men -- but, mostly professional women -- transition back into the workforce after having a child. What Mom Project founder Allison Robinson, who is also a mother, discovered was that there is this great supply of super-talented professional women who were disconnected from Fortune 500 employers who needed their work. Specifically, The Mom Project helps connect parents on a per project or per contract-type basis, which would give them the flexibility to do work when they see fit and on their terms. It also provides real value for companies that need their services. We're investors first and foremost. We made these decisions to make money. But we also saw a business opportunity that meets a massive societal need.
The future of work is remote and flexible. But, there are still challenges. Right now, and probably for the foreseeable future -- while mama is traveling all the time -- Olympia is often with my wife. I stick to an ironclad schedule, based on whatever time zone Olympia is in, to maintain a connection when I'm not there with them. I've walked out of meetings with investors and founders to take Olympia's FaceTime for prayers at bedtime. My wife and I have demanding careers, but we stick to a routine so that Olympia knows even for the days when I can't physically be there, that we have our time. There's still the serendipity of calling during the days too. My wife is so intensely hands-on even when she's working. And yes, we're fortunate enough to have a nanny that also travels with us. But, ultimately, we are thankful to have flexibility in our work to ensure those remote connections.
And I'm constantly reminding myself to try to empathize with our daughter. When Olympia is starting to get upset, as all toddlers do, we try to make sure that she understands she's being heard. Even when I disagree with her, like, "No, you're not having any more grapes," I want her to know she's being heard. And she's a good kid, we got lucky. But, we want to make sure she understands that we will always make time for her, and we will both take time to understand her.
And, yes, Olympia has [her doll Qai Qai]. That doll is traveling with Olympia and living a very blessed life. Qai Qai finally got a new outfit, which we think she's happy about. I used to have people stop me on the street to pitch me their startups. Then they would tell me how much they love my wife, and now they shout "Qai Qai" at me. I don't even know what to do with that.
But whenever my wife and I are not working and traveling, we make an effort to be focused on one another. Kids are actually a really good gut punch on this, because nine out of 10 times when the phone comes out, Olympia always notices it. It's this reality check of -- that call or email isn't that important. Those moments when it's just us, it helps us prioritize the important things in life.