Father’s Day is this month and we thought it would be a good time to hear from an inspired dad who raised one of this generation’s future young leaders. We also wanted to learn about his perspective on his children’s careers and on public service generally. Here are some of the excerpts from our conversation.
When asked, what do you say your child does?
Tom Walsh: “I have two daughters who work in federal office. One is at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, in the General Counsel’s Office. My other daughter is a business systems analyst at HHS. I know that she works on process improvement. You’d think that having worked for the federal government myself would help me understand their jobs. My older daughter I understand because she’s also an attorney, but my younger daughter’s work? Not really.”
Why is the work they do important?
Tom: “The answer to that question is so personal. I do think that careers in public service are worth aspiring to, though that term is also so varied. The federal government is so large, so you see a great degree of difference of job satisfaction. I think it’s more what the individual gets out of it. I know my daughters feel a sense of responsibility to the public and like they’re serving them. When I was working as a federal lawyer, I always felt like I was providing a service. When I was in law school, I was influenced by an individual who had worked in public service themselves. I think it takes a long time sometimes to know what your strengths and interests might be and who you know can really make an impact. Sometimes it’s just an individual or two who see something in you.”
What did they want to be when they grew up?
Tom: “When they were young, they were exploring their life and the world. I didn’t have any sense that they were dedicated to a future profession. I don’t recall my wife and I talking with them much about careers.”
Do they like their job? Why?
Tom: “We talk about their work regularly, just in casual conversation, and I think both of them enjoy their jobs quite a bit. I think they need interesting work and that the type of folks they work with are important. You can be in a field you like in a vacuum, but your job satisfaction can rise or fall based on who your supervisor happens to be or what the policies are in the office. You spend so much time with your colleagues.”
Has their work changed how you feel about government?
Tom: “My time in the government is just one perspective, and I’m not sure how helpful it is, because government is so huge. Your experience in one area of the government can be so different than another. The area I worked in was so different than where they worked, so it’s more useful in the general sense. I was very happy and I think they’re happy, so it’s become a joke in the family that my wife is the only one who isn’t a federal employee.”
What do you hope your child gets out of their career in public service?
Tom: “I have no idea where my daughters will be in 20 years. I hope that they continue to have a sense of fulfillment in their jobs and a sense that they are serving the public. Those two naturally fit together. Of course I hope that they have good salary and benefits too, but I want them to feel like they made a difference.”
We also wanted to get some insights from a couple of fathers working in government:
What do you do?
Christopher Morgan-Riess: “I’m a PMF in the Department of Homeland Security.”
Shahin Saloom: “I am an Assistant General Counsel for a component within the Department of Defense.”
How old are your children? Do they understand what you do yet?
Christopher: “2 & ½ and 7 months. The older one asked today what I do at work. I just told him I’m a lawyer and, if he’s feeling fancy, I’m an attorney.”
Shahin: “My son is four. He wants credit for being four and three-quarters. He just knows I keep bad people from messing up the Army.”
Looking back, do you see a difference in how you think about your career now that you have kids?
Christopher: “Before I had kids, I was looking for jobs. Whatever suited my wants and needs. When I had kids, I started to think about careers because I wanted to find something that suited this new lifestyle.”
Shahin: “Totally. Before my career was just a career thing. Now I think all about my hours and the stability. I want to spend time with my son. My time at home went from being not a concern to the primary concern. I think it’s increased my patience and my capacity for long-term thinking. The bureaucratic nonsense doesn’t bother me as much.”
Are there things other parents working in the government have said or done which make sense to you now?
Christopher: “The most obvious one is the general exhaustion that only kids can wreak on you. I certainly sympathize more now with the bleary eyes you see in the morning. Now I understand what’s it’s like to kept awake most or all of the night.”
Shahin: “My parents were more traditional old-school. They worked and came home. I absorbed what was going on in their life by osmosis. I make a big effort to be sure that my son understands what I do and why.”
The interviews and article were conducted and written by Joseph Maltby.