On Pocketknives, Gentlemen and Fathers

Had coffee with a friend and veteran clothier at his shop in downtown Victoria a few weeks ago to talk about the Shinekits project Jamie and I were launching this month.     We got to chatting about our decision to carry pocket knives. I'd just discovered Grohmann knives in Pictou, Nova Scotia and was absolutely delighted we had the chance to start selling their Canadian made Rosewood folding lock blade.    I didn't have the samples in hand yet but i did have some shots on the iPhone to show him.  

"You know, the true sign of any gentleman was having a pocket knife."  He said. "Back then the only man who could afford to keep a horse was a gentleman. They were a tremendously ruinous expense and only the wealthiest people could have them.  If you had a horse you had to carry a pocket knife to dig stones out of their hooves to keep them from going lame.    Carrying a good folding knife was the measure of a man."

I don't do horses.  They're not my thing.  Had one go nuts on me my first time in the saddle up in Wiarton, Ontario and got taken for a terrifying gallop through the woods. Apparently they don't always stop when you pull on the reigns and say Whoah!   Got thrown off hard and ended up cooking several rubbery shifts on a mix of Midol and Jameson's at my old restaurant for two weeks afterwards.  Given my aversion to further equine pursuits, I didn't see myself digging any stones out of hooves in the foreseeable future.   

Yet, lately I've begun carrying a pocket knife again.   I've got my grandfather's old ivory-handled 3 inch single folder.   It's faded and cracked on one side and the high carbon steel is a dull pallid grey.   My gravy can this thing take an edge.   I keep it shaving sharp with an Arkansas stone and an old belt for a strop.  I’ve done a few too many sharpness tests and now I’ve got bare patches on my arm.   


My Grandfathers Pocket Knife

With three little girls on the go it certainly comes in handy.   In any given month there's at least two birthday parties to attend.   That means bags of chips and gummy bears to cut open, and slab cakes from Costco to slice into.  For our own birthday parties we burn CD's of the girl's favourite pop songs and print off custom covers that need cropping with a steel ruler to fit into the jewel case.   That’s a fun task to do 18 times 30 minutes before a party.   I've eased off the brake callipers on my eldest's BMX when she's out shredding at the Cecilia Ravine park  and carved many a good marshmallow roasting stick for cookouts on the beach at Parksville.  I’ve cleaned up 6 year old fingernails dirty enough to grow potatoes in and I’ve dug splinters out of little feet that didn’t listen when they were climbing on driftwood logs at Willows Beach without their sandals.   A gentleman may no longer need to carry a knife these days but a dad sure does.  Now I just need to use it to cut the foil off this bottle of Tempranillo and pour myself a glass while I barbecue these ribs!  Happy Father’s day to all.   

On being a startup Dad on Father's Day

I'll admit that sometimes as a guy trying to get a business off the ground, I feel like less of a man.  Running a startup will do that to you.

When you fall back on your wife or significant other to be the main breadwinner, when you sacrifice stability and safety to chase a dream, you are often putting your loved ones in jeopardy.  It can make you feel like a loser, that somehow you're letting your family down.


It's so tempting to tell yourself that if you could just suck it up like everyone else and hold down that 9 to 5 job and bring in a steady paycheck, your family would be so much better off. 

How do we reconcile our traditional ideas of manliness; the notion of a man as the steady rock that looks after and provides for everyone, versus the startup ideal of a man who will put everything on the line to achieve his vision?

Let's start with the obvious, ageist (yep, I'll say it) idea that startups are a young man's game. It's no secret that a young guy, unencumbered by family and duties, has a lot more time to spend on his dream than the married man with kids.  I remember the days when I could work for 15 hours straight and had no one to answer to, but somehow I think there's something about having people to answer to that makes you a better entrepreneur. It forces you to really consider whether what you are doing is adding to the success of the project or is just some cool feature nobody will actually ever use.

Time is another factor - a single man has unlimited time. As a dad, you have less time, so you have to make that time count. You can zero in on what is most important and get it done, knowing that there are other things out there that count as much.

A man with kids and a family understands the importance of time - that it can go by faster than you expected and you better make it count. What's more important; a day spent working or a day spent creating memories with your family?

In fact, I'd propose that being a dad gives you an insight into what matters that can give you an edge. It teaches you to ignore the trivial and focus on solving the problems that bring the greatest gains. A business in some ways is like your children - you have to nurture it and understand it, refine it and polish it to make it the best it can be.

Ultimately, a man knows what's most important and works so that he can make his family the priority. The faster you can solve a problem and get things done, the sooner you can spend time with your loved ones.
That's a benefit that comes with experience and wisdom that the young often don't understand.

So, if you're a dad and anyone questions whether working on your startup is selfish or harmful to your loved ones, tell them that it's because you 
value your family that you want to show them to never give up on your dreams. You can be a great father and a great entrepreneur and find time to do both.

But, of course, when Mother's day rolls around, never forget that great partner that helped you make those dreams come true.