The Coffee Chat (#17)

My conversation with Ramz Aziz - Financial Services & Tech Lawyer, Smart City & Digital Equity Researcher, Inclusive Design Advocate, and Dad to 2 kids under 10

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Hi there 👋🏽

Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises has a line that I absolutely love….

Graduallythen suddenly.”

These 3 words beautifully capture how Baby T went from crawling to walking. It happened slowly, and then all at once.

Made me realize how most things that feel like magic follow the same trajectory.

 Now, on to today’s coffee chat…

Meet Ramz Aziz

Ramz is corporate lawyer who is currently an Associate with Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt. We met each other during our time at the University of Toronto.

Ramz is one of the most thoughtful and kind individuals that I know. He is someone who is very passionate about inclusion and strongly believes that men should play an active role as fathers and take on more of the child care responsibility. 

I had an absolutely wonderful time chatting with Ramz and getting a peek into how he thinks. I am so excited to share this chat with the rest of the world.

Below is my conversation with Ramz…

Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your family 

Salam! Je m’appelle Ramz. I am originally from Pakistan and currently reside in North York, Toronto with my partner Rabiya and our two lovely children, Dawud and Sakina. We live a simple life and aspire to have few wants. We enjoy spending time outdoors and volunteering as a family so that it becomes a non-event for our children; it is part of a person’s duty to care for those around them.

I am privileged to work as a lawyer in the areas of banking, financial services and technology at Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP. By night, I enjoy learning about smart cities, focusing on equitable frameworks for digital transformation. I serve as a trustee for a few non-profit organizations, and deliver workshops on topics such as leadership, equity, anti-oppression, systemic discrimination, and racism with various community organizations.  

For you what was the hardest part of becoming a new parent? How is this different with your second child? 

I find that most challenges with parenting came from extending one’s sense of responsibility to encompass the mental, emotional, physical, financial, spiritual etc. wellbeing of another being. Most employment-related leadership roles tend to focus merely on a few of these dimensions, not in a holistic sense. I was fortunate in that I gained some experience in child-rearing being a pseudo-nanny for my brother’s first born. I also engaged in a bit of paracounselling, suicide intervention and peer support work during my undergraduate years. Fortunately, we were mentally prepared for the 20-minute sleep intervals, and comforting our first child as he experienced colic. 

The challenges the second time around involved being cognizant of, and catering to, the unique needs of each child. For instance, our elder child was interested in engaging in activities requiring focus and concentration (reading, writing, puzzle games etc.). These tasks may be challenging with a screaming toddler in the background. Finding ways to nurture both children was essential.

After becoming a parent did you adopt any new beliefs, behaviors, or habits that have most improved your life?  

Three key changes characterized our parenting choices:

1) Adopting a Humanistic Approach: A human-centered approach, epitomized by Carl Rogers and others (which have now been adopted in many industries) is quite pertinent to parenting. Consequently, we strive to (and are not always successful in) appreciate the agency of our children, and try to view things from their internal frame of reference. We try to encourage development and growth according to their own potentialities. Having positive regard for them and empathizing with their experiences in response to stimuli can be difficult, but we try to check ourselves and not take things personally.

2) Appreciate the Brain/Behaviour Relationship: One of the key takeaways we learned from neurobiological development is to acknowledge the intimate relationship between brain and behaviour. Often, we are focused on rectifying or shaping a child’s behaviour, not appreciating the complex underlying neurophysiological (stress, lack of sleep, hunger) factors related to the behaviour. Consequently, long-term behaviour change is more likely to occur by addressing the root cause of the matter, at the level of the brain. Constant cognitive reframing is key in helping children understand the world around them.

3) Maintaining Congruency and Consistency: Moreover, we strive to foster emulation of desirable behaviours and mindsets via role-modelling. Like any leadership situation, people will easily detect incongruencies between our espoused values and the choices we actually make. Our children are no different. To work or this, I had to be mindful of my sleeping habits (ensuring consistent bedtimes, if possible) As the old adage goes, let your first act of discipline of the child be rectification of yourself.

Ultimately, we are learning that the best way to take care of our children is to take care of ourselves. This means eating healthy, exercising, and trying to be our best, while forgiving each other’s shortcomings. 

Did you take any paternity leave? If yes, how was the transition back to work? 

I was fortunate that our children were born while I was completing professional school. It meant I had to miss class, fall behind on my readings, and not make it to the Dean’s List, which I accepted and planned for. I opted for a different strategy to secure an internship and employment post-grad which worked out well thank God. I was fortunate in that although I worked five part-time jobs, they were mostly “flex” positions. I was thus able to work around the needs of my young family. 

Since I did not have to take paternity leave, my partner was able to opt for a 1.5 year maternity leave for each child. My partner looks back upon those years quite fondly.

You talk about the need for work to be done in reimagining and reframing the role of the father, especially in popular culture. Could you elaborate more on this?

Each person, and by extension, each society, must at some point contend with the values they preach and those they strive towards. For a father, it may mean changing what it means to be man. As men, we are taught that our “impact” is measured by our career, income, status, leadership or in other transient ways. Yet, ask any man past his prime, decrepit or in the throes of death, and those glory days seem like a forgotten memory. Many yearn for a second chance to be with loved ones. It may be a form of hyperbolic discounting many young men and those experiencing mid-life crisis may have. Much of this angst to find one’s purpose is often addressed through a epiphanic reframing, as shown by studies examining mid-life crises in men

This distortion in decision making is prevalent in the media we consume. Many narratives we consume involve men acting as changemakers and “leaders”. They are shown achieving incredible things, but one wonders: where is the family? They tend to be mere props in the background. This attitude affects us as we become influential business leaders and the systems we reinforce and shape. We have thus normalized and glorified the weekend father. And in a 24/7 work environment, weekends are also being overtaken by work-related events, leaving even less room for family. Greater representations of men as caregivers would help shift perceptions in this regard. 

Consequently, role-modeling family-first values by men is important. Since men still disproportionately hold power and privilege in society, it is up to us to make choices to create systemic change. Such change may start small, e.g. not booking meetings during pick up and drop off times, or scheduling a business deal on a family holiday. Creating inclusive spaces being mindful of the needs of others, which may mean ensuring on-site childcare is available for public events, as appropriate. I appreciate working with clients who have a robust appreciation of what fatherhood entails.

I also try to address the issue that a man is able to carve out time for recreation or hobbies, while his partner may not enjoy the same privilege. 

We come from an extremely patriarchal society has the role of fathers changed in the South Asian Diaspora? How are you different as a dad from the men of your father's generation? Where do you think are currently the biggest gaps when it comes to fatherhood and brown men? What would you like to see changed?

Patriarchy, like many regimented structures such as those found in the military, originally had benefits in providing stability through centralized decision-making. Unfortunately, the lack of agency, choice and decision rights may also lead to disengagement and lack of attachment in the family unit. Consequently, a different model of organizational/familial structure is required that facilitates independent decision-making and empowerment. This transition can be difficult from an attitudinal perspective as it causes one to challenge their mental models adopt new paradigms. Resistance is an expected part of any change process. 

A significant barrier is the lack of social supports for brown men who have a desire to undertake this transition. If a man ventures outside their gender role, they may face resistance from their peers, family, or other social barriers (e.g. an unaccommodating work environment) or unreasonable demands from clients that do not account for their filial duties. If the barriers to change are high, greater societal energy is required to catalyze that transformation. The discourse around the role of fathers, mothers and children is slowly changing due to generational, cultural and economic factors. Just like any new technology, these ideas must cross the chasm. Early adopters must continue to keep grinding and changing the narrative in the spaces in which they operate. 

Many grandfathers, including brown ones, tend to parent their grandchildren in a wholly different manner than their own (spending time, cuddling, reading, teaching, role-modeling, being patient, accepting the child for who they are). Instead of waiting for the silver years, perhaps we should create spaces for these behaviours to exist the first time around. 

You work in law, an industry that is know to have long hours and a “very intense lifestyle”. The biggest challenge that working parents with young kids have is a lack of predictability in their schedule and limited time for themselves. How have you managed this? 

Just like any other “demanding” industry, two key elements are apposite: 

  1. A principle-based approach towards work and parenting with self; and 

  2. Transparency and communication of those principles with others. 

To make decision-making easier, I adhered to, and communicated to others, that my family comes first. To that end, I have not had as yet had to cancel any family plans due to work. Adjustments may be required. Typically, I tag along and take my laptop with me wherever we go. I am thus able to capture the snippets of time that may otherwise be underutilized (time confetti, as one author aptly stated) and enjoy meaningful blocks of time with my family where I am not checking email.

I find many jobs are now creeping towards “work-life blending”, which can be a dangerous proposition. In such a blend, there may be more work than life. The privilege of law is that it does offer flexibility. I am expected to be responsive, however, on a 24/7 basis, which can be challenging.

I accept that my career may not advance as readily as my peers. It may mean that I may not be someone’s top choice due to availability constraints, but that is ok. I embrace the fact that I am no longer competing against others in a dog-eat-dog environment. Rather, I play to my strengths, driven by a set of principles, and accept the impact that I am able to make with the time, energy and attention that are mine to expend. 

Given that you are part of a dual-career household what choices have you and your partner made that have helped you become a dual career household with kids?

  1. We recognize it is a team effort. We are both invested in each other’s careers. So we ask not what you can do for me, but what I can do for you? We check in daily on what we each need. We strive to stay apprised of what our days/weeks are looking like. It is easy for one to be caught up in the busyness of life and not have a sense of their partner’s bandwith or headspace.

  1. We are patient with ourselves. We know and accept we are not perfect parents. We debrief and talk regularly and share parenting resources with each other. We give each other constructive feedback on how we handle situations. We both know we want to help each other be better for our parents. We frame it positively, not in a judgy kind of way. Hopefully by 40 we will be more competent that we are today. 

  2. We are mindful of our duty to care for others. We aspire to be servant leaders - putting the needs of others before ourselves. This mindset prepares us for the demands of parenting, while performing at a high level with minimal sleep and still having energy to engage with the children. We find meaning and purpose in the service of others. And we feel at peace when left to our own devices.

What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you have made after becoming a parent? 

1) Using Toronto Public Library (TPL) resources:  Pre-pandemic library programming was invaluable. Some museum passes are also available for free through the TPL. 

2) Ontario Parks/Conservation Authority Passes: Spending lots of time outdoors in the numerous forests and woodlands around Southern Ontario. In a way, we are rediscovering the world with our children (planting seeds, collecting leaves in the forest etc.). 

3) LeapStart 3D*: I am grateful for discovering the potential of the LeapStart 3D system. They have helped tremendously in fostering interest in a range of subjects (reading, writing, math, natural sciences etc.). 

What advice would you give others who are on the cusp of becoming parents? What advice should they ignore? 

1) Ignore social pressures and commentary; there is a lot of noise. Take the advice that works for you and leave the rest. Keep it simple.

2) Exercise intellectual and situational humility and acknowledge and accept that we have lots to learn. Accept that parenting is an iterative process. Be mindful of your own behaviour. 

3) Figure out ways to include family and making a conscious decision to be present, physically and mentally.

4) As suggested by Dolphin Parenting, resist the urge to put unnecessary pressure on the child, and to always be occupied. Just being in the presence of the child, even if they choose not to engage with you and play by themselves, is important. 

5) Be mindful that competitive structures propagated through socioeconomic factors manifest in our expectations for our children. While “milestones” may be a helpful measure of a child’s progress, internal measures of progress are more important. We try to encourage our children to focus on being better than they were before. 

6) Lastly, treat children as if they are smarter than they actually are, and accept and forgive them if they fall short. It is a great tragedy that we tend to treat children less intelligent or capable than they are (not including them in chores, oversimplifying explanations, using a limited vocabulary, lying to them to “protect” them), inadvertently undermining a child’s potential for learning and growth. Treating children according to an old set of expected behaviours does not encourage advancement.

Quick-fire questions:

What’s the best thing you have watched recently?

I appreciated the depiction of Malcolm X in the movie “One Night in Miami”. The movie depicts a scene where he leaves his friends to call his partner. He instead speaks to his daughter and gives her time, not rushing the conversation. By no means is this the ideal situation. But it is still something to show that one can carve out meaningful time with the family even when engaged with others.

What’s the best thing you have read recently?

A BCC article - Is the Western way of raising kids weird

Fantastic article on cultural differences that illustrates there is no one right way to raise children. We should always be critical of our own approach.

What’s the best thing you have listened to recently?

Podcast by Nick Hobson, It’s All just a Bunch of BS

If you are a regular Decks and Diapers reader you would have noticed that the newsletter arrived in your inbox on a Sunday (as opposed to a Saturday). Just running a little test to see if Sundays = higher open rates.

I would love to hear from you, feedback is always welcome!

And if you happen to know an inspiring working parent who should be featured in a future edition (or if you yourself are one) - please do get in touch.

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Disclaimer: All views expressed are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer; *this is not a sponsored product recommendation