Ryan Agar: wine marketer, bar owner, rookie dad
Career-wise, many dads sort-of go through the motions during the early child-rearing years. The frayed balancing act of work and home means that it’s often a case of ‘go into work, log on, get the bill-paying job done, log off, go home’.
And repeat. Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, until, well, the kids reach school-age and dads come up for air and find space to explore other areas of their lives.
Not Ryan Agar. The Melbourne-based hospitality professional and wine wholesaler has gone against the grain, launching a wine brand – Limestone Coast label The Hidden Sea – not long before the birth of his now-eight-month-old son, Sebastian, and then joining a mate in leaping into the unknown world of bar ownership with the Sri Lankan-themed Mrs Hopper in St Kilda, just as Sebastian’s (named after his Sicilian great-grandmother Sebestiana) eyes started opening to the world.
So, two jobs, one bub and a whole lotta change. “I don’t even know where to start,” Ryan says. “My wife Laura and I, we refer to Mrs Hopper as a bit of an accident. We can’t remember ever having a conversation that ended with us agreeing to do it; we kind of just turned around one day with a brand and a concept and a start date, looked at each other and started working like hell to get it off the ground.
“The thing that Laura and I can’t reconcile is where we managed to pull the time from. It sounds really trite but it’s amazing what you can get done if you just put your head down and do it.”
Ryan says his family networks offered their time and expertise generously, but Laura is “the true hero of this story”. “I’m really fortunate to have a wife who is so happy to be involved. She has her own design business, and managed to find time to project manage the interior and branding as well as keep her business going and keep our boy happy.”
He says through all the work, Sebastian came first. “Meetings were scheduled during nap times, we were always around for bathtime and Laura didn’t miss a breastfeed. Did I mention that she is the hero of this story?”
The thing that Laura and I can’t reconcile is where we managed to pull the time from.
Pouring us a red, Ryan expands on the game-changer that is parenthood. “You know what, all the cliches that I’ve rolled my eyes at over the years suddenly come true. Everything changes, you see the world differently, you understand love differently, your wife, your parents… everyone is seen through a fresh prism – jeez, even the panic around lost kids in movies makes more sense.”
Ryan says empathy has always been part of his make-up, but having a child takes it to a whole new level. “The natural priority shift that comes with having a kid has had me walking miles in other people’s shoes every day,” he says. “I have been unceremoniously removed from the centre of my universe and without empathy, I’d be completely lost. At the risk of getting a little bit too ‘kumbaya‘, the ponderous side of me certainly sees an interconnectedness that I didn’t see before [Seb was born]. The idea that I’m the custodian of something rather than that something being here solely to provide for me.”
Given the flexible nature of his work, Ryan is afforded more time with his child than many dads get to experience, often rising with Seb in the morning and bathing him in the evenings. “Because of that, he and I are really well bonded. I can calm him easily and we are starting to get a little set of in-jokes that really light up my life.”
But as good as his multi-tasking has been on the work front, it isn’t replicated at home when he’s in charge of his son. “How anyone can look after a baby, clean up and cook and answer emails is totally beyond me. If I’m looking after Seb, Seb gets looked after and that’s it.”
Modern dads… need to stop being so bloody hard on themselves…
That said, he thinks fellow modern dads are doing “bloody brilliantly”. “We are more engaged, present, supportive and interested than any generation before. We just need to stop being so bloody hard on ourselves. I’ve spent a bit of time thinking about this, actually. I was absolutely dumbfounded that both my father and father-in-law’s first experiences feeling a baby kick in a pregnant belly was with Laura. Collectively they are five kids and three grandkids deep and neither had felt an unborn baby kick!”
Five things Seb should know before he turns 18?
Firstly, I’d like him to fully understand the unconditional nature of our love. A herculean task, I know. My parents could have told me until they were blue in the face and still would have been suspicious.
Two: Knowing is not doing. This is one of the best pieces of advice I have ever had.
Thirdly, the power of empathy. And I want him to appreciate the head start he had having been born into a white, middle-class family in Australia. Perhaps this comes back to empathy too?