“I worked too much”: Chef Jock Zonfrillo regrets putting career before family

Posted in Family.

When it comes to squeezing every single possible minute out of a 24 hour day, chef, TV presenter and father-of-four Jock Zonfrillo is an expert.

But after decades of hard graft in the kitchens of some of the most famous restaurants in the world, Jock now wonders now if he made the right decision early on when he prioritised his career and the opportunity it gave him to provide his young children with financial stability, over spending real time with them.  

Jock chatted with host Sean Szeps in a recent episode of The Dad Kit about his childhood in Scotland, what motivated him to have the spectacular career he has had, and the difficult lessons he’s learned along the way that are helping him be a better – more present – father today.

Listen to Jock Zonfrillo on The Dad Kit:

Kitchen life vs family life

When you’re thinking about choosing cooking as a profession, you know from the start that there are going to be long hours ahead. But what may not occur to the young, ambitious chef is that those long hours can only come at the cost of other things in your life. And if you’re a young father trying to build a career, the thing most likely to be sacrificed is time with the family.

This was Jock’s experience. “I was a workaholic for most of my career. There was this weird thing in hospitality, that the harder you worked –  like if you worked in a three Michelin star restaurant in London, 18 hours a day – it was a badge of honour.

“But actually it was a huge chunk of your life missed. It’s still a chunk of your life that’s gone forever. And with it goes what was around you, whether that’s friendships, family relationships, girlfriends, wives … all of that disappears in that chunk. I was so focused on my career, I was so focused on getting better at being a cook and understanding everything about food. That was all that mattered and everything else was number two.”

First-time father regrets

Given the laser-beam focus Jock had on his career, it’s perhaps no surprise then that his first marriage that resulted in the birth of his daughter, Ava, broke down for lack of time and energy given to nurture it.  

There’s no question my first marriage broke down because I worked too much,” Jock says. “It’s a simple fact. It’s something that I regret in terms of the opportunity of feeling fatherhood for the first time. You don’t get that again.

“I don’t know if it’s just from the perspective of a workaholic or not, but being a young father, we just didn’t have money. And so there was this weird thing for me as a father, as the breadwinner, where you want to accelerate your career to the point where you can be financially stable and give your child everything. And there’s another part of you that says you want to be at home and spend time at home, but you can’t have both.” 

We can learn from our mistakes

Skip ahead a bunch of years and Jock is now married for the third time and expecting his fourth child. After working through tricky divorces and difficult relationships with his kids, has he learned from his mistakes? Absolutely, he says.  

There’s nothing more important than being present, Jock says. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned – it goes for parenting as well as everything else, but it’s more powerful in the parenting realm – it’s to be present. When I’m spending time with [my kids] I will give them 100 percent of my attention. I won’t be making bread on the side at the same time as feeding them breakfast or whatever.”

And there are immediate payoffs for prioritising that time spent with your kids. “You can see instant value when you’re 100 percent present. Not thinking of work. Not thinking of something else.”

Sure, you may have built the train track 800 times previously for your child. You may have watched Charlie and the Chocolate Factory 67 times. It doesn’t matter. 

Just be present and in the moment, and be joyous with each child,” Jock repeats, “because you’re creating their lifelong memories, and being present means that you can give them the best memories, and you can give them the best impressions of a family life.

“You can give them the best impressions of what a good father is by being present. That’s where it all starts. And from there, everything just flows. Because for me, when you’re not present, that’s the beginning of the problem.”

Listen to the full series of The Dad Kit now, only on Spotify


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