October 2001

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Striking the Balance: Kids Do Say the Darndest Things
By Steven T. Taylor

Like most lawyers, Morgan Tovey works long, hard hours. Tovey, the hiring partner for Oakland’s Crosby, Heafey, Roach & May, often toils late into the night and on weekends, and even for a few hours last Father’s Day. However, that doesn’t stop the 38-year-old intellectual property lawyer from spending quality time with his 5-year-old son, Jack, and 10-month-old daughter, Kate.

When Jack was six months old, for instance, Tovey started a routine to which they still adhere. Every Saturday morning, the two go to the bagel shop in their hometown of Walnut Creek, California. Tovey says he realized that he didn’t have as much time as a non-lawyer father might have to spend with his child, so he wanted to set aside this special quality time.

"As Jack got older, we’d pitch pennies in the fountain, we’d go to the park, we’d go to the bookstore, basically anything that he wanted to do. Other than starting with juice and bagels, it was usually unstructured. But it was always ‘Our Time,’" Tovey says. "When Kate turned about six months old, we started working her into the mix as well."

A Precocious, and Sometimes Poignant, Interrogatory Tovey’s experiences as a successful and super busy parent-at-law reveal much about the ups and the downs of those who perform this dual role. First, the pitfalls. He recalls a time when his precocious son nearly floored him with a powerful question. "Jack had just turned three, and I had to go in and work on a weekend day," Tovey says. "He looked up at me and said, ‘Daddy, why do you work so much?’ I knew there would be a day when that question would come, but I thought I had at least five more years. I may not have appreciated until that moment his understanding of the situation and how he wished I could be around more. It certainly made me wish I could be around more, too." Tovey tried to explain to Jack that he wished he didn’t have to work so hard and that he really enjoyed the time the two spent together, but that Daddy’s job required him to put in long hours.

On another occasion—after Tovey was involved in a two-week, multimillion-dollar trial that required him to stay in San Diego—Jack caught his father off guard again. "When I came back from the trial, Jack wanted to know if I was going to be staying in his house or if I was going back to my house. That really stopped me in my tracks. I told him it was hard for me to be away but assured him we all still lived in the same house."

Tovey credits his "phenomenal" wife, Kelly, for understanding his work-related obligations and carrying the brunt of the child-rearing. "It breaks my heart when Jack asks questions like that, but I know Morgan’s job is incredibly demanding," Kelly says. "Morgan’s answer is to tell him that he has to work to pay for the house and clothes and toys. He’ll bring it down to Jack’s level: ‘So you can have your superhero toys.’"

Speaking of which, Tovey recounts another of Jack’s remarks that reflects the satisfaction he feels as a lawyer-parent. Jack asked what his father does at work. "It’s hard to explain to a then-three-year-old just exactly what an intellectual property litigator does," Tovey says. "So I distilled it down to: ‘I help people.’ And he smiled and looked at me and said, ‘Are you a superhero?’ Of course that was the highest compliment my son could give me. I felt really good about myself."

Better than Mr. Blackwell’s List Finally, there was the day Tovey and his son went to a department store to buy a new suit for the father for an important upcoming trial. "I tried it on," he recalls, "and asked Jack what he thought. He looked up at me and said, ‘You look so handsome; I want to look so handsome too.’ We went upstairs and I bought him a suit, which he insisted on wearing out of the store." Tovey adds that he didn’t have to think twice about buying an expensive suit that his son would likely wear just once. "At that point, I probably would have spent anything on him."