This Father’s Day, we are thrilled to be able to interview Jonathan Ong, father of 2 and a wedding and family photographer. He also shares his stories of love, family and parenthood on his blog at Otherwise Ordinary Tuesdays through his heartfelt musings and beautiful images.
Jon and his wife Krystin have taken the less conventional path where the father takes on the primary caregiving role in the family. Jon stays home to take care of his 2 young children - Noah and Sophie, and also manages his photography business, while Krystin pursues her career in her full-time job. In this feature, he shares about his love for photography, how he and his wife reached the decision for him to be the primary caregiver, as well as the mantra he lives by in his parenthood journey.
We hope that you will be inspired by Jon’s story, just like we have. We also thank Jon for giving us a glimpse into his family life and for sharing with us his thoughts on family, work, and parenthood.
To all Dads out there, happy Father’s Day to you!
1. Could you share a little about yourself and your family?
My name is Jonathan Ong and I'm a wedding & family photographer based in Melbourne, Australia. I moved from Singapore to Melbourne in 2007 and have been here ever since. I’m married to my lovely wife, Krystin and have two children, a 4 year old son Noah, and a 1 year old daughter Sophie.
2. What inspired you to start your photography business and what do you love about it?
I don’t think I was ever inspired to be a photographer - even though I took Art as one of my O level & A level subjects, and did darkroom photography as my major project. I enjoyed photography but never even considered it as a career option. It was during my national service that I was fortunate enough to meet a wedding photographer and be mentored by him, and that's how I started my photography as a profession and have never looked back since.
I believe photographs are the best expressions of people : emotions, thoughts & tales sealed in time, made tangible and unforgettable. The privilege of being a photographer has affirmed to me, again and again, that our deepest happiness and meaning is found in the people we love and the stories we tell. This is why I love photographing weddings & families. I also love that this job gives me the flexibility to spend time with my children and be a big part of their lives.
3. Although still uncommon, we are starting to see more dads like yourself take on bigger roles at home. As the primary caregiver to your children, what does a typical day look like for you?
A typical day starts at around 630am when my daughter wakes up. She has her milk bottle then start having breakfast while I start to do some meal preparations for the day. My son gets up around 730am then it’s getting him up and ready for school. After school drop off, I head back with my daughter to put her down for her morning nap. During her nap, I start with household chores like cooking lunch, doing the laundry or tidying up the house.
When she’s up from her nap, we have lunch together before heading out to run errands - which can range from grocery shopping to picking up supplies, followed by a trip to the playground or park to let my daughter expend some of her energy. We then head home for her afternoon nap, and while she’s napping, I start to prepare and cook dinner, and if time permits, some administrative work like getting to emails or doing some accounting.
I pick my son up from school around 5pm then we head home for the dinner, bath & bedtime routine, which is always a struggle because he’s grumpy & tired from the school day. My daughter goes to sleep around 730pm and my son 830pm.
If I’m not too tired then I try to get some work done till about 10pm. Otherwise I do most of my work (editing or photographing) when both my kids are in school/childcare, which is twice a week or during the weekends.
4. Would you be able to share some thoughts behind this decision to be the primary caregiver?
From a young age, I've always had the ambition of being a father who would be present with my children. One of the reasons I continued to pursue photography as a profession was so that I could have the flexibility to spend time with my kids when I eventually became a father.
When my wife fell pregnant, it was quite a natural, easy transition for us. I worked doubly hard while she was on maternity leave and then when she went back to work, I had to limit the amount of work I had to take on the role of the primary caregiver. My wife is amazing at what she does - she’s currently the youngest female director in her organization. And in my view, she’s already given up so much of herself through pregnancy and child labour that the least I can do is allow her to pursue her career ambitions.
5. How do you find the right balance between managing your photography business and looking after your family?
To be honest, I don’t think I have found the answer for that. My priority has always been my family, so naturally since becoming a father, I decided to take on fewer clients in order to do both well and not short change either my family or my clients.
I'm in a fortunate position that my wife carries the bulk of the financial burden so even when I’ve had to take on about 30% less work in order to cope with managing my kids & the business, it hasn’t been too much of a financial strain on our family.
Drawing clear boundaries between work and family is probably the most important thing I’ve put in place in order to have some sort of balance, especially since I work from home as well. For example, my work times are very scheduled - twice a week when the kids are at school or after they go to bed. When I've tried to work while they are home, I’ve found that I'm neither caring for my kids or doing my work particularly well, which is frustrating.
6. What’s a mantra/belief that has guided you in your fatherhood journey?
I’ve been especially fond of the phrase “don’t make it perfect, make it wonderful”. I think as parents we always want the best for our children and sometimes can get carried away with making everything perfect. Especially in this Covid years, I hope my children remember that despite things not being great, we made the most of what we had with joy & wonder. Everything I photograph and write about on Otherwise Ordinary Tuesdays is aimed documenting that.
The other mantra I’m trying to (and is very much still a struggle) live up to as a parent is "being at your best when your child is at their worst". They say it takes a village to raise a family and as we don’t have much help here, it does get tough & really tiring having to juggle working & raising 2 children. At times, especially during the 4 grueling months during lockdown in Melbourne, I've found myself being impatient or harsh towards my children - which is a version of myself I do not like. This mantra is a constant reminder me to walk into every situation with grace & kindness, no matter how tired and grumpy I may be. I would very much like my children to remember me as a loving, patient father.