How I found a way to be a present parent and a professional

To: To parents at a crossroads

From: Kenyata Martin (As told to Lauren Brill)

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To parents at a crossroads,

I can relate to what you are going through right now – that gut-wrenching, heartbreaking feeling where you know something is not right.

My son, KJ, who is on the autism spectrum, was four years old when it happened to me. It was early fall of 2015, during parent-teacher conference night. My son’s teacher told us a story of how he played with figurines. When she would ask him questions about who the figurines represented and what they were doing, he had a similar answer each time.

“KJ, Mommy, Mckenzie (my daughter) go to the store.”

“KJ, Mommy, Mckenzie, go to the park.”

“KJ, Mommy, Mckenzie, go to the mall.”

“KJ, Mommy, Mckenzie, go to the zoo.”

After the second one, I felt a knife twist in my heart. I couldn’t even blame KJ for not mentioning me. At the time, I traveled a lot for work. In a six-month period, I was only home for 36 days.

At that moment, I knew I needed a change to achieve a goal I set out for myself when I was seven years old, which was to make an impact on the world and, most importantly, the people around me.

I couldn’t even blame KJ for not mentioning me. At the time, I traveled a lot for work. In a six-month period, I was only home for 36 days.

My dad was a train driver and my mom was a telephone operator.  As a child, I thought making the most money possible would help me make a difference in this world. But I had no idea how to create considerable wealth because I didn’t have an example.

After working in corporate America for 17 years, Kenyata wanted to spend more time with his son.

So, I went to Morehouse and Georgia Tech, and I got degrees in chemistry and chemical engineering. Then, I got my MBA from the University of Chicago. For 17 years, I worked in corporate America for large companies such as Procter & Gamble, Shell and Nestle, serving in management and executive roles.

That night when I met with my son’s teacher, I made a very good salary, but my children are whose lives I wanted to impact most. How could I do that if my son didn’t even realize I was there?

As I sat in that classroom with that teacher, I knew I had to be willing to adapt my life to make sure I could have a significant influence on my son’s future.

Immediately, I started to do research. I decided to become an entrepreneur. We moved from Cleveland to Chicago to be closer to family. I had to start over. Nearly four years later, I currently own four companies, some of which are doing better than others. But together, my wife and I have never missed a bill or a meal for our family. And owning my own businesses allows me to spend more time with all three of my children, including my son KJ.

The added time with my son has made us closer.  But that’s not all. I am also able to learn more about how he responds to specific situations, how his mind operates, what activities I can introduce him to, and resources I can provide him to help him develop.

I knew I had to be willing to adapt my life to make sure I could have a significant influence on my son’s future.

KJ is only eight. In real-time, I am witnessing so many of his amazing talents and qualities reveal themselves.

He’s got this incredible capacity to remember long soliloquies or entire movies – not just the words but the voice inflections, tones and energies. Overall, he is a confident and happy kid.

Through the last few years, he has made great strides, initiating more conversations with our family and others. However, I also noticed that he fidgets or randomly starts spinning in circles when he’s walking. He is not always present.

KJ made an honor roll this year.

I started researching CBD and autism. On his seventh birthday, I began giving him 100 mg every day.  At school, he has since made the honor roll, getting mostly A’s and a few B’s. His occupational therapist and speech therapist say they have seen a marked difference in his engagement.

I can’t tell you for sure that the improvement is because of the CBD. But as a dad who is there all the time, I can tell you that the distinct changes I noticed inspired me.

Among my four companies, I am building a CBD business, designed for parents and caretakers of neurodiverse children and adults. From gummy bears to dissolvable solutions, I’m trying to develop all sorts of forms of CBD that parents will feel comfortable giving their kids with the right doses and the right level of efficacy.

One day, I want to pass the company down to KJ. Whether he runs it or sells it, the hope is it will provide him the financial freedom to follow his passion and fulfill his dreams.

Recently, we moved into a new house.  While packing, I found a caricature drawing from 2015, the year I reached a crossroads. It must have been at a zoo or a fair. The drawing includes KJ, my wife and my daughter. I was not there – just like my son told his teacher when playing with his figurines.

Seeing that picture reminded me of that knife-stabbing pain – the one that I once had and the one you currently feel.

I want you to know that whatever is keeping you from being present and impactful in your child’s life is not worth it.

If I found a way, so can you.

Be a bulldog on your goals, but be flexible with your journey. Good luck!

Kenyata Martin
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