There’s some absolute truth about fatherhood in the modern age that I’ve discovered. In fact, there are 12 actual truths. Share them with every Dad you know.
I always vowed to never be like my Dad. I think most boys do, don’t they? Don’t get me wrong, he was a great Dad, a great provider, as generous as they come, and he loved us like crazy.
But he grew up in a time when Dad’s just didn’t hug their kids, and so that was how he fathered us. That’s just how it was.
The great parent / provider time-paradox
I had a great Dad, but you know what, I didn’t see him a whole lot.
I have some great memories of family holidays. And of course he was always there on the sidelines at rugby games. But my Dad worked, and worked like a trojan. He worked ridiculously long hours to get ahead and ‘provide’ for us. And when he was at home, he worked on the house and yard, and if we got in the way he made us work too!
Time. That was the gift my Dad traded off in the pursuit of putting food on the table, and making sure we had a better childhood than he had. Which we did.
Of course being a provider is totally part of being a parent. But it’s only a small part. And if you spend all of your time providing, then by default you trade off time parenting. And that’s the great paradox. You feel like you’re doing the right thing by providing all the time. But if the only way to provide more is to work more, then you’ll spend less and less time being there for your kids.
So time is the gift I’ve chosen to give my kids, above all else.
And it’s really hard. It’s hard to get the balance right between earning a living to provide for your family, and making the time for your kids, and being the Dad-hero that your children expect you to be.
But this is what I’ve seen really great modern Dads achieve.
I’ve been inspired by friends, and brothers, and brother-in-laws to be a better Dad.
I’ve seen Dad’s up to their elbows in nappy changes, posting proud Facebook updates of their kids, and even talking about their children over a beer at the pub. And I mean really talking. Not just about how many tries or goals they scored at weekend sport, but how they’re doing in school, and how they feel about stuff, and their fears about being little people in a big world.
And I’ve seen Dad’s love their kids, openly and publicly. And not because they feel obliged, but because it feels right, and because their kids need it, and because they understand their children’s needs, and are following their parenting intuition.
Nappy-changing? Talking about fears and feelings? Hugging your children in public? Not in my Dad’s day, no way, that would’ve been absolute poppycock!
‘Lord I’m doing, all I can, to be a better man…’
It’s always been my simple goal in life, to just try and be the best me that I can be. Ever since the birth of my first child though, I’ve had another goal of just trying to be the best Dad that I can be. Our kids deserve no less.
And if that means we have to cut back on cafe breakfasts, sell one of the cars and downsize the house, then so be it. If it means I have to trade off the trampoline or the Fijian resort holiday, just so I can have more time with my kids, then it’s totally worth it.
Sure, they’ll have fond memories of playing on the tramp, or swimming in the resort pool when they’re older. But you can’t live a life off of fond memories.
No, it’s the modern Dad’s responsibility to make time to really parent their children. To help them develop their strengths and weaknesses, to teach and learn from them, to try and really understand them as people, to inspire and nourish them, and to lead them, hand-in-hand, towards their potential, with love and gratitude and grace.
No pressure Dads.
There’s things about this journey that you really should know too. There’s some absolute truths about fatherhood in the modern age that I’ve discovered. In fact, there are 12 of them. Share them with every Dad you know.
1. You will never read a newspaper from cover to cover again
This was a truth I was told when my wife was pregnant. I didn’t believe a word of it. Of course I’ll have time to read the paper on Sunday… right? Wrong. Sure you’ll fool yourself from time to time, and buy a newspaper when you rush out to the shops to get nappies, wipes and those weird NASA-created, freeze-dried fruit things. And you’ll even sit down with a coffee in your comfy chair and read the first couple of pages. But then you’ll need to set up some game, change some diapers, clean felt off the floor… and now it’s 10am and time to take the kids to the park. You’ll find the remnants of your newspaper under the couch on Tuesday, just in time to recycle it.
2.Your hair will recede and turn grey
I’m not making this up. Fatherhood will make your hair fall out, or turn grey. Mine’s done both. Think about Samson in the bible with all that long, blond hair. Well, Samson didn’t have kids.
3. You’re expected to change nappies, and clean poo off the carpet, and it’s pretty gross
Let’s not beat around the bush on this one. You have to change your kids diapers. You can’t get away from it. This is where parenting begins, it’s how you learn the smell of your child. Like we used to do in the wild.
It starts off OK, kind of just sticky and green. But once they start on solids, oh my god your nose will burn like it has acid in it. There’s even such thing as a nuclear poo. And then they’ll get a bit older and get the tummy-bug. And they’ll give it from both ends in the bed and on your brand new carpet. And it’s worse then even I could describe. You’ll throw up in your mouth a little bit, and your burning nose will make your eyes water, they may even be real tears. Oh, and you have to do it more than once. I literally changed my kid’s bedding 5 times in one night.
4. You’ll be so tired your brain will hurt
I used to think I needed 8 hours sleep to function. You don’t. You can get by on 5-6. Baby’s are great for teaching you this. The first couple of weeks are OK, you just run on adrenaline. After 3 months you’ll be calling your sanity into question. After 6 months you’ll have actual cracks in your brain. You may even forget your own name occasionally. I signed off on a massive budget once, after literally 3 hours sleep (see tummy-bug above). I remember thinking, ‘this is just ludicrous’, I don’t have the mental capacity for simple mathematics, and I’ve just signed off a $50k budget! I have no idea what crane operators do after 3 hours sleep, or surgeons for that matter…
5. My lifestyle won’t change just because I’ve had kids… yeah right!
Aside from no longer reading the paper, developing an innate fear of travelling with toddlers, filling the entire car boot with bags and toys just to go food shopping, never buying new clothes again, calling 7am a good lie-in, having every surface of your house covered in food and toys and calling a good film on Netflix with a pottle of kid’s yoghurt ‘date-night’… no, your life won’t change a bit.
6. Imaginary games will drive you slowly mad
You want to play with your kids. You know that this is great quality time, and can see how much your kids enjoy it. Sometimes it’s even fun, especially when the game is pirates, and you get to say, ‘arrrggh’ a lot. But then you have to play them for hours on end… almost every day. And sometimes it’s the same imaginary game, over and over, and over again. And then you have to play princesses, even if you have a boy, and you have to wear a crown and sip cups of tea with your pinky stuck out. And just like Johnny Depp in Alice in Wonderland, you’ll go quietly mad over that make-believe cup of tea.
7. It’s just not about you any more
This was a truth I was told shortly after the birth of my first child. It was like a great slap in the face with a wet fish. It totally put me in my place and brought me back to earth. There’s no end or beginning to you and your kids. Nothing belongs to you any more, nothing is sacred, everything you once cherished will be sicked on, drawn on, or otherwise compromised. This is why the modern Dad invented the man-cave. It’s a vein attempt to reclaim a space that doesn’t have toys in it. Ironically we fill it with large TVs, beer fridges, pool tables and dartboards, which are really just grown up toys…
8. Kids’ sport, classes and activities will take over your life
Mid-week ballet lessons, music lessons, karate lessons, art classes, weekend netball, rugby, soccer games, school fairs, school trips, holiday programs… what day is it again?
9. This is the hardest thing you will ever do
I just can’t do this truth justice. This thing is harder than you’ve ever imagined. It’s adversity on fricken steroids. To do this job well you need strength and endurance, tenacity and patience, willingness and flexibility. You’ll learn more about yourself than you ever thought you could. You’ll go to dark places and see the light… sometimes at the same time. Forget climbing Mt Everest, this thing is way harder. I doubt Sir Edmund Hillary ever changed nappies.
10. Embrace the mess
A truth my wife taught me. I’ve never been a super-tidy person, but I’ve always been a clean person. I can handle a bit of mess, but I like things to be actually clean. Kids are so fricken messy. Their food bits and general grub get everywhere, under the fridge, down the back of the couch, in your shoes… Literally everywhere. Your floor will be covered in toys and food bits, and your house will look like one of those hoarder people’s homes. You just have to embrace it. If you try and fight it, you’ll just become a grumpy ogre. And you don’t wanna be that guy.
11. You will get really, really angry, until your blood boils
I learnt this one the hard way. You will too. Parenting will bring out the absolute worst in you. It’s just really hard, and you’ll be so tired, and you’ll completely loose the plot at some point. My daughter has seen me at my blood-boiling worst. And she’s actually a little bit scared of me now because of it. I’m not proud of that. But I’ve learnt from it, and grown because of it. And I’m becoming a better person by learning more about who I am, and who she is. And that makes the experience totally worth it for both of us.
12. Parenting is the greatest experience on earth
I’m a lucky guy. I’ve lived a fairly full life. I’ve been to 6 of the 7 continents. I’ve camped just metres away from water buffalo in Africa, and hiked to the top of Machu Picchu in South America. I’ve swum with sea lions in the Galapagos and sea turtles in Belize. I’ve gone snowboarding in New Zealand and sandboarding in Chile. Nothing I’ve seen and done to date, even comes close, with the experience of fatherhood. The birth of my daughter rates as the greatest experience of my life, second only to the birth of my son. Every day I thank the universe for being given the chance to be a Dad.
Parenting really is the greatest experience on earth.
(I’m not sure about going to space though, that actually could be better. If anyone knows Richard Branson, put in a good word for me. I’ll get a ticket on a Virgin Galactic flight and try it out. If it beats fatherhood, I’ll make sure to update this post and tell you.)