All The Young Dads asked some fathers with kids at a variety of ages for a few key parenting tips and insights from their experience of fatherhood.
The dads in order left to right:
Chris Andrew is an artist with a son and a daughter.
Brendan Hilferty is a wine merchant with two boys.
Chris Ryan is a freelance writer with a son and a newborn daughter.
Peter Holder is a media executive with two teenage daughters.
Tony Halpin is a graphic designer with three sons, including twins.
Are there any parenting tips or pieces of advice you were given prior to, or when you became a father, which has proven worth repeating?
Chris A: You don’t own them and they aren’t you. You are their guide.
Peter: I hate admitting to this one because it is such a cliché: “make the most of it because they grow up so quickly.” Today, I’m looking at my 15-year-old, wondering where the last 14-and-a-half years went.
Chris R: A cousin told me, “Everything changes.” That’s all he’d say. I’m afraid it wasn’t particularly helpful but it was spot on.
Tony: I grew up in a big family and my parents were foster parents to other kids, so it all seemed pretty natural to me. You just need to be yourself and look after them.
Brendan: When you’re a new dad, give the mum as much time as she needs.
We only have to change them, wash them and rock them to sleep. We didn’t birth them and we don’t have to keep them alive the first six months with our tits. After that early half-year fog, your missus will be somewhat used to it and you can start asking for things for you (and I’m not talking just about sex). More, “do you mind if I have a round of golf/ go to the footy, etc.”
Is there anything specific you know now that you wish you’d known before becoming a dad?
Chris R: I know it’s a mistake to hold your infant kid over your shoulder then wipe his arse, even if you’re keeping him off a dirty floor since he might not be finished shitting. It’s a mistake you only make once.
Chris A: That the kids added to my life rather than destroyed it.
Tony: Having twins, there’s not a lot people can tell you. At once stage, we had three cots in different parts of the house and at any given time, one could be asleep with one in another cot elsewhere, and then at their proper sleep time, they’d be in the same cot head to tail. No one tells you this stuff.
Peter: Just how important and cherished sleep would become – due to a total lack of it.
When asked, what’s your best or most useful piece of advice for a prospective father?
Tony: It’s going to be alright. And when you go to the birth, there has to be a tiny piece in your mind that knows that things could go wrong here. You hope for the best but you also need to be able to accept it if things went badly. Also, if you have to put kids into daycare when they’re 10 or 11 months old, it’s a very hard thing to do… but it’s also one of the best things you can do for them, even they don’t initially like it. It builds social skills, teaches them things.
Peter: In the first few months of a baby’s life, it’s not about you. A man may go to work in a completely sleep-deprived state but you will not get an ounce of sympathy from your partner/wife. There’s a good chance she’ll be resentful because “at least you get to leave the house”. For her, she’s locked into a routine of joy and tedium, the latter part of which is monitoring an eating-shitting-sleeping machine that makes her delirious with fatigue and wince from the cracked nipples. Men need to rewire their brains to look beyond what they might view as the irrationality of the “at least you get to leave the house” argument.
Chris R: The first couple of months can be hell but it does get easier. Of all the parenting tips on offer, this is most important – just grab sleep whenever you can. It’s more important than food, booze or sex – for a few weeks at least.
Chris A: It does end.
What’s your best method for dealing with the stress that comes with being a father?
Peter: Exercise. Failing that, alcohol. Failing that, prescription drugs. Failing that… (not there yet).
Chris R: You’ve got to carve out a bit of time for yourself, even if it’s just going for a run in the morning. Always remember to run back home, though.
Tony: When I take them for a kick of the footy at the park and I say, “Who’s ready to try and take a mark?” and then I kick it straight at their guts… that’s kinda fun for me. With three boys, they need a good run around to wear them out. If we sit in the house on Saturday morning, they go apeshit by 10 am.
Chris A: Just roll with the punches and maintain the things that make you happy as much as you can. Oh, and beer.
Brendan: Wine, mostly.
Personally, what’s the best part of fatherhood?
Tony: They make me laugh all the time. They’re my good mates and it doesn’t matter how much I wedge them, they’re still my mates, even though they know they’re in the wrong. I love getting a cuddle and I [still] love putting them to bed. I have to tell them I love them first and then they might tell me the same in return.
Chris A: Watching them achieve. Spending time with them.
Chris R: Seeing the world through your kid’s eyes helps you appreciate things that you’ve taken for granted. It’s also cool to have a little mate to hang out with and look forward to the adventures you’ll have together – instead of looking backwards and dwelling on past glories (or regrets). It’s also made me appreciate my parents a lot more and understand the struggles they went through, raising six kids. It’s probably brought me closer to them.
Brendan: Watching them grow and become more independent while knowing they still need me. I have a little moment every morning as they head off for school – they don’t want me to take them but I know they’re confident that I’m there and so they seem to take to the day in their stride.
And what’s the most challenging?
Chris A: Changing as they change so that you can stay engaged with them.
Tony: Just the daily grind. Get up, lunches, bags, uniforms. I jump in the shower and then they start blueing. “What’s going on?!” I’m yelling from the shower. “Can’t I have two minutes to myself!?” And then work… but work is the easier part. Here’s a free parenting tip – going to work is easier than raising children.
Chris R: There is a huge loss of freedom once you have kids. But all I did with my freedom was drink too much and get in trouble, so on balance that isn’t a terrible thing.
Brendan: Sad kids. Especially navigating the friendship/peer group thing. It’s something they have to figure out and I wish I knew the best way to help them. You can point them in the direction of other kids that’d be better companions but you can’t force the issue.
Peter: School fees.
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