Round Table with Adelaide Dads
Thanks to Rad Dad Geordie for this insightful and entertaining blog. You can catch more of his super work on Facebook, Instagram and his website.
There is a meme that kicks around the internet where a woman writes to her diary that she’s not sure what her husband is thinking. He’s been really moody and quiet recently, not as responsive as he used to be, barely touches her food and is late to bed every night. The diary entry goes on and on, eventually ending up with her wondering if he is having an affair. Her husband has his own diary entry. It simply reads “Dear diary, motorbike won’t start, can’t figure out why.” It’s a funny because it’s a caricature and not reflective of most modern relationships. To be a functioning couple, you need to be a project manager, a councillor, a creator, a communicator and above all, a partner.
We decided to have a look at the modern Adelaide Dad and find out what he’s thinking about. We rounded up five Dads from different backgrounds and interests, put them together in a room with pizza and soft drink then found out what they thought about life, love and kids. Definitely no issues here with poor communication or motorbikes not starting.
We had Tom, Niko, Jonathan, Morgan and Tristan. Each with kids ranging from 1 to 7, each with different paths in life but all with stories to tell. We covered topics of birth, parenting and what it is like to be a Dad and a husband. You might not agree with everything they said, but you’ll at least know what they are thinking.
Gone are the days of a Dad being banned from the birth of their child then back to work the next day. Workplaces across the world are changing to allow Dads to be a more active part of their families, though some are better than others when it comes to this pace of change. One area that is still mostly dominated by women is long term leave after birth. With up to 12 months available from some employers, would our Dads swap with their wives and partners to be the primary carer? Would they put their career on hold while their partner went back to work after a couple of weeks?
Jonathan got the group started on this topic with his experience, “I was studying my PHD at the time and I wouldn’t swap.” Proving that there is never a perfect time to have a baby, “I wouldn’t want to stay at home, but realise my partner sometimes doesn’t want to do it either so I try to help as much as I can at home.” Tom has two girls under five. He added, “I would do it. When our baby came, my partner was starting a business and it was going well. After she had the baby, she’s had to start again from scratch.” Timing is a common theme our Dads discussed and while having kids can be joyous, the other side is it can be disruptive for years to come! Mums often put promising and budding careers on hold to be the primary carer.
Morgan wouldn’t have taken the leave, “In a child’s eyes, mother is god. Having her there as much as possible is unquestionably the best thing to happen for a child in those early months.” But Niko disagreed, “I would have taken it. I think I am a bit more patient than my partner although biologically speaking it would not have worked, if it was possible for me to have breastfed, I would have.” Niko getting in as an early contender for Husband of the Year there. “It is a bit of a hypothetical and from a work point of view, I had the more secure employment.” I’m sure many of these comments will echo with the Mums out there.
It opens a discussion to the larger issue of equality in the workplace, which Tristan addressed, “I kind of did take the time off.” You could almost hear the Mums within a 5km radius prick up their ears as Niko lost his grip on the Husband of the Year award. “After my wife had maternity leave and went back to work, we decided it would be better for her to work full time and I would work part-time, looking after the kids for 12-18 months. It was one of the best things I ever did and it gave me the chance to bond with the kids in a way that not many fathers do. You really get to see the other side. When you have a little one, there is a lot of work that goes in to the routine. For me, it was a good eye-opener and the relationship with my wife was strengthened. Now I work full time and she works part time but I have an appreciation and understanding for what goes on day-to-day because I did it and I know the routine. Especially on a school day, it’s 10am before you can sit down and have your own coffee and breakfast. There are so many things you can understand better if you have been there and done it yourself. Our relationship is stronger because of it because we can relate.”
Individual experiences vary, but a great argument for being able to spend as much time as possible with you family if you can.
Talking further about relationships, we asked our Dads how the dynamic with their partner has changed since the kids were born. Jonathan had communication as a cornerstone with his partner, “There needs to be constant discussion about the relationship. You just have to talk and know where you are both at, make sure you both spend meaningful time and not just grocery shopping together.” Date nights sound exciting round Jonathan’s place.
Communication is only part of the answer, Tom talked about spending one-on-one time with his wife to keep the connection “We have regular dates. We don’t do it as much as we like, but we try to make sure we do something without the kids every now and again. It can be a trip to the cinema, a walk on the beach or just sitting in watching a movie when the kids have gone to bed.” A few of our Dads loved the idea of regular dates but time struggles stopped it happening as often as they’d like. Studying and working like Dad-of-two Morgan means time is precious and most one-on-one partner time was once the kids go to bed. “Having kids has made us closer, we have that glowing light between us.”
Like many parents, Niko has been sleep deprived for a number of years and has learnt the power of prioritisation, “It really makes you realise you what are actual priorities as opposed to assumed priorities. If the house is messy, it’s not that big a problem. For us, we had a massive problem with sleep so the only choice was to let our standards slide. Some things are important. Food is important, the actual essentials are important but nothing else.” Sounds like the clean house/sanity/sleep triangle, something Tom could understand and something that will sound familiar to a few of us, “We try to do cuddles on the couch and watch a movie when the kids go to bed. It’s time to forget you are a parent. Unlike chores, the time together is important. I’ve not cleaned the windows since the kids have been born!” For the record, Tom’s eldest is pushing three and his windows do indeed need a clean.
Childbirth is challenge for men, though not nearly to the same extent as women (stop throwing rotten fruit for me saying that, we have our own issues). It’s a time for us to be emotional, to be excited and to feel useless. We usually like to fix problems and when our partner is giving birth, we often try to chip in with our little bit of advice. Trust us, we watched an episode of One Born Every Minute, we know what to do. In the experience of being there for the birth of my own three children, it’s a time to hold the drip, get the nurse when required and get your hand squeezed. Hard.
It’s the least we can do after allegedly being entirely at fault for the predicament.
We talked baby birth with our Dads and got to the most important question, “If guys could have a baby shower, what would it look like?”
We all had one had one answer “Beers and BBQ and Pizza.”
Sort of like a bucks night, minus the shots and finishing up by dinner time because we’re all getting a bit older and an early night in bed is much nicer than three more beers. Anyway, we can’t handle beers any more. Tristan was lucky enough to sort of have a man-baby shower. While his wife and her friends were in the house doing their baby shower, the men went to the pub. Sounds good to us! Adelaide Dad has been lucky enough to be at a ladies baby shower before and has no need to ever go to one again or hear the conversations that go on at these events.
On birth, we talked about building that connection with your newborn and if it was instant or over time. Morgan had the experience being at the birth of both his kids “The first time, it did take a while for the relationship to develop but when they became a person and you saw little things about them that made me fall in love. The second time around, it was a bit different. I could see where that development arc was going to go and I fell in love with that idea. Both times was different but both times, it did take months.”
Tristan had two very different experiences with his kids “It was probably more instant with my older child. The circumstances were different where my youngest was born interstate and we were 1500Km from our nearest family. We were just passing through rural NSW when the labour started and they treated the father differently as to what they do in the city. My daughter was born in Adelaide and that was a very different experience, definitely easier.”
NICU is somewhere a lot of children spend some time, including Jonathan’s child “I sat next to him for hours on end while he was in NICU. There is a thing where you release pheromones and it gives you a connection and after a day or so holding him the connection was there. There was nothing instant though. You see the baby come out, there is a sloppy mess and you don’t think, that’s mine.” I imagine this type description is purely a male one.
Niko had a similar experience he shared “It happened over time with both of the kids. For the first one there a rush of something, I got to hold my baby for the first few hours while my wife had to go to theatre, it helped build the bond.”
Parenting can be a tough gig. Remember back in the day when you decided after work on a Friday that you would both head off somewhere for the weekend? A gig on a weeknight? Just a gig? Those were the days, the good sad old days before you had kids filling your life with shitty nappies love. Shitty nappies Joy at 3am, shitty nappies joy when you are trying to have 5 minutes peace on the toilet, shitty nappies joy when you’re just trying to get them to sleep so you can watch an hour of telly and feel human for a bit. How empty our lives would be without those wonderful moments of awakeness joy the kids bring.
What lovely anecdotes of childhood cuteness did our Dads have? Tom’s oldest has found her own joy in God. Albeit in the strangest of places, “My youngest likes to pretend she is a dinosaur, ‘Rawr!’. My oldest mixes up a lot of her word, she says God instead of Dog. When she sees a picture of a dog or a dog, she looks it and shouts “GOD! It’s God!” She’s got her own little belief system going on.”
Niko has such a strong and good parenting system with his wife that his eldest can’t tell them apart, “He’ll always tell us he loves us before he goes to bed. He says “I love you momma and poppa.” But, Momma and Poppa is interchangeable and he uses that as a phrase for the parental unit. He’ll call me Momma and call my wife Poppa. We are authority figure that can do stuff.”
Some kids love animals a bit too much, like Jonathan’s boy, “We tell him to give the dog gentle pats and now every time he sees an animal, he says ‘Nice pats’. But when we were at the park he saw an emu and said “Give the Emu a nice pat?” ” Maybe don’t visit the crocodiles at the zoo. Morgan has a two-year-old parrot-child “The cutest that he says, even though he has no concept of it, is to always asks us what the time is. He hears us say it and copies us.” As any parent who has accidentally sworn in front of their kids, this should sound familiar. My own child likes to stay away from those “Bloody dogs.”
The highs of parenting are great, but the lows can be some of the worst moments in your life. Tristan shared a moment of helplessness some parents experience but few discuss, “My daughter was about 6 months old and she had been in and out of hospital a lot. We were up with her one morning, walking up and down in the lounge trying to settle her and there were moments where we wondered if she would still be around in six months. It was a dark time, but she got through it and is fine now, but that’s the worst moment I’ve ever had.”
Tom had a similar harrowing experience, “From 13 weeks in to the pregnancy, we found out our baby had a birth condition where her skull was not going to close over and she may not survive birth or may never go home from hospital.” A moment that is incomprehensible to anyone that has not lived it. “We were in a lot of fear and when she was born but we were pleased she made it through the birth and we got to meet her. Within the first week, we started to feel a bit more confident that things would go well until her surgery but one day I looked over, she had turned blue and stopped breathing. We were in hospital with her at the time and I screamed for help. She was on oxygen for the first year of her life which limited a lot of the things we could do and after that, I wondered for the first couple of months if we had made the right decision to continue. There was a lot of second guessing if we had made the right decision but she’s here, she’s 2 & ½, she’s been off oxygen for a year and a half and she’s beautiful.” Tom went on to talk about how lucky they had been to have both their daughters and his love for being a Dad.
Advice from old-timer Dads like us is surely invaluable to the young pups starting out their own families, or so we think. Gather around, hear our wisdom on the great question of our time “What do you do when your baby won’t stop crying?”
Johnathan and Tom had the best advice, “Call your parents! Grandparents make great babysitters!” In all seriousness, there are times when the crying just doesn’t stop and there is nothing you can do. What do you do? We talked about being the only one in the house with a screaming baby. It is perfectly acceptable to put the crying baby in the safety of the cot and step outside the house for a few minutes. It’s not nice to leave them to cry on their own, but when your sanity is hanging on by a wet bit of spaghetti, sometimes it’s worth taking a moment to compose. Morgan has called on his own support networks late at night and early in the morning, “Sometimes you do need to leave the room. The screaming can get so much that you start to black out. I just had to get out.” Raising a child is a team sport and it’s ok to ask for help. Tom took the ‘step-out’ approach too “I’m usually the patient one but sometimes when I get home from work, I stand at the door and take a breath before I go in the house and get in to dad mode. Last week, I had a bad day at work, got home and the house was trashed, I wasn’t in a good mood and was trying to get the kids to sleep at 11.30pm when my youngest wouldn’t close her eyes was tough. I ended up yelling at her and smacking my head on the toddler bed rail! I can laugh about it now but normally I’m the dad who is softly softly. I couldn’t handle it and had to step out the room.”
Adelaide Dad can share my own son got yelled at by me last week only for the four year old to say, “Dad, you can’t talk to me like that.” Which is fair comment and maybe we need to hear that sometimes!
Niko and Jonathan talked tactics, “The one piece of advice I would give in those early years is that it’s important not to do everything together. We tried to act as a unit because our son did not sleep through the night until he was 2 & ½. We got to the point where we were both completely drained and couldn’t function. Taking shifts would have been better. Taking time for yourself doesn’t make you a bad person.”
Spare beds help too in Morgan’s house, “I slept in the spare bed so my partner could sleep in this morning. We do it all the time and it helps us take turns in having a rest.”
Fatherhood was our final topic; what has it has taught us, how has it changed us and how has it affected the relationships we have with our own fathers. Niko discussed what we all learn eventually, your kid comes out as their own person and there is only so much you can do to influence it.
Tristan has learned some skills that have translated in to his professional life, “I learned to multitask when I was at home with the kids. My wife would be gone early and I had to get up, get myself ready, get one or two children ready, feed everybody and clothe them by a certain time to get out the door. Doing little bits here and there until it all comes together as a whole.”
We also found an increased appreciation for our own fathers with Jonathan commenting, “My dad is a very good parent! When I see my dad, he is the pied piper, he can sooth any child and talk to any child. He can calm them and is good with my son, such a good role model.” Also, he has a new found appreciation for the human body, “You deal with poop and pee day in and day out for a year. Breasts just become breasts, something for feeding.” We all paused for a moment, thought back to the days when our partners breasts were not for feeding our kids and agreed as a group the breastfeeding is just something you try to forget about when you look to rekindle intimacy as a couple after the birth of your kids. We then also agreed to quickly move on to talk about something else.
There isn’t one type of love. You can love pizza, love your partner, love how sexy your partner looks and love your kids. You can also love your pets, love sports and love how pretty the night sky is. However, these loves are all different and stir different things within us. Does having a child change your view of love or is it a new love entirely?
Morgan talked about the inability to replicate the love for your children, “For the first time, it is absolute and unwavering love. I’ve never had that for another human before. I never thought love was finite, but thought it was conditional and could be revoked if the person wronged you. But, for your kids, it’s impossible to lose that love.”
Jonathan likened the love for your kids to any other love, it needs work and nurture, “It can fade or come back but like any relationship, you need to maintain it. You love your wife, but your kids move out and you need to maintain that love with your kids on a different level than just being the one who teaches them and brings them up.” Niko agreed, “You need to work on a relationship with them outside of your roles. When they leave home, you need to be able to connect with them, you have to have a friend level relationship because your role as a parent becomes less and less relevant as you all grow.”
Tom finished us off on Fatherhood with something most Dads can relate to, “I always thought it was something made up but when you hold your kid, you think ‘Best feeling ever.'”
Essential Dad skills? “Patience”, was the uniform answer form everyone.
Jonathan’s experience of parenting skills was putting himself in the shoes of his child, “Being realistic about what you know and what you are. You have a tiny person and they don’t know how to go to sleep or why they are upset. They don’t know much of anything. You need to be patient.” Niko showed he REALLY has had sleep issues with his eldest, “You need military style interrogation training so you don’t crack when you are really sleep deprived. I can’t think of anywhere else you can get that training from.”
Tom went on to show he’s not an eldest child himself, “When you walk in to a room with two children and one of them crying, don’t always assume the one crying has been wronged. Let’s be honest, they’re usually as bad as each other. Usually…
Our Dads have kindly given up their time to talk candidly about their experiences, their best and worst moments as well as what it means to be a Dad in the world today. Far from the incompetent fool often portrayed in the media and online, our modern Dads are hands on, caring and active in raising their kids. As we talked after the formal questions had finished, it was clear that everyone who took part in our discussion had parenting moments where they felt like they were on top of the world and moments where they questioned everything. Through the good and the difficult moments the one thing that is clear is Dads today are very a big part of the part of the village raising their children.
We’ll have another round table soon, keep an eye out on the Adelaide Dad Blog and Kids in Adelaide pages for more information.