I was asked to share some of my experiences of being a dad.
The only reason that I am doing so is that I was the first to say “yes” to the invitation. Your story is as unique as mine. Your tales of being a dad are equally special. Your own feelings about being a proud dad are as genuine as mine and your dad jokes are likely to be just as lame. I just happened to say “yes” first.
I don’t believe that there is anything that could have had me or any dad ready for the torrent of emotion and exhilarating feelings that come with becoming a dad. No one had told me that the umbilical cord required some effort to slice through. I didn’t know to anticipate how intricately perfect my newborn children’s fingers were. I had no idea that I would be so awestruck by my daughters, then apprehensive about nursing them for their first bath because they were so delicate.
I didn’t expect the midwife to be a little dismissive when we told her our daughter’s name. I wasn’t ready for the feeling of being crowded and overwhelmed by a family audience of spectators who hovered around everything I did for the first weeks because they naturally wanted to share in the joy of a new baby.
While these new experiences were overwhelming and delightful, I had actually readied myself with a long-term goal to measure how I would judge myself to be a successful dad. This is what I wrote: “I want for my daughters to be able to leave home ready to explore all the opportunities that they choose to form, being happy, confident, assured of their deep goodness, prepared to be generous and share easily, smile at strangers, change a car tyre as readily as they would bake a roast and challenge injustice while returning to visit their dad, not out of a sense of obligation but because of a mutually felt wholesome connection.”
I was a dad and, I believe, did all the things by which I would be regarded as being a solid, devoted dad. I changed nappies, rocked their cradle, attended parent help and simply sat still with them and talked because I believe in investing time.
Yet, I was never more consciously aware of my role until my wife and I separated. That was a soul-wrenching experience that prompted me to put my parenting under the microscope and ultimately make my case that I am a great dad through the Family Court. That time created the deepest awareness of how precious my girls are to me and how I would work more consciously at my parenting goal.
In turn, I was prompted to more fully consider how I engage as a dad. If I was going to sign on as a new type of dad who didn’t get to hug his children every day, then I needed to create signature experiences that strengthened my connection.
- I trace love hearts on my girls’ backs as they are falling asleep.
- I created a template for their canteen order which can be printed with stars and hearts and a thank-you note to the canteen helpers.
- I cut “I love you” into the flatbread they have for lunch.
- We watch YouTube clips of Irish schoolchildren singing popular songs in Gaelic and tune into the joy expressed on their faces, which also helps connect to my family heritage.
- I send small gifts of stickers and coloured pencils inside their lunch boxes.
- I praise them more specifically — that is, I tell them very precisely what I saw them do or heard them say rather than just a generic “great job” or “well done.”
- I have learned to just hold still when my daughter transitions in an instant from gushing with out-of-control hugs and laughter to being emotionally overwhelmed by being asked to put the milk away.
- I pray with my girls. I let them know that we have so much to be grateful for. In my world, being able to arrive at a girls’ school without fear of being shot at should be acknowledged with gratitude.
- I send my eldest for a walk around the block when we need to create space. And I send her for a second lap when she returns cranky. By the third lap, we are both sane enough for us to use healthy words and listen carefully and be heard.
And, I can explain that the walk is more than time out — it is her chance to prepare for walking to Hill Street shop on her own. She gets that. She wants to be independent. Of course, she wants that right now, but she cuts me some slack when she sees that I am doing some prep work… even if it is just baby steps to her. She is sensing that I am assigning her with trust.
- After actively listening patiently until the tears subside and the grin has returned, I will always prompt, “What would you like to have happen?” or “What are your options?”
There are always options and I believe that I am gifting my daughters if they know that they can form what happens next.
- I open the car door for my daughters. I am signing my hope that there is a healthily formed young man out there who will extend his love and care in similar gestures.
- When I tell them that I stuffed up, I let them know exactly what I did that was not OK. I say sorry to my two young daughters.
- I say “I love you” and that I don’t love particular behaviours.
Each one of you has signatures that you are daddy-fying on to your children. You are all signing your children with your mark, even by dropping your son or daughter to school this morning. It is important that you do because girls get their confidence from their dads. That is a huge obligation for each one of us.
I am certain that each of you is gifting your own child with an element of what makes you, YOU. And, sometime from now, when it comes time for your son or daughter to commemorate you, they will be able to say, “My dad was just the best because of how he signed himself on me!”
The role dads play ought to be recognised and celebrated.
Photo by Anna Shvets.