A number of years ago, I spent five round-the-world trips on a lawyer to represent my case to be a present dad in my children’s growing up. I could sensibly calculate that separation would force the divvying up of my children’s time between parents, but I was determined to protect as much of it as I could, because I believe my children and I need time to maintain our strong, wholehearted bond.

I had done some hard yards to create experiences where my daughters and I could really be present with one another. I pushed my daughter in a pram to the finish line of the 20km Point to Pinnacle slog up Mt Wellington after our second attempt. I camped out on the Overland Track with my daughter and loved the gifted opportunity to turn my daughter’s fear of snakes into a curiosity when a Tiger Snake slithered by to share our Lake St Clair drinking water.

I trotted along the coastline course of the Burnie 10 with the pram out in front to have some ‘just us’ space in a crowd of 2,500 runners. I was a regular for school parent help and excursions. I think that I did OK at putting my time into the fun stuff that built our connection.

I was certain that I needed time with my daughters to share the smallest joys, the fullest proud moments and any sadness that needed to be squeezed with dad’s hugs.

Quality Over Quantity

Even with the benefit of six years of learning to be a separated dad, the lessons have taken a while to refine. The time that I wanted and passionately argued for has disappeared into the realisation that time is not the most critical element of my connection with Miss 8 and Miss 12.

Time is only a gift to them when I use it wisely. Chalk up a lesson for me! My spontaneous instinct was to spend our shared time in our happy places – building Lego together, an ice-cream after school, taking turns to read paragraphs of The Magic Pudding, strolling and talking through a bushwalk on Mt Wellington, or snuggling into one another in a beanbag while watching a movie. With the surety of time, I could craft the fun that made for a happy connection.

Thankfully, my lessons are still coming along as another lightbulb moment prompted that it is not enough to just do the fun stuff. As my children get older, I am trying to create more opportunities for them to also learn about being independent. Firstly though, I am working to impart my belief that responsibility has priority. Over the past couple of years, I have been working to up the responsibility through shared effort in helping out around the house.

Recently, I was hunkered down in my point of view — “we each need to do the helping stuff around the house before we can head out to the beach.” It was not a popular stance. I tried to make the case that gear needed to be packed and some basic tidying-up jobs needed to be tended to ahead of the fun. If I am going to guide them to be strong, resilient adults, I need to be able to meld responsibility and fun.

Embrace It All

Last week, I sat alongside a separated mum as a text came in from her ex. The text from her former hubby was an offer to pick up their boys after school while mum did the long commute home from work. Mum had arranged with a friend to take the boys to a post-school haircut so, understandably, wanted those plans to stick.

My separated dad instinct kicked in and I nudged mum through a few of her misgivings to give the green light of extra time to the dad. On my advocating for the dad, she phoned him to agree to the change of plan. In doing so, she asked that he keep the haircut appointment. No sooner had mum mentioned the haircut than dad backpedalled faster than a crook caught at a crime scene.

I know that haircuts with kids are as much fun as a jumping castle with a puncture, but I was incredibly upset that this dad made himself available for his kids, yet retracted his offer the instant it needed to include the parenting responsibility of escorting his kids to a haircut. I was pretty wild by what appeared to be a demonstration that he didn’t want to be part of the parenting that required a few hard yards!

I am not always the perfect advocate of balancing responsibility and fun; however, in my world, being a dad means having to mix up the fun with the tough stuff. In my world, the tough stuff is pressing healthy eating in spite of protests that vegies are “yuck.” The tough stuff is holding firm on my children helping around the house when the wonderful summer is a luring temptation to outside fun.

The tough stuff is holding to the wisdom of Steve Biddulph:

“If you are getting it right, then your child will probably feel they have the toughest parents on the block! They may complain, but at the same time feel more secure and relaxed, because life will be better at your house.”

If making my children feel secure and relaxed means doing the tough stuff, then that is where I am going to invest my time… and leave a little left over for some chocolate and the occasional trip to the movies.

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Photo by Pavel Danilyuk.

About the Author: Greg McInerney

Greg is the father of two daughters.

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