New Dad Diaries – week 10 – Rob Parsons OBE (Part 1)




Chronicling life as a new father to his beautiful firstborn child – daughter Thea – Chris Kerr’s goal is to provide all men experiencing fatherhood for the first time with some invaluable tips and tricks as they are learned – the hard way.  Acknowledging he needs help too(!), Chris has called on a group of dads he calls, ‘The Father Hood’ to ask them for their tips and wisdom.  In this edition, Chris sits down with Rob Parsons OBE, founder and chairman of Care for the Family, a national charity which aims to strengthen family life and help those who face family difficulties.  Rob is the best-selling author of 25 books, including the Sixty Minute Father and the Heart of Success 

Two weeks before Thea was born, I thought I was a smarty pants.  Through my consultancy work, I had just helped another charity get out of an existential crisis, and the compliments were flowing my way.  But before I could get too big for my boots, my 7lb 10oz baby girl Thea brought me back down to earth.  You see, nothing humbles a man quite like those first few weeks of parenting. If the nappies don’t get you, the complete lack of knowledge about how to look after your baby will.   

Fortunately for me, I had Rob Parsons OBE and Commando Dad at my beck and call. Well actually, I had their books, which I turned to every time I had a question (approximately every five minutes or so). Such was my reliance on them in Thea’s first weeks that my wife would jokingly ask if she should pop some extra placemats down for them at the dinner table. How wonderful then that they, and others, have agreed to share their wisdom with you and I as we navigate these early days of fatherhood.   

Rob, thank you for helping us new dads out.  Could you tell us a little about yourself and why you set up the national charity, Care for the Family?  

I was a senior partner in a ten-office law firm but my wife and I had, for a number of years, been in a Church on a vast housing estate in Cardiff.  At that point there were 20,000 people living there, although it is more now.  There was an immense need and we began talking to some of these people in our homes, sometimes counselling them.   

My wife then went through a tough time after the birth of our son, she went through a depressive illness and her immune system crashed and it just taught us that vulnerability and saying to people, ‘we have been through that’ is very powerful. It gave us a real desire to reach out to other families and help them. Tough times will hit every home.  

I was doing pretty well at the law practice, but I noticed that there were a lot of good charities that came to the bottom of the metaphorical cliff, bringing an ambulance when families were broken up. Nobody was putting a fence at the top of the cliff to stop families falling in the first place. I wanted to do this, so I left the law practice and started Care for the Family. One minute, I’m in a law practice employing 120 people where I can press a button and someone will make me a coffee, next I’m operating out of a small room, making my own drinks and putting my own stamps on envelopes! We have just under 100 employees in the UK and abroad now.    

Ah yes, the lesser spotted barrister to barista story! Having worked with families for so long, can you tell us how important dads are to raising healthy kids?  

Well, first of all, we work with families of all kinds. I see a lot of pain on a regular basis. I know, therefore, that it is not always possible to keep families together. This means we do a lot of work with single parents, most of which will be single-parent mums, many of whom would prefer to be bringing up their kids with help from their partner. There are many reasons for that – it is emotionally and physically hard, for example.   

I believe fathers have a vital role to play. My own father never praised me or told me he loved me but he was present, always there. He put bread on the table. My mother would ooze love, telling us that she loved us 50 times a day! All of my memories of that home were of love and security.   

Certainly, I went through a period with my own kids where just after they were born, I was very busy – at work and I was speaking all over the place. Then one day my wife said to me, ‘Darling, I don’t think we are going to make it’. That was a massive wake-up call. She needed me, and my kids needed me and I was just not meeting their needs. I remember thinking, if I don’t make a change, the things I value most are going to slip through my fingers.   

I would say this to all dads. The time you put in with your kids when they are little tends to bring fruit later on. You are depositing into that emotional bank when they are small and that is very important.   

So, I would say mothers and fathers are important, and if you asked me which was the most important, you couldn’t put a cigarette paper between it for me. We need each other.   

A lot of dads worry about the early days, and how to bond with their baby.  What do you recommend doing to build a strong, two-way bond between dad and baby?  

Well first of all, it is important. We do a lot of work here with regard to attachment theory which is basically a principle that those early interactions are very, very important. It’s not to say that they cannot be overcome, but they are important.   

I remember when my daughter had her first baby, Harry. She had tears running down her face and said, ‘Dad it is really hard isn’t it’. And it is hard! They don’t come with a manual, we are always worried we are going to mess up and a lot of fathers feel that. It is very easy to abdicate responsibility when we feel that.  But we mustn’t.   

Here are some tips.  Search for ways to connect with the baby through touch, or songs and I am a great believer in telling stories to kids.  They won’t have a clue what you are talking about but you are building connection.   

Bonding is another way of looking at the tough moments too – the 2am wake ups, putting them in the car seat to drive them around and get them to sleep. These help build relationship.   

When they become toddlers, get down to their height and cup their heads in your hands and look in their eyes. The greatest compliment you can pay them is to look in their eyes. These things build attachment.   

It is an ongoing thing. If I got anything right with my kids, and I got plenty wrong, it was building connection. From the time my daughter Katie was 13, we would spend an evening together perhaps once a fortnight. We would go to the foyer of a local hotel. She would have a Coca-Cola and I would have a coffee and we would talk. Katie would talk for England! So when Lloyd was 13 I tried to do it with him. It was agony! I was dragging syllable after syllable out of him. I almost gave up and then we discovered the hotel had a pool table in it.  As we were playing pool, we would talk a bit. When Lloyd was 19, he would sometimes come into my room about 11pm and wake me up. He’d say, “Hey Dad, do you fancy going for a curry?” I would climb out of bed, get into a pair of jeans and eat Chicken Tikka Masala at midnight more times than you have had cooked dinners! You have to take communication when you can get it. 

If we live busy lives, kids will fall for your ‘Dad will do it later’ routine. Too often, those days go by, and those years go by and suddenly they are teenagers and don’t want to go fishing with us. It is very, very important to put those times in when they are small.  

Let’s take you back to the day before your first child Katie arrived.  What would you tell that young Rob, knowing all that you know now about being a dad?  

I realise that not everyone who reads this article will share my Christian faith but I would be praying for my kids even before I had them.  When I finished the Sixty Minute Father book I put a story in at the end about one night when I was putting Lloyd to bed.  He was five or six years old.  He said to me, ‘Dad, could I say the prayer tonight?’.  He said, ‘Dear God please help my father to be very brave and not make too many mistakes’.  I think that is a great prayer for every father.   

As a father I have often been brought to my knees. I have felt like a rubbish father, and I have felt like I was making too many mistakes. In those days, I have prayed to my heavenly father and asked for wisdom. If I could do anything else, I would seek that wisdom more. Even if you are not sure what you believe you can still do that. ‘God if you are there, please help me to be the best father I can possibly be’.   

In Part 2, released exclusively on next week.  Rob and I discuss the inner tension all new dads face – how to be successful at home and work. 

Chris Kerr

Chris is a husband to Alicia and father to Thea, who is the subject of his columns on Fatherhood for Sorted.  In his spare time he works for a national law firm in an executive capacity and provides crisis leadership consultancy support for non-profits across the UK.  He attends Urban Crofters Church in Cardiff.  A keen weekend adventurer, Chris is regularly spotted in the sea or on mountains.

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