New Dad Diaries – week 12 – Rob Parsons OBE (Part 3)

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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. This week, the last of Chris’s conversations with Rob Parsons OBE, one of ‘The Father Hood’ – a group of dads helping provide tips and wisdom.

All dads will know the feeling. As we hold our newborn baby for the first time, we get overwhelmed by the love we feel for them. We also feel an acute sense of responsibility, the sort that changes a man from someone who normally tears up the road, to someone who drives his wife and baby home from the hospital so slowly that he creates a procession of traffic behind him (sorry Cardiff!). I believe this heavy responsibility is something we should run towards, not away from. We should use it as fuel to become great dads, and push through those challenges.   

Fortunately, we have men like Rob Parsons to guide us along the way.  In Part 3, I ask Rob about what makes a dad ‘great’ and how we can deal with the day-to-day challenges of fatherhood.  

Rob, what makes a dad ‘great’ in your opinion?  

Somebody once said, “There is no one way to be a perfect father, but there are a thousand ways to be a great father”. I think that when our kids have grown up into adults, they will not judge us as dads in the way we think they might. It certainly won’t be by the expensive presents we bought them. It won’t be the expensive holidays either.  

Whether they consider us to be a great dad or not tends to come down to a few things.  

1. Was Dad always there for me?  I sometimes drove Dad crazy, and I certainly didn’t always live in the way he wanted me to live, but he was always there for me. Sometimes he yelled at me, was disappointed in me, but I knew that I was truly loved.  

2. Time. I’ve spoken to men all over the world, often very successful men. Many of them, when they reach 50 years old, have a tremendous regret.  They’ve achieved a lot; they’ve got the car parking space marked CEO, but they have missed their kids’ lives. What they want now more than anything else is relationship, but they haven’t put the time in. Someone once said, kids spell love, t-i-m-e.   

3. Laughter. When we talk to people who had wonderful experiences with their dads growing up, so often they start with the words, “We always…”  We always had fish and chips on a Friday night, or we always did this or that on Boxing Day.   

4. Encouragement. If you go on to have more than one child you will probably find that they are chalk and cheese. That’s particularly galling when your first is compliant, as it lures you into having that second child! The second may drive you crazy, and all they may hear is negative comments: “Don’t hit your sister”, “Why don’t you do your homework?” But I say to people, when the ear never hears praise, the heart loses the will to try. The wise father will therefore search for something they can say that is positive.   

These are the elements that make a father great, and ultimately it will be how we are judged.  They are simple things really.  Dad was always there for me.  He spent quality time with me, consistently.  We did fun things together and laughed.  He was always a great encourager.   

   

Many men grew up without a present father, or their father was abusive. Where can we learn how to be great dad?   

I wouldn’t underestimate for a moment this experience. In some ways, I didn’t have a great role model as a dad, as he never told us he loved us, never hugged us and never praised us. That experience spurred me on to be an even better father. Even now, I tell my kids every day that I love them. My father was a stern disciplinarian, but I wanted to laugh with my kids.   

I think we needn’t be limited by our past. The Bible says a lovely thing in Joel 2:25: “I will give you back the years that the locusts have eaten”.  It doesn’t mean tomorrow is going to be perfect, but it does mean that tomorrow doesn’t always have to be like yesterday. If we have had a bad experience, that may be more difficult, but we should look for role models of dads who were great.   

There is something in us as fathers that if we follow our heart, will often lead us to be the father we want to be. Do you know what, there are all kinds of ways to bring kids up. I have written almost 30 books on this stuff but I can tell you that when it comes to their own children, there are no experts. None. They are just people trying to get their kids through the best they can.   

Talk to other fathers and read books about fathering, but know this: Nobody knows their children like you do. So be the kind of father you want to be. That is desperately important.  Sure the shackles of the past may be challenging, but they need not define you as a father.  

The number of men who become depressed in the first year after becoming a dad is double that of the general population. First time dads are particularly vulnerable. What tips do you have for men in that situation?  

When a couple have a child it often outs enormous strain on that relationship. You have a new guest in your home who is very demanding. If you had any other guest that demanded to be fed every couple of hours throughout the night, and demanded you cleaned up every time they went to the toilet, and screamed half the night, then you would probably kick them out!   

Being a new parent is all-consuming and often we can think, what happened to our marriage? The sexual relationship often takes a total nosedive and you have to have patience with each other during this time. I think some men do feel disenfranchised, they suddenly feel that the mother and baby are very close and bonding and they don’t feel part of it – which isn’t anyone’s fault. 

Although it is not always true, often men who write to us say that they find it hard to share their feelings/emotions with other people. We desperately need each other. Everything we go through, somebody else has been there. I would strongly recommend fathers speak to each other.   

What has been the most challenging thing for you as a father?   

I think it is knowing how to handle a testing child. Lloyd wasn’t testing in the sense that he was massively rebellious, but Kate was so compliant that for three or four years we thought we were perfect parents! We wondered what all the fuss was about. For a while we were even giving people advice about where they were going wrong – what a mistake, as Lloyd would soon come into the world! He woke up every day of his young life praying, “God help me to drive my mother crazy today” – and every day God answered his prayer.   

Actually the testing child often has lovely qualities. They walk into a room and just light it up, they have great friendships, they are the first ones to visit their friend when they got knocked off their motorcycle. From very early stages, how do you handle that testing child?  Because you are trying to mould them, discipline them, bring boundaries but at the same time you can so easily alienate them from you.  

When Lloyd was 14 he said, “Dad, I don’t believe this now, but when I was little I sometimes thought you loved Katie more than me.” It wasn’t a surprise. He was always getting into trouble and she, the little sneak I realise now, put some of her trouble on to him. Lloyd and I are very close now.   

A huge thank you to Rob Parsons OBE for his time and wisdom. If you missed them, please do check out Part 1 and Part 2 of Rob’s guidance. 

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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