New Dad Diaries – week 8 – Neil Sinclair




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. First up, Neil Sinclair, better known as ‘Commando Dad’.  

Six years as an army commando didn’t prepare Neil Sinclair for the biggest challenge of his life: being a stay-at-home-dad to his three children.  There was no guidebook to help him, so he wrote one:  Commando Dad – Basic Training.  Relied on by over 120,000 dads, including Prince William and Sir Andy Murray, the book is now celebrating its ten-year anniversary. I sat down with him to discuss mission fatherhood.  

Neil, thank you for joining us. Could you tell us about your journey from Commando to becoming the author of the ‘go-to’ guide for new dads?  

I spent six years as a Commando, and had some interesting adventures! I cleared minefields and dodged snipers in Iraq, survived some very cold winters in Arctic Norway and tracked drug traffickers through the jungle of Belize. I then worked in Security, guarding the British Mission to the United Nations in New York. Whilst we were in the US, my wife Tara and I had a conversation about kids, and we both agreed we would wait a year or two before considering it. Two weeks later she was pregnant with our first child, Samuel!  

A year after Samuel was born, we had our second, Jude. We decided to move back to the UK from New York, and made the decision that one of us would stay at home with the kids to raise them. The deal was, whoever got a job first would work and the other would stay at home. My wife decided to start her own business, which I think is cheating, but the result was, I became a stay-at-home dad.   

Let me tell you, none of those adventures I mentioned at the start prepared me for being a dad, let alone a full-time carer for my kids, but I feel really privileged. And it didn’t half teach me a lot.  

You turned those lessons into a book called Commando Dad: Basic Training that has been a Godsend in my early days of being a new dad. Where did the idea for the book come from? 

There was a bit of a gap between our second child, Jude and our third child, Liberty, being born. So, I needed a refresher on how to navigate the early days of raising a baby.  

I wanted a manual just like the one I was issued when I first joined the Army.  It’s a survival guide basically. It tells you how to do everything you need to do to be an effective soldier – from how to tie your bootlaces properly to how to read a map.  

I wanted an instruction manual for parenting that would tell me step by step how to bottle feed, or how to change a nappy, or how to stop the baby crying when nothing seems to be working! I visited bookstore after bookstore, but nothing like this existed. So I wrote one. I had no idea that it would be as popular as it has become, but I am glad it is helping new fathers to thrive early on and take more of an interest in their child’s early, yet challenging days. 

You have been very hands-on in raising your kids. How important is it for dads to be active participants in their child’s life?  

A Commando doesn’t hide, and neither should dads. A Commando Dad gets involved and takes his responsibilities seriously. He’s engaged, he spends time with his kids, cares for them – and he gets the information he needs to do this effectively. He always acts in the best interests of his baby troopers, even if it comes at a sacrifice.  

Dads are very important but I don’t think attitudes have moved on much since I started my parenting journey, and my eldest is now 2o! Let me give you an example. I was in a supermarket in London with my two boys in a pushchair, and this man turned to his wife and said about me, ‘He’s not a real man, is he’. I challenged that view at the time, and I will continue to do so now. A real man takes responsibility, and that starts at home. 

I couldn’t agree more. What else did your time in the military teach you about parenting?  

First, be organised. If you can get organised, you can have more fun. Don’t believe me? Try changing your baby’s nappy without setting everything out first!   

Second, whilst careful planning and organisation are important, as a Commando you learn that it is impossible to control all the variables in a mission. Think about trying to chase down drug traffickers in the wild jungles of Belize; so much can go wrong – the weather, encounters with dangerous animals, a change in the environment – you need to expect the unexpected or you will fail.   

One of our values in the Royal Engineers was to ‘improvise, adapt, overcome’. This was in the front of our minds at all times, meaning if things changed quickly on a mission we would work together to adapt and ultimately overcome the barrier to succeeding.  In my experience, the parents who learn how to do this well end up enjoying parenting more.  

For example, when Samuel was a baby he had a great sleep routine, and then one night he just started crying and didn’t stop.  We did all of the things we normally did to settle him, but nothing worked.  My wife and I couldn’t believe it!  So, we kept improvising until we found the answer.  We tried new things until we landed on the solution, which in Samuel’s case was us dancing around the room with him!  

In my previous New Dad Diaries, I spoke about why a baby crying is so difficult for us men to handle. What tips do you have for dads when their baby won’t stop crying?  

One thing I tell all new parents is that when your baby is crying, they are not critiquing your parenting. They are just communicating a need to you, and it’s the only method of communication they have.   

Understanding this and reminding yourself about this is really, really important because our minds will tell us that our baby thinks we are bad parents. Once that happens, you lose that all important compassion and the ability to think clearly. When your baby cries, they need something from you. Just work your way down the list of needs, for example, hunger, nappy change, burping, overtiredness, pain and so forth. If nothing works, maybe they just need to cry. You are doing a great job and, even though they cannot tell you, they love you and need you. 

One more tip for you. When your baby is crying and won’t stop, pop some earplugs in. You will still be able to hear them, it just takes the edge of that piercing high-pitch that can floor any man! This will allow you to think straight and keep your love on.  

I kept reading about how easy it was for mums to build a strong bond with their baby, due to hormones and breast-feeding. These are things men do not have and cannot do. What advice do you have for dads like me who just want to build a great bond with their baby?  

This is where being a hands-on dad comes into its own. That is the start and end of it for me.  Bonding takes time, and it takes consistency. I don’t just mean helping with the tasks that need to be done. Being hands-on means holding your baby, playing with them when you change their nappy, talking to them a lot, singing to them and so on. 

You will bond with baby really quickly if you do that, and they will follow suit. Take every opportunity you can to hold them. I remember looking into Samuel’s eyes when he was a baby, and I realised we had a good bond when he started looking back into mine. 

Ultimately, you reap what you sow when it comes to bonding. The more time you invest into your baby, your toddler and then your teenager, the stronger your bond will be. When they get older they will start pushing you away a bit and they will test the boundary lines, but if you have invested time with them throughout their journey, they will know you are a safe place to go when everything goes wrong. You will find that it is such a joy to do this.   

Being a dad isn’t easy. In fact, studies show that the number of men who become depressed in the first year after becoming a dad is double that of the general population. What survival tips do you have for new dads?  

First, stay physically healthy. This is so vital that I dedicate a whole chapter to it in my book. You will find being a dad a lot easier if you are in good shape. So eat well and do some exercise. Don’t rely on takeaways in those early days; they may seem like the easier option when you haven’t slept that night but this decision will feed the negative energy cycle! I recommend you eat healthily. Fit some exercise in as well. I am not saying you need to do your 5 x 1-hour gym sessions per week – you can’t do that. But get some walks in, do some training at home and support that with a good diet.  

Second, and I cannot stress this enough, don’t journey alone. By far the toughest test in my selection training for the Royal Engineers was the nine-mile speed march – an endurance and assault course. I really struggled, and everything in me wanted to quit. The only reason I made it over the finish line was the support I had from the guys doing it with me. It’s that sense of team is that makes the UK military such a force. Being a dad really is the toughest job in the world. The highs of parenting are really high, but the lows – wow they can bring a man to their knees. Connect with other dads, hang out and do something you all enjoy doing together. These guys will sustain you.   

I know you are going to be back in The New Dad Diaries soon, but for now, could you tell us what the most challenging thing has been for you as a father?   

The word that immediately came into my mind was ‘loneliness’. If you are a stay-at-home dad, or mum, it can be really lonely and you can get into a rut. I will always stress to dads how important having a community is when you are a new parent. When you are cut off, just working and being a dad, living every day in the trenches you can start to believe the toxic things you tell yourself like, ‘I am not a good parent’. If you get to that point, and you can’t challenge it, it is really hard to stop yourself from falling down mood-wise. You need other dads to challenge your thinking, to bounce ideas off, to tell you that you are actually doing a great job – because you are.  

The other thing I would say is that families deal in two currencies – time and money. Both are as important as each other. For the working parent(s), the emotional challenge will be not being able to spend as much time as they want with their son or daughter. The solution to this is putting memories in the bank. By that, I mean being very intentional about creating wonderful memories with our children.   

The stay-at-home parent has a vital job, that is all-consuming, exhausting, emotionally draining and, yes at times, lonely. If the dad is staying at home, they need to be secure in the knowledge that being the breadwinner is not the only way a man can contribute to the family. Your children will thrive because of their increased time with you. But be intentional about socialising. It doesn’t matter what you do – whether it’s catching up with another dad over coffee, or getting a group of dads together to take their kids outdoors, it really makes a difference. I think dads have a real capacity to laugh their way through the dire times, and that has been a real game-changer in my parenting journey.  

A huge thanks to Neil Sinclair for his wisdom – he will be back for future New Dad Diaries.  The next member of The Father Hood to be interviewed will be Rob Parsons OBE, Founder of Care for the Family and author of over 25 books, including The Sixty-Minute Father.   

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.

You may also like

Sorted Magazine

Sorted discusses the big issues of the day – focusing on subjects as diverse as culture, sport, cars, health, faith, gadgets, humour and relationships. We aim to be positive and wholesome in all we do. And we have been achieving this since 2007.

Every printed issue of Sorted is read by more than 100,000 men in 21 different countries – while digitally, the number of people reading our online content (free and via subscription) continues to soar.




Follow Us



Visit our shop for great gift ideas