By Timothy O’Leary
This Father’s Day, Fatherhood expert and author, Timothy O’Leary reflects on what fatherhood has meant to him over the years.
I know that technically Father’s day is the first Sunday in September, but I think that your first Father’s day is the day of your child’s birth. Your baby is born, but a father is born, too, whereas mum’s are becoming a mother from the moment they begin growing a baby, through birth and then into raising children.
Being a corny guy, I’ve always loved Father’s day because I love what my kids write on my Father’s day cards. Fatherhood hasn’t always been easy of course but I really enjoy being a dad and I accepted the hard stuff as part and parcel of being a dad.
I was fortunate to get off to a great start as a dad and bonded with both of my kids. If you are attracted to Calmbirth then you are already on track to get off to bond with your kids.
There is a precious window straight after the birth when everything calms down and baby is ready to connect with you. Where ill-prepared dads can be a little rocked by feeling helpless at the birth, a Calmbirth approach helps you to bring your calm presence to the baby at this time.
Many people miss this window of connecting with baby and are busily conveying the news of their baby to friends and family. Let them wait. Connect with your partner and baby. You’ve waited 9 months for this moment, so share it together.
I was in awe of our babies and their mother after the birth of our children: relief, love and joy filled the birthing space.
It was in our birth-plan that I would have skin to skin contact when I had my first hold of my son and when I took him in my arms, it was an incredibly powerful moment. I was now a father, but I felt like my totally dependent son (and later daughter) look at me as if to say “I need you to look after me.”
Having had my fair share of fun and adventure in my twenties and early thirties, I was ready to embrace this new responsibility, knowing that the early days, weeks and months would involve a lot of learning on the job.
I was taken aback by the brief amounts of interaction between newborns and their parents, but I saw that as the weeks went by, these little babies were slowly opening up like flowers.
Every day they were just that little bit more ‘in the world’. I discovered that babies bond-first and connect-second, so the more that you are there, holding them, cuddling and bathing them, chatting as you change their nappies, the more it sows the seeds later on for interaction because you have built the non-verbal foundations for the verbal relationship that is to come.
Once my kids became able to use words, it was a very special experience. Ned’s first word was ‘wower’ for flower. To this day, when I see a train, I say ‘Noo-noo’ to myself knowing that Frankie called trains ‘Noo-Noo’s’, as Choo-choo was too hard to say.
These sweet moments offset the stress and strain of a toddler’s tantrums and I’ve long forgotten the sleepless nights or the toddler’s meltdowns but not the good memories, I hold on to them!
One of the things I especially loved as a dad was the way that when my kids hugged me or their tiny hands would hold mine, that they did so with all of their hearts. It was a real hug or a good strong grip. I sensed how they felt secure with my ability to lift them up, carry them to the car when they were falling asleep after a day trip.
One thing I never imagined was that my kids would love going bushwalking. And I mean bushwalking – the carry it all in and walk for hours to get there caper. One year we joined up with another dad, Bob and his daughters Molly and Maeve and we took on Wilson’s prom, in the rugged Victorian South-East.
I was amazed at my kids determination and willingness to forgo showers, flushing toilets and even screens for this challenge. As a dad, it means having a front-row seat to your child’s development. I’ve always found that an honour and an amazing thing to witness.
Now that Ned and Francesca are teenagers, fatherhood involves a different kind of guiding and supporting to when they were babies but the principles are still the same: it’s all about being there for them, according to how they need you.
As littlies they need you a lot, as teenagers, they draw comfort from knowing that you are there when and if they need you, but to them, that level of comfort is equal to the hours you put in when they were little.
And that brings me to what the fatherhood research says – if you bond with your kids as babies, you’ll stay bonded over the lifetime and if you are a positive and hands-on dad, your kids will do well at school and have a positive adolescence.
So happy father’s day to you, and may you gain comfort from knowing that everything that you put into your fatherhood will come back to you in the years to come, in the form of love, laughter and adventure – enjoy!
Timothy O’Leary is the author of Dads Who Can – for more information see www.dadswhocan.com