Being a father used to be simple. You spent the day at work and the night down the pub. You never learned how to change a nappy. And your signature moves were watching TV and forgetting to do the shopping.
While this is a gross stereotype, the caricature, unfortunately, draws from reality.
However, as some of Hollywood’s biggest celebrities — including Mark Wahlberg, Hugh Jackman and Ben Stiller — point out in a recently released book for a new generation of dads: this is rapidly changing.
Tearing down the ‘hapless dad’ and ‘nagging mum’ tropes, The Father Hood authors Luke Benedictus, Jeremy Macvean and Andrew McUtchen interview some of the world’s most high profile fathers, providing heartfelt and helpful advice.
Whether you’ve already got more kids than Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt or your firstborn is still just a glint in the milkman’s eye — here’s some top parenting tips for men.
For Mark, especially in the current climate where you can “in one generation — turn things around, but also — in another — lose everything” it is crucial to set a good example — no matter your financial situation.
“I think the most important thing about being a dad is to be an example. For me, that comes through in my work ethic, the kind of focus that I have, my faith, what I have with my family, as well as my profession and the other businesses that I’m involved with.”
“You can preach one thing, but if you’re doing another they’re still seeing what you’re doing.”
How does this play out in everyday life? “I don’t force my kids to go to church with me but I make sure that I’m going.”
“Hopefully they’ll see that those things work for me and know that Dad became successful because he was willing to work harder than everybody else… if I can give them that, then they’re good.”
This is something David Beckham emphasised too, telling The Father Hood, “Your kids are always watching and your conduct defines their values.”
“I want to show my kids that now, after the first part of Dad’s life and the first part of his career, he still continues to work hard. That’s what I want them to learn.”
Indecisive? Hugh has some comforting winter soup advice for you. What is it? When it all gets complicated and you find yourself at a crossroads, he says, just ask yourself one simple question, “is this good for our family?”
He also gave you an excuse to squeeze in a few Friday nights with your mates, explaining that what’s good for your family and what’s good for you shouldn’t always be mutually exclusive.
“Sometimes that can mean doing something for yourself; no one wants a husband or a father who is miserable.”
In terms of teaching your kids to make their own decisions, Hugh offers a coming of age tale of his own, which shows why leading by example and allowing them to make their own mistakes is better than dictating.
Hugh, for example, when he went to his dad to ask whether he should turn down a job on Neighbours to continue studying acting, was told to make the decision on his own.
Upon hearing his dad’s relief at his decision to keep studying, Hugh recalls the following conversation.
“Why didn’t you tell me that.”
“It was your decision.”
While Ben Stiller admits that “success can also take you away from your personal relationships,” he says that planning can be your saving grace.
“When you’re working all the time and if you are devoting yourself to that, you have to figure out a way to balance it.”
Who better to illustrate Ben’s comments than Barrack Obama, who was not directly interviewed like the others but whose quotes the book draws upon to demonstrate that — no matter your position at work — it is always possible to make time for your family.
“You don’t have to defuse a nuclear situation in Iran. If the former president could make it home for dinner at six-thirty, maybe you can, too,” (The Father Hood).
“Obama vowed to break the cycle of the absent father, and becoming the leader of the free world wasn’t going to stop him,” the book continued, explaining how the president “insisted on sitting down for dinner with his wife and daughters at six thirty every night… conced(ing) to miss this a maximum of twice a week.”
“Any fool can have a child. That doesn’t make you a father. It’s the courage to raise a child that makes you a father.”
While this attitude limited Obama’s availability to his aides, his potential to go on fundraising trips and his outreach to Congress, he went ahead with it because he had his priorities in order.
As he once reasoned when addressing the graduating class at Morehouse College — on his death bed he won’t be pondering his policies or even the Nobel Peace Prize; he’ll be thinking of moments shared with his daughters and his wife and “whether I did right by all of them.”
Any Advice To Avoid?
As for the advice you may want to avoid? Luke Benedictus says that the most dangerous piece of advice he was given was this: “When you become a dad, the most important thing you can do is to look after your wife, so she can look after the baby.”
While part of the advice is fine — you absolutely should look after your wife — the second part, Luke says, “is dangerous because it nudges you to withdraw from the engine room of parenthood, gently ushering you towards a more peripheral role.”
This is worsened by such factors as “the shit fight over parental leave” and the fact that “paternal connection requires time and prolonged contact to develop” often leading to a situation where your partner’s daily exposure to your child starts to build up her expertise… and you “turn into mum’s assistant.”
Want more tips on how to stop this from happening (and on how to become a kick-ass parent, generally)?