parent opinion

'35 years ago, my dad wrote his honest thoughts about fatherhood. After he died, Mum showed me.'

A couple of weeks after my 30th birthday (and Father's Day 2014 – with a birthday in early September, the two are often one and the same), I got the phone call that will stay with me for the rest of my life. 

"Alix?" came my mum's voice. 

The phone buzzing had woken me up at 6am, so I already knew something had to be wrong.

"It's Dad..."

I don't need to share the story of exactly what happened right now. This isn't that story. But a few days later, he passed away, and it might go without saying, but it was absolutely heartbreaking for me and my mum. As an only child, my trio was now down to two, the best guy in my world, gone.

But like I said, this isn't that story.

My dad was, among other things, a journo (my mum, too, and yes, I know, "runs in the family!") – and when he was about four years into his role as 'Dad', he wrote about it for a (now long-out-of-print) baby book. 

Here's a snippet of what life was like for a new (relatively forward-thinking, for the time) dad in the late '80s.


You're soon into toddlerhood and probably think you're doing fine. You do your share of cooking, washing, Cleaning and such, and can handle a nappy with the best. You may have learned to be content with constant repeats of the kid's favourite tape during interstate car journeys. And with any luck you've found one or two reliable and affordable babysitters so you can go out quite frequently as a couple.

But The Great Learning Experience is still to come.

It came to me when, with Alix aged two-and-a-half, her day care 'mum' was going on holiday at a time when only one of us was able to take the necessary stretch of leave from work. Yes.


There's nothing clever about being able to handle things while She goes dinner alone for a night. Once the dinner time, bath time, bedtime routines are completed, you can throw yourself into the housework or crack a beer in front of the TV (and stare at most of the late movie).

Nor is it Hell to stay home for a day when the little kid is too ill to go to day care. There'll probably be a lot of sleeping and you want to be there anyway. 

But this was to be a taste of the Real Thing: Four straight weeks of full-time househusband and fatherhood. It's surprising, you learn some things very quickly!

Remember, you cannot clean a house while a toddler is in it.

Cooking is possible, but your little companion will want to be involved. There are choices then: a diet of boiled eggs (no knives involved) or the strong possibility of variously sized digits in the dish, after which neither of you will play guitar again. Well, perhaps not that drastic, but unless you like drinking seawater, don't look away while the salt pot's in reach. 

You can provide some plastic tools and ingredients for the smaller chef to use at your feet – which brings you back to the cleaning problems. 

Let them play outside. Sure, but every dwelling has hazards from snakes to stranger danger. Ours has funeral webs (some spell that "funnel" but I don't like to understate the risk). So the answer is to go out a lot. If you have friends at home with children and within striking distance, you learn the meaning of "godsend". If you don't, try the parks. 


Don't take the car, if you have one – you can stretch the time by walking. 

Our days became identified by the number of parks we visited. The record was a four-park day: "My park", down at the corner, "Slide park", a lone one on a vacant lot halfway to the shops, "The Green Park", slide, helterskelter, various swings and a painted up old steam roller about a kilometre past the shops; and "Yellow Park", a very snappy adventure playground about another kilometre down the well-travelled road. 

Certainly, time hangs a bit heavy on a day such as this, but if you remember what fun it is to slide, then you can have a spot of innocent fun without too much disapproval from the passing parade of those with more important things to do (the little fibreglass skelters are a stitch).

If you're doing this in summer, give the local swimming pool a go. It's not too crowded, and you can cool your heels with parents, usually mums. If you can get her into a tots' swimming class then you can go off to the big pool, lie about and take in a few rays or dash to shop without half a trolley-full of mystery finds at the checkout. 

Over the period from birth to toddlehood, you'll have realised that privacy is a delicate flower, and now it's gone. It's said, "There are some things a man has (or prefers) to do alone". There may well be, but you can forget 'em. Going to the loo became a matter of seizing the moment – hers, not mine. After all, a toddler's pretty involved in learning to control itself, and anyone given to gleefully shrieking, "Daddy, I done a snake poo on the big toilet, come'n look", is going to make strong attempts to see what you can do.

Sensitive programming by ABC TV eased the problem. Running Sesame Street and Playschool twice a day means you can usually grab a few minutes to yourself (but nothing like the hour and a half they total per session). And you'll be dying for Her to come home from work for some conversation. But you won't discuss the news item half heard while pulling the kid out of the oven. You'll probably go through all the cute adventures of the day and explain why the house is still a mess and why the week's worth of exotic meals you had intended to cook and freeze hasn't happened and how about a quick Spanish omelette tonight?


By the end of this trial by ordeal, I was learning some of the tricks and had recognised today's true superwoman (well, She always has been) – the one who does all this home management, child-raising business for a living… and is often so good at networking, organising support groups and such that she can get out to tennis (never mind the loo). I couldn't sustain it. Perhaps it's just the way males are socialised, but I'm happier in the support role.

So what makes it all worthwhile, the roller-coasting highs and lows, weariness, frustration, even the feeling that your life is no longer your own?

In a word, love. 

There is no moment to compare with the time you are lying half off her bed (because she's woken from a nightmare) wondering how you'll ever shape up for work in the morning, when a tiny hand brushes your cheek, a tiny voice says "I love you Daddy" and a tiny finger hooks out your left eye.

Feature image: Supplied. 

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