Last Thursday night, I’d been to a talk about puberty at my daughter’s school. It was the most lovely thing. With much giggling and learning, it was a real bonding experience and the girls all came with a parent or carer. A few brave Dads were in the audience but it was mostly mothers and daughters.
The next morning I posted an Instagram shot of the ‘party bag’ we’d got to take home.
What happened next was unexpected and delightful.
Well played Libra. That kind of brand interaction with customers and potential customers is smart, rare and so worthwhile.
I got a bit teary reading the response and I decided I wanted to know more about this dad's situation so I reached out via Instagram.
Here's part of what he told me about his situation (I've changed some names and details to protect his privacy and that of his daughter - the only thing more embarrassing than talking to your dad about your period would be having your dad talk to the internet about your period...)
Firstly, I will give you a bit of background info leading up to where we are today. Hope that's okay. So anyway, I had an abusive childhood. My dad left my two younger brothers and I when I was seven, so it was just mum and us three boys. I had to grow up very quickly. We did have a procession of men in our lives, until mum settled with one particular bloke. They had a child together so he was then our stepdad. He was violent towards mum and myself especially.
Being the oldest, I always resented him, because I had memories of my dad, and I always wanted 'my family' back together, not a family with some other bloke. My brothers have no memory of dad, so they embraced our stepdad as their dad, however I had the worst attitude, which he tried to bash out of me. Finally I cut him out of my life when I was 22.
As a result, I always said I didn't want to bring kids into this world. Then I met a girl who I thought I really loved, Kristy! We didn't plan to have kids, but eventually she fell pregnant, and we were married when she was seven months pregnant with our daughter Josie. Our son Zach came along 15 months later. It all happened so quickly!
I had no idea how to be a dad, because I never had a good dad to learn from, so my thoughts at the time, were that I just had to work 14-16 hours a day, 6-7 days a week to provide the cash for my new family, and Kristy would take care of the rest. We didn't communicate about anything, our party lifestyle changed into a workaholic/family life and eventually the marriage broke down. So in March 2008, I moved out. Josie had just turned three, and Zach was one and a half.
This is where my actual parenting started, because all of the sudden I had to take care of the kids every weekend on my own.
The eight years since then, has been all about teaching myself to be a better dad. I have seen first hand how NOT to be a dad, so I know what not to do, and communications has been the top of my list (aside from the violence, drugs, alcohol etc. of course, but that's another issue my kids won't have to worry about!).
So communication has become my key mantra with the kids. But I still wing it and kind of don't really know how best to go about it, and I always doubt whether I am doing the right thing when I talk to the kids about things. My male role models growing up were my footy and cricket coaches, so I have kind of treated raising the kids a bit like coaching in a sports environment. Which works really well for some things, like toilet training my son! I used the Explain-Demonstrate-Practice method and he was peeing straight into the water after an hour.
So that stuff is easy for my man-brain to coach, however, teaching my daughter how to deal with puberty is a little more difficult.
Anyway, I talk to my kids like they're adults, I have never sugar coated anything, I tell them exactly how everything is. For example, when I was made redundant in 2010, I explained to them that we wouldn't have as many Christmas presents as normal because of the GFC. They were the only kids in their Childcare and Prep classes who knew what was happening in the world.
Maybe I am an over-communicator these days, but every night when I put them to bed, I talk to them about issues, they can raise issues with me and I always tell them what is coming up in our lives. They always know exactly what is happening in our little world and they know if I'm upset about something.
I find that talking to them is better than bottling things up and then taking it out on them. I hope that makes sense and doesn't make me sound like a crazy man because I have been accused by girlfriends over the years of over-communicating with the kids.
Some people can't understand my communication method. However, I find that because I treat them like adults and talk to them about everything, they act more responsible and mature than most kids their age. Josie is a leader in Grade 6 at school and I'm so proud of both my children.
Getting back to my relationship with my now ex wife Kristy, over the years, we have become better communicators, but sometimes it's still hard. This brings us to the last few months, when I realised Josie was going to be a young lady soon. Her body shape has changed into a young lady and it's so scary! My little baby has started getting reactions in public that I am uncomfortable with!
So Kirsty is a really good mother, she provides for the kids and she works very hard. She has a new man in her life, they are married now and he has taken the kids on as their stepdad, and in reality, I only have to worry about the three days a week when I have the kids with me.
However I am the main teacher/coach with the kids. We all have our strengths and weaknesses as parents and that's just something I feel like I'm good at, addressing the tough topics with the kids. So even though I'm only a part-time dad, out of their three parents - Kristy, their step-dad and myself - I'm the one who has the responsibility for the "big issues" part of their up-bringing.
Which brings us to the period issue... When Josie's mum was 11, she got her period on the school bus and she thought she was dying! Her parents had not prepared her at all, she didn't have any idea what was happening to her and there is no way I am going to let that happen to Josie. So late last year, I sat down with her and started the conversation about puberty, periods, boys etc.
I tried to figure out what to do and what to say but it's hard. Whilst I am only a part-time dad, I feel like I am all alone when it comes to stuff like this. Together, Josie and I tried to sign up on the Libra site for some samples, because I really have no idea what type of pads to buy for starter-periods!
When Kristy was in hospital giving birth to one of the kids, I had to buy her pads. OMG I will never forget standing in that aisle at Woollies for half an hour, so far out of my depth. I was eventually rescued by a lady who could see the confusion on my face but anyway I just have no idea about any of that stuff.
Girls I have dated over the last year or so have tried to help, and I have reached out to old friends and former girlfriends. I have bought a few books, like 'Girl Stuff' by Kaz Cooke, a variety of different pads, a couple of purses with zips, spare undies for her to carry around, but I really have no idea how it is all going to work, so I can't properly prepare her!
As a result, every time anyone tells me anything, I take it on board and pretty much do everything I am told because I am so far out of my depth. All of the comments I received on Instagram, I totally took on board as well and I have done everything that everyone suggested that night I am so grateful for all the responses. To be honest, at the time I felt bad that I sort of hijacked your post with my own first-world problem, so I am so glad you didn't take it that way Mia. Thanks for being so understanding!
Anyway just being a dad to a girl, is so hard. I am way out of my depth. For example, when I speak to my son (and I have started talking to him about girls, and boy puberty stuff as well), I know exactly what he will be going through and everything he will have to deal with. I have assured him that he can talk to me, and I have promised him that I have been through it all!
I know that he is comfortable that anything that might come up in the next few years. I am confident that he will come to me and we will deal with everything together.
However, when it comes to Josie, I know she feels comfortable talking to me (we have an awesome relationship in that way) buuuut I also know she doesn't have the same confidence in me that Zach does. She just knows I have no idea and it's just so hard to look her in the eye without having all the answers.
I see the look on her face, she just knows I have no idea what the hell I am talking about. She knows I will be Googling the answers for her, or reading Mamamia articles or texting old girlfriends haha all in all, I think it is just so hard for single dads to raise girls without the actual experiences to draw answers from.
That's where I really feel like dads with girls need help.
Oh so getting back to the Libra issue, the site kept telling us that we were registered and we would receive confirmation emails, as well as some samples. Without sounding like a cheapskate, I feel like I need the samples, because then I could just work out which were the right ones and go to buy Josie her stuff, instead of just buying a heap of different random pads etc, like I am doing at the moment. Pads are expensive!
So I was sort of relying on the Libra stuff to help me get the right pads etc! However we never received any confirmation emails or products, and we waited and waited. However after I reached out on your post the other night, Libra Aus/NZ have contacted me and the person sending the message asked for my details. They said they would look after Josie, so I am happy for that contact, I think it is good customer service, after we had a poor service experience the other week on their website. So I am grateful for that!!!
I'm sorry for going on! I feel like a bit of a sook to be honest, because I know there are single dads who have full time custody, and they would have it worse than I do, so part of me thinks that I should just suck-it-up and do my best.
But I also believe that I need to find the answers, when I don't know what I'm doing. So I appreciate all the advice and information that comes my way.
Here's what I know for sure: Josie is going to be just fine, whatever life (or puberty) has in store for her. With a Dad so invested in being the best parent he can be, she is one lucky little girl.
I adore Sam's vulnerability, he honesty, his willingness to ask for help and advice and to admit when he doesn't know what to do. And I adore all the women who came forward to offer words of support and encouragement.
If you'll excuse me, I'm just going to go off and have a little happy weep.
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