Dad Interviews Dad Series – MadDadSkillz
Over the course of this series, in celebration of Father’s Day 2017, I have posted interviews with some of the top Dadbloggers in the UK & USA. We’ve featured Dads as diverse as a previous Dadblogger of the year to a Webcomic, with a friend, a former DJ, a former US Navy dad, and the father of a ‘Poo Monster’ in between. You can catch up on them all at MadDadSkillz.com
Now, on Father’s Day itself, it is time for the main event. I sat down with my own father and tried to work our way through the 10 ‘Dad Interviews Dad’ questions on parenting tips, styles, comparisons, and home truths.
Father’s Day – My own Dad
The last interview of this series is myself and my own Dad, Michael. As we sat down I asked my Dad if he’d read my recent blog post?
“ahh…no, which one?” he confessed.
“You don’t even read my blog?! Well this interview is not going to go well!” I said as I prepared for my Frost/Nixon moment.
Of course he explained the reason he hadn’t had time to read was because he’d been looking after my two kids all day while I was at work. I suppose I can sympathise with that.
Two pints of Guinness arrived, I took out my notebook and my Dad started talking.
Andrew & Michael
Initially, I thought my Dad had veered away from the brief during this interview. I wanted to talk about us both as Dads but we ended up talking more about the man my Dad is. I learned a lot about that man, his motivations and his personal awareness. He didn’t learn much about me, because he doesn’t need to. As is the case with all parents, he already knows more about me than I do myself. The concept of the interviews was to address each other as peers, as fathers, but by the end I felt very much like a son. His son. Looking up at him with pride, admiration and love.
1. How do you remember feeling when you found out you were going to be a father?
“I was very happy when I found out.”
This was obvious from his face in the retelling. He said they were in a secure position with a house and jobs so there wasn’t much anxiety beyond the normal new parent nerves.
2. What is your favourite story about me as a kid?
This question led to a tiny argument as he described the day that I took 60mins to gain my 800m swimming badge. He said the caretaker had brought in the lanes, turned out most of the lights, but I was still going, end to end, determined to get my badge. I swiftly pointed out that was my 1800m, not 800m, and that 1800m is a hell of a long way! We agreed to disagree.
Probably the most (in)famous parenting story of my youth is that, at 2 years old, I would repeatedly get back out of bed and out of my room. At their wits end, and with no other sources of advice, my parents bought a book called “Toddler Taming”. It advocated tying the door handle shut. Of course when I discovered I couldn’t get out of my room I threw an almighty tantrum and my parents have punished themselves ever since.
This story has been told and retold may times over the years but it was only this evening that I realised the door handle was tied to another door and not to my wrist! I always thought their over enthusiastic apologies for this heinous Toddler Taming crime were because they had physically tied me to my door! Guinness was shared, apologies were accepted.
3. Which phase of parenting have you found the most enjoyable?
For the most enjoyable, my Dad remembers crying with pride when he saw me in my uniform on Day 1 of Inchmarlo (my primary school).
Ok, sure, pride that your kid is going to school. That sounds reasonable. I have that coming up in September with my first born.
However, he went on to discuss the context and why this was such a moment for him, above and beyond his son going to school.
As he spoke a side of my father I’d never fully appreciated before was unveiled.
I knew my Dad wasn’t like everyone else’s Dad when I was at school. Everyone else’s Dad was a doctor, lawyer, etc. My Dad left school at 16. I knew he was self employed and involved in supermarkets and point of sale, but truly I didn’t understand what that meant for a long time. In fact I once told people he was a door-to-door salesman.
In truth there were 3 scenarios that fixed and defined my dad’s mindset early on.
He went to Larkfield and was a good runner and football player. One day he got convinced to play on the wing for the rugby team against Royal Belfast Academical Institution (RBAI) and his team got annihilated. He remembers clearly thinking who are these monsters of boys?
Later, he would go out carol singing or selling papers and they’d head to the Malone Road area of Belfast because that’s where the big houses were and you’d get good money from the rich people.
Later still, he had a mate in Belfast who could get him into the school dances that were held at RBAI. He got to see the grand buildings and sheer scale of the school. Inside the dances he said were the top level girls from Belfast, the classy attractive Victoria College girls. But everyone he chatted up, as soon as they found out he was from Larkfield would blank him, they were there for the Inst boys.
So in 1988, when I started Inchmarlo, the Preparatory Department that basically guaranteed a place at RBAI, my Dad was 34, married to a grammar school girl and living in a house on the Malone Road.
Standing there in my cap, blazer, shorts, hold up knee socks, and satchel, I was the mini embodiment of a goal he’d been working towards for 20 years.
He stood as tall as those who finished school and went on to University. He was making as much money as them and now his son would attend the school that my Dad’s formative years had taught him was the best school in the country. I can absolutely understand why he welled up. He must have felt that he’d finally made it. As the middle of seven children from a family that shared a small house with an outdoor toilet on Railway Street, he had succeeded in providing for his family and providing well. I know he never felt like he “fitted in” but I know now that he never, for a moment, let himself feel inferior either.
I think that speaks volumes to the motivations of him as father and as a man.
3b. …and conversely, which was the hardest?
The hardest phase was when I was struggling academically. I was in and out of independent assessors and after-school tutors. One of which even said I shouldn’t take the 11+ exam as:
“he will fail and it will forever knock his confidence. If, by some miracle, he does get into a grammar school, he wouldn’t be able to cope.”
I imagine it must have been very hard to hear such an assessment of your kid. Especially after all the work to get me there.
In the end, with my Dad’s unwaivering support, I got an A on the 11+ and my grades at RBAI were good enough to warrant an invitation to interview at Oxford.
There is also an incident when I was 5, when I was attacked by a German Shepard police dog that inflicted some significant damage to my face. It is something that I barely remember and I’ve never felt affects me, but the physical scars are still obvious. I’ve very much grown to live with it but my dad, 30 years later, is welling up as he recalls,
“I thought we’d lost you that day”.
With a son approaching the same age now, it’s a terrifying thought. Hard to imagine, as a parent, how incredibly difficult it must be to experience, and live with the aftermath of, something as horrific as that attack.
4. What has been the most challenging aspect of being a father?
“There were hard periods but parenting itself was never HARD. Tough and tiring and testing of your self-confidence, but those periods exist alongside the fantastic moments of weekends in caravans or just pride in seeing your kid smile and succeed”.
He’s right, we parents may complain about lack of sleep or restrictions on social life, but in truth those complaints are counterbalanced, and usually outweighed, by the joys of parenting.
5. Do you think you changed when you became a father?
“The changes I made, upon becoming a father, were to consciously put parenthood first”.
My Dad had friends who continued playing golf every week or going out to the football matches. My dad gave up all these things and his spare time was taken up by caravaning with the family or supporting my brother and I in our sports. With hindsight, my Dad thinks he might have gone too far. He feels it may have been to his own detriment, in respect to maintaining personal friendships, that he focused so much on us.
I’ve sometimes felt that my Dad had this image of what a father is and when he found out he was going to become one, he adopted this persona, in place for himself.
I’ve always been keen for my kids to learn who I am as a person, and that that person is their father. So I continue to go to concerts, I continue to watch wrestling, things that I know my Dad thinks I should have given up years ago. Things that aren’t very “Dad-like”.
However, chatting to my Dad this evening, I realise two things. Firstly, my Dad did try to get me interested in things he enjoyed. He loves Liverpool Football Club and wanted to teach me golf. But, as a teenager, playing a non-contact sport was for old men and I hated football! I never realised, until recently, he simply wanted to hang out with his son.
Secondly, despite my rhetoric of wanting to remain ME, I have happily given up plenty of activities since becoming a Dad. I no longer skydive or ride a motorbike, and I haven’t played any serious rugby in years. This isn’t because I think they are dangerous or un-Dad like. I’d love to be the cool Dad down at the dropzone every weekend! But I’ve realised that its more important to be the cool Dad at home helping with homework on Wednesday evenings or in the play park on Saturday afternoons.
6. How do you think parenting has changed between your day and mine?
“Parents are more relaxed in general now. Google has done wonders for easing the unknowns of parenting. Never again will people have to rely on a Toddler Taming book”.
7. How do you think we differ as dads?
Dad seems hung up on the idea that he was too hard on me. He thinks I’m more relaxed with my son and daughter, and that that’s a good thing.
I didn’t think my parents were harsh although I do remember, when I came home with a 98% on a test my Dad would always ask:
“what happened to the other 2%”??
Also, as an adult, when I returned from a week of Arctic Survival training in the very north of Norway, I complained about how cold it had been, he told me:
“Cold? You don’t know cold! I’ve been watching this movie called March of the Penguins, That’s cold”!
8. What do you think is the most important thing a father can give his children?
I almost answered this question for him. It was a clear thread throughout our conversation that Dad has lived his whole life with a very strong work ethic. He still does, he is forever fixing things in my house without asking, telling me that if I don’t do it today it won’t get done. I’m very proud of him for all he has achieved in his life and that this work ethic has stood the test of time.
Honestly, though, I am concerned I don’t have the same type of grit that he does. I didn’t have to pull myself up the way he has. I’ve had a privileged life, thanks to him. I think it is the curse of many middle-class children to not acknowledge the struggles that have paved our path. Sure, I work hard and I push myself; but could I have followed the same route he did to get me into that little cap and shorts for Inchmarlo? I honestly don’t know. Maybe I do but it pales in comparison to the high standard he has set.
9. Is there anything you would go back and change in your parenting style?
“I wouldn’t have been so hard on you!”
The funny thing is that, when pressed for an example of his strictness, Dad cites making me say Please and Thank you. Surely this is what all parents do?! Does that make me strict too?
I guess I’ve not tied my son to the door knob yet, so I must be pretty chilled!
10. Do you have any fatherly advice for me?
“Hug them lots while they are young. Not because it gets worse but because as kids grow up they start to take off for themselves and the best you can do is try to hold on”.
There is a phrase my Dad sometimes says that hurts my feelings a bit.
He says that I “left home at 15”.
I didn’t. I left home at 18, to go to University, with a scholarship.
What he means is that I was so busy with all my clubs and societies that it was as if I didn’t live at home. I sometimes feel guilty about this, was I being selfish? Could I have been there a bit more for my brother? Could I have made my appreciation of my mum and dad more evident?
I think the truth is that parenting brings with it a tragic dichotomy. You want your children to grow up to be active, successful, independent adults but you also desperately don’t want to let them go.
You swiftly yearn for “Dada” to be shouted down the stairs again or just one more “But Daddy why is the sky blue AND the sea blue”?
I look at my kids now and I know it will be a criminally short time before they too are leaving home, physically or mentally. It’s not a transition I wish to think about often so I take my Dad’s advice. We finish the Guinness, give each other a hug, then I head home to hug my wee ones.