Culture Street


Top Tips for Dads

On September 2, 2014

Father's Day is this Sunday. A day when we celebrate the champion in our life. The man who cradled us as a child, guided us through the difficult years and continues to support us unconditionally through our adult years.

As we get close to the big day Peter Downey shares his parenting tips. He is the author of three marriage and parenting books and was listed in The Bulletin magazine as one of Australia's Top Ten parenting authors. Although he has a Bachelor, Masters, and Doctoral degrees in Arts and Education and a diploma in Biblical Studies, he feels like a guy writing a book about automotive engineering when all he’s done is worked part-time in a carwash. As well as being a hands-on dad to three children, Peter Downey is also Deputy Principal of St Luke’s Grammar School in Sydney.

How does this guide differ from the one you wrote twenty years ago?
Back then, guys weren’t strapping GoPros to their wife’s inner thigh to capture the birth. When I wrote the book twenty years ago, I advised dads to hire a “pager” (do you even know what that is?) so that when their wife went into labour, she had a way of notifying him. And to have a bag of 20c coins in their bag so they could use the public phone in the hospital to phone their family with their “new baby news”. Point is this: times have changed. But some things don’t change: the important role a dad plays in supporting their wife through pregnancy and labour and being important in helping their child to grow up to be confident, emotionally stable, to feel loved and to know how to treat other people. And 20 years ago… there was no such thing as “the jogger pram” or the internet. Both of these have buggered up parenting big time.

What words of wisdom would you give to an expectant dad?
Most blokes haven’t spent a great deal of time growing up fantasising about being a dad. Those thoughts are reserved for being a rock star or sports legend. So fatherhood often comes out of the blue. On top of that, some blokes haven’t exactly had a good role model in their own dad. So we find ourselves wondering, “what does it mean to be a Dad?” “How do we do it?” It’s okay to feel apprehensive, scared and inadequate. Here’s the thing: pretty well every bloke on the planet before you, including your own dad, felt the same way. They started from scratch too, And if they can do it, you can too. Unless there is something really wrong with you.

How does the role of a real-life dad differ from the dads depicted in the media?
The media tends to depict the extremes, because that is more entertaining. ‘Media dads’ are either fabulous, skilled and capable (square jawed models in nice sweaters, with gorgeous wives, both laughing with their amazing teeth while gazing lovingly at their clean newborn who was born sans umbilical cord) or inept twits (any dad movie with Adam Sandler in it). Real dads are a bit more mundane, both a bit fabulous and a bit rubbish: Wearing a bad tracksuit and trying to put their baby to sleep by swaying back n forth at 2am, thinking about work, and clumsily banging their baby’s head on the end of the cot when they try to lower it in.

Has being a dad changed your approach to educating students?
Being a dad has helped me realise that life is not always so clean cut. Families are busy, vibrant and messy. When my students turn up to school or walk into my lesson, I know that they might be bringing with them all sorts of baggage from the night before or even that morning, some of it good, some of it a burden. It has made me more flexible in my demands on them. It doesn’t mean they get off doing work or the don’t need a haircut. It just means I want to get along side them and help them realise that they need a haircut.

You have a helpful list of parental educational films in your book. Can you share a few with us?
I have a soft spot for “Parenthood” and “She’s Having a Baby”, both which balance the joys of parenting with the challenges. Also “Babies”, a highly acclaimed doco about four different babies. As the name suggests. I tend to avoid movies with too much star power (anything with Katherine Hiegl or Hugh Grant); any movies that portray the UTBP (Universal Television Birth Position = woman on back with feet in stirrups); and avoid Ep4, S3 of The Walking Dead where a main character has a c-section with her son’s pocket knife, while zombies roam outside.

So You're Going To Be a Dad: 20 Year Anniversary Edition by Peter Downey is published by Simon & Schuster and is out now.

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