A Discussion With A Dad – Dave From The Secret Father

Hello Dave,

Thanks for letting me and my readers get to know you.

Dave is the blogger behind ‘The Secret Father

How long have you been blogging?

About 4 years.

How many children do you have and how old are they? 

My daughter is 7 and my son is 5.

What was the reason for starting your blog?

There were three main reasons; Firstly, to connect to others going through the same experience. It can be quite lonely and isolating in the first months of fatherhood. While lacking the intimacy of face to face contact, I have come to realise that the blog is a way of connecting to people on a global level in a way that previous generations of parents have simply not been able to do. I feel quite privileged in this respect.

Secondly I set up the blog as a way of capturing my experience in a way that I can eventually share with the kids. After he passed away, I realised I had no idea about my father’s experience of fatherhood, and that saddened me, so I set about documenting my experience so that the kids will be able to better understand that parenting is never black or white and that there are no such things as “the answers”. I want to get all my posts printed and professionally bound, so that when / if they ever have their own kids I can share the book of my experiences with them – primarily as a way of reassuring them that whatever they are feeling about being a new parent is likely not unique to them.

Lastly I set the blog up as free therapy. In those early months I found that writing was an excellent way to cope with the stress of being a new parent and the solidarity expressed by the global network that I was able to build was extremely supportive.

What is your blog about? 

The joy, chaos, fear and stress of embarking on the journey of fatherhood.

Where do you get your inspiration?

From two places; Primarily from my kids who provide enough source content on a daily basis to fill a library of books and secondly from other bloggers who made me realise that it was my blog, my voice and my experience that I was documenting. It meant I could experiment with styles, voices and approaches, different perspectives and ways of telling everyday stories. This is extremely liberating.

Are you a full-time blogger or do you work aswell?

I work full-time, and blog in my spare time. These days I don’t write as much. Interestingly I have far less desire and far less content to write about now that my kids are older. I am coming to the realisation that the catalyst for my most productive period of writing was the stress, fear and panic of being a new father!

How do you manage to fit blogging in to your daily life?

The ideas form in my head, maybe for days before I will actually sit down and start committing words to paper. The writing process is actually quite quick – I can knock a post out in 30mins during a lunch break or of an evening, and after a quick creative edit where I will look at the post in a different way, I often publish. But the post will be forming in my head for days before.

Did you follow any blogs before you started blogging? 

No. I started blogging and then got sucked into the blogging fraternity. It is quite addictive.

Where would be your ideal holiday? 

We ended up in Mauritius two years ago because we have friends there, and that was pretty much perfect. It has beautiful, safe beaches with lovely warm water; it’s a safe country with no dangerous animals or insects; the climate is perfect – not too hot and not too cold, and there was plenty to see and do for everyone. I remember on our first day, standing on Pereybere Beach and watching the kids run screaming with delight straight into the beautiful, warm pristine water. I had tears in my eyes, it was that perfect.

Otherwise any holiday without the kids. One of my most read blog posts (Bastard Holidays) was a piece about what holidays are like with kids. Someone actually wrote to me and said they had cancelled their family holiday having read it. I wasn’t sure if that was a good or bad thing.

What is your favourite activities to do with your family?

We all like the cinema and going to the theatre and also watching brainless Saturday night TV. The latter has become a bit of a holiday time / weekend ritual which we all look forward to. Otherwise we all like swimming, camping, playing ball games and visiting friends and family. It’s often the simple things that are most enjoyable with kids, so a walk in an autumn park and piling up the leaves can often quickly turn into The Best Thing Ever.

Do you have any plans on growing your family?

My wife had cervical cancer so that decision was pretty much taken out of our hands (and she had her life saved through a routine check up, so if there are any women reading this, go get your check-ups done). But to be honest I often compare photos of me pre- and post- children and I realise that two children is more than enough for me.

How do you relax when you get chance to?

I am quite sporty so I like to swim, go to the gym, play tennis etc when I get the chance. Basically though, I count anything that doesn’t require being shouted at or pestered by smaller, more annoying versions of myself, as downtime these days. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does it is bliss.

What qualities do you think are important for a parent?

There are too many to list; patience, humility, the ability to empathise and to listen, tenacity, resilience…. the list goes on. But ultimately, I would say that the best starting point is simply being present and involved. My fathers’ generation didn’t really see parenting as their domain and all the research and studies now show that an absent father is terribly damaging to children. Parenting is hard – bloody hell it is hard – but it is only hard because it is necessary.

What makes you laugh? 

Not much if I am honest, but the kids can sometimes make me laugh with what they say. The other day my daughter said “I like science. I want to be a sciencer when I grow up”. This made me laugh. It wasn’t just the fact she had made up an entirely feasible new word, but it was also the earnestness with which she said it. She was so definite she was going to be a sciencer.

What is your pet peeve?

It is the little everyday things that get my goat – like people not acknowledging you while you wait for them to pass on the road, people not saying please and thank you, people parking on double yellow lines, people dropping rubbish, over-consumption ….. I am aware that I should be grateful that this is all I have to get frustrated about and that these are little things, really, in the great scheme of things. But underlying it all is a thoughtlessness and selfishness which can actually lead to the bigger problems we face as a species.

Do your children do anything that gets under your skin? 

My son is so slow at doing anything and can be extremely stubborn, oppositional and defiant. He is a free spirit and is often half a road behind the rest of the family, playing with snail shells, leaves and dust while the rest of us are dashing off to the next thing. It drives me mad, particularly given that we have a very busy lifestyle which often requires very tight timetabling. I often have to stop and reflect that it is not the lifestyle he has chosen and that people move at different speeds. This is why holidays are so good. I can relax and slow down (a bit) and connect better with my son.

My daughter gets really frustrated very quickly with her homework and it is a huge flash point in our family. It has got to the point where I dread sitting down to help her with it. I try to stay positive, but she has very high expectations of herself and freaks out quickly if she doesn’t understand a concept immediately. We are trying to help her manage her own expectations and trying different approaches – for example I have started taking her to our local cafe where we spend a couple of hours at the weekend doing her homework over a hot chocolate and biscuits. We can take things a little more leisurely like this, and she is starting to see homework as more of a treat now. We even bump into her friends and they are at an age where they can help each other think through solutions to problems. I like this kind of communal / peer problem solving, especially as it means I can sometimes kick back with the papers and a coffee!

Has becoming a parent stopped you doing anything? 

When the kids were younger I felt the limitations of being a parent very profoundly – to the point where it felt like something had died in me. I eventually realised however that while I had lost a lot of my old persona, being a father resulted in a whole bunch of brilliant new experiences. I write about it in a blog called The death of me the birth of us. 

Now the kids are older I am able to do most of what I used to be able to do, but it has meant that I have had to rein in the spontaneity that used to be such a feature of my life. Everything I do now has to be much more planned and it has to be negotiated with my wife, way in advance, which can be a real drag.

I am still not really able to listen to the football on the radio on long car journeys, which I do miss, but the kids are now at an age where in its place I get to listen to Roald Dahl or David Walliams CDs and I do get a different type of pleasure from those!

How did you find the pregnancy? Was it difficult or a pleasure?

It was a phenomenal time, on both occasions. We were lucky to have had relatively straight forward pregnancies with not too much drama. It was unreal to watch my wife change and bloom in front of me, and I think we both marvelled at how sophisticated and amazing the human body really is. I think it was a real rite of passage for both of us, particularly my wife, and I saw her in a very different light after both pregnancies. It is hard not to be a bit star struck by someone who you already love, who has then nurtured and delivered a life. I wrote a blog post about the process of labour, it was so powerful.

What’s your favourite thing to do when you don’t have your children?

Go to the gym, lie in bed, read a book, listen to TED talks, go to the cinema, watch box sets, go for a run, meet up with mates, go for a bike ride, enjoy a few pints, sort out the garden….This is something else I have written about on my blog. When I do get a day or a weekend to myself I often find it hard to prioritize what to do, because I want to do everything that I normally cannot with two young kids hanging off my trousers.

If you could be a character in a TV show who would you be and why?

Jon Snow – deeply flawed, sometimes too proud to listen to better advice, but just trying to do the right thing.

What do you normally have for breakfast? 

Granola, fresh fruit (strawberries and blueberries) and coconut yoghurt with a tonne of nuts and seeds on top. It’s a brilliant start to the day and it also means that I can eat crap for the rest of the day and not worry about it. I make pancakes for the family on most Saturday mornings as a ritual too, it’s a great start to the weekend.

What is your favourite kids TV show and why?

My kids have outgrown it now but I genuinely used to like In the Night Garden. I found it gentle, reassuring and constant in an otherwise crazy, malignant and hectic universe. It also marked the final push and I would often risk opening a bottle of beer at the start of it, in preparation for the bedtime routine. It was a marker of the beginning of the transition into adult time and so I suppose it took on an extra meaning in my mind – a reminder that you had just about survived another day. I also used to like Justin’s House, Mr Bloom, Swashbuckle, Peppa Pig and Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom (what did parents do before CBeebies?!). These days I love watching Horrible Histories with the kids, but we are more into films these days.

Do you have any advice for first time parents?

I heard these two pearls of wisdom from fellow bloggers and they kind of stuck with me

“Parenting is hard because it is necessary”

“Everything is a phase; neither the good times nor the bad times last”

Otherwise my advice is read the books, listen to opinions, but trust your own instincts. Nobody knows your child better than you.

What’s your favourite time of year and why?

I love Spring. The nights are longer the whole family can get out more and the colours here in the UK are lush. We are lucky enough to live opposite a nature reserve so we see the seasons changing quite profoundly, but Spring is my favourite. It also signals the start of the silly season in the garden and I just love growing stuff and connecting to the soil and to nature in a way that my ancestors would have done. Nothing beats plunging your hands in cold soil and connecting with the earth.

What celebrity would you like to meet and why?

I am not really interested in celebrity culture. I would have liked to have met Queen Victoria, to understand what drove her. I would also have loved to have met the various Directors of the East India Company. It is bizarre to think that a company became a quasi global government. That level of impact is unthinkable today, even in the age of networked technology. I would also value conversations with people who were judged to be outcasts, rebels and terrorists in their time, but that history judged as quite the opposite – William Wilberforce, Nelson Mandela, John Garang, etc. I would want to know what motivated to carry on with their cause, despite such universal condemnation of it.

Have you met a celebrity before and if so who was it and how did it happen?

I met my guitar hero, Andy Bell from the bands Oasis and Ride in a park here in Oxford recently. He was just hanging out with his kid, just like me. It took me ages to pluck up the courage, but I am glad I went to say hello now, he was lovely and down to earth. We just chatted about day-to-day stuff. My daughter spoilt it all by badly stubbing her toe and needing emergency attention (there was blood everywhere) but it was a precious 10 minutes or so. He even remembered my name at the end, and said goodbye!

What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve done since becoming a parent?

Singing nursery rhymes in a room full of strangers. This is my idea of hell, and to make matters worse I remember my daughter looking up at me at the time as if to say “what the hell are you doing?”

Do you consider yourself a strict parent?

Yes and no. I have very clear expectations about social etiquette and meal times, clear rules about TV time and I express strong principles and values about how we need to treat fellow human beings. I am also pretty strict about the bedtime routine, and I don’t like too much deviation, and I am strict about being on time to places. Generally though I am pretty laid back, and at weekends and holidays we tend to relax the rules a lot.

Thank you very much to Dave from The Secret Father for being a great sport and taking part in ‘A Discussion With A Dad’.

Dave seems to be a great man and father. If you would like to know more about him then head over to his blog The Secret Father and follow him on Twitter @Secret_Father.

If you would like to take part in ‘A Discussion With A Dad’ then please email me at Chris@theopinionateddad.co.uk

As always thanks for reading and your support.

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