Pitfalls of the Modern Dad Movement

Pitfalls of the Modern Dad Movement

Our generation has seen a definite shift in expectations of the man of the house. It’s not uncommon for dads to be much more involved with their children than our fathers before us. In addition to being the main bread winner for the family, modern dads are accustomed to playing more of a part in the household duties and bucking the stereotypical trends of yesteryear.

It’s a far cry from my upbringing.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to give you a sob story. My upbringing was fantastic albeit tumultuous at times with respect to the old boy. Admittedly, I was a very sensitive and highly anxious child and Dad’s parenting style involved strict adherence to the old-school views of masculinity (a direct result of his own upbringing) which didn’t lend itself to my sensitive nature.

“Harden up. Stop being such a pussy“.

I didn’t connect well with my dad during my formative years. He did shift work at a coal mine so I didn’t see him much. I know that memories can be easily screwed but I don’t often remember him being involved with my sport or school life. I can’t remember him cooking or cleaning much and I had to battle to spend time with him. When we did spend time together I often felt myself trying to prove my masculinity to him, and failing dismally. Having grown up and experiencing what it means to work and provide for my own family, I now understand a little better that he would have only been working hard to do just that. He was probably just exhausted all the time but that’s not what a child sees.

However, at times I absolutely needed a firm hand to help force me out of my comfort zone. A good example is when I was too afraid to swim in the local public pool because I genuinely believed it was shark infested after seeing the swimming club logo of a shark on a sign next to the pool, which my young mind considered a warning sign. This was a problem because I was supposed to be competing in club night and it would have caused mayhem amongst my peers had I warned them of our supposed impending doom.

Dad’s solution was to simply hurl my tiny, frightened body directly into the (non) shark infested pool.

In what can only be described as a manic frenzy, I worked my way to the edge of the pool completely unencumbered by any form of marine life (emotional scars, on the other hand, were inflicted). It seems cruel but it is exactly what I needed at that time and I spent the proceeding years winning numerous swimming competitions. Dad’s action was the catalyst for lessons I learnt in the importance of hard work and discipline. Whenever I needed an extra boost whilst competing, I would imagine I was being chased by my Dad.. riding a fucking great white.

In stark contrast, let me introduce you to the Modern Dad. He works full time, cooks dinner, changes nappies, washes clothes, plays with the kids, gets involved with their learning and also tries hard to be a good husband. He’s a top bloke and family is his number one priority. He’s also exhausted and under an immense amount of pressure to perform in the mantle of a ‘Modern Dad’. Sound familiar?

Then, we have the Modern Influencer Dad. This guy can be seen publicly performing household duties whilst brandishing a child attached to his body with an overpriced human carrier, via his social media page. He posts lovely blurbs about how amazing his wife and kids are, everything is perfect, he has heaps of money and well-known brands like to provide him with complementary products to prove that he is a fantastic dad, and you could be too. His name is Steve.

Whilst he’s a top bloke and loves his family, Steve’s a bit of a problem for the average Modern Dad.

I have personally struggled with the expectations of the Modern Dad. It’s tough because obviously I want what is best for my family but I also don’t want to completely lose myself in the process. It’s difficult to find that balance. For instance, it is difficult for me not to feel guilty when partaking in my hobbies because I should be doing something that benefits the whole family. A quick scroll on social media has left me feeling deflated because other dads appear to be better fathers to their children or husbands for their wives. Ultimately this just leads to a nasty cycle of feeling inadequate or a little lost.

Our kids are watching and learning from our every move. Whilst it’s important to exhibit the desirable characteristics of the Modern Dad, we need to make sure we are also taking care of our own wellbeing. Importantly, our kids will learn from that too.

No dad is perfect. The best thing we can do as fathers is be present, learn from our mistakes (we will make many)and look after ourselves in the process.

The FIFO Conundrum

The FIFO Conundrum

I imagined the FIFO lifestyle would be the ideal working situation. Company funded jet setting across the countryside, racking up the frequent flyer points, set roster, good money and the chance to pursue a fantastic career opportunity on a $150M+ construction project.

The truth is, I really struggled with the FIFO lifestyle on a personal level. I was very unhappy being away from my wife and two young girls. Life always felt temporary, living out of a suitcase, the work was hard, stressful and being in Central Queensland, it was pretty fucking hot.

Temperature in the HiLux on 13th February 2018 (it was at least 5 degrees hotter on site)

It wasn’t easy for my family either. Apart from dealing with my general absence, when I was home, I was not exactly a delight.

When I would arrive home for my 3 days off after working 11, my little family had moved on with life without Dad around and had their own routine. I was an outsider, struggling to adapt to the home routine without completely upsetting the apple cart. I failed miserably at that… apples everywhere.

To my kids, I was the cranky guy who would show up occasionally, try to tell them what to do, then leave. To my wife, I was the cranky husband who would show up occasionally, cause fights, then leave.

I was stuck in a depression loop. I felt sad before heading back to work (not just the typical Monday blues, but properly sad), and I struggled to sleep the first night away. After a few days I would eventually settle into my away routine. This mainly consisted of going to work then back to the accommodation to drink myself to sleep. Then it was just repeating the bad habits until it was time to travel home where I would feel like an outsider all over again.

Repeat.

A consistent and extremely unhealthy cycle. It was time to instigate some changes.

My wife and I decided that the career opportunity was too good to pass up, so I worked on accepting the FIFO component. I started by attempting to establish a healthy routine which I believe to be the key element for improving mental wellbeing.

Alcohol is fantastic for temporarily helping you to forget about your issues but unfortunately in the long run, it only serves to make everything worse (revelation, I know). So, I went cold turkey and participated in Dry July whilst actively raising money for the cause. This really did have a positive impact and I felt generally healthier.

I began exercising in the afternoons after work instead of drinking. Just simple jogging down the road and listening to Nike Training Podcasts. It was a great little stress reliever and mood improver. I continued this habit in my breaks and my wife even commented on my mood improvement following a run in the afternoon. There’s a lot to be said for the link between exercise and mental wellbeing. The exercise habit made me want to eat healthier and the effects of my new healthy routine were compounded.

It had the added benefit of reducing the size of my beer belly.

Results of my evening run – excellent mood improver – runner’s high

To help me get to sleep I began practicing meditation before bedtime. As a self-professed, hardened construction worker, I was extremely sceptical of meditation. I thought it was a hipster wanker trend, but I was desperate and gave it a go. I have to say, I am absolutely converted and meditate using the free guided meditation sessions on the Headspace app nearly every night.

I also actively tried to be more involved with the kids and their routines when I was on my break. I learned more about their habits, the food they liked and didn’t like and just simply spent more time with them. This, along with the healthy habits I worked on while I was away generally improved my mood, and my relationship with my wife who was always super supportive.

My situation has now changed and I am in pursuit of a different career opportunity. Unfortunately, I am still doing FIFO work, but on a better roster (5:2) than the last project. Long term this will also lead to a position where I can be home every night.

So, why do we do it? Why do we put ourselves through this? For me, it was a financial and career path decision. Ultimately, it was the best way I could provide for my family. However, it got to the point where I was doing more harm than good, and something had to give.

During the 2 years on the project, I had the opportunity to speak with many other workers on the same FIFO or DIDO arrangements and to my surprise, every bloke I spoke to was dealing with the same issues as me. Some were coping better than others, but we were all in the same boat and this highlighted the importance of simply talking about it. There is comfort in knowing you aren’t alone and there are things you can do to help deal with the many shortfalls of the FIFO lifestyle.

FIFO is hard – but it’s hard not to appreciate the beautiful views

There is also a fantastic organisation in the Construction Industry called MATES in Construction which provides mental health support to workers and will even speak at toolbox meetings on site: http://matesinconstruction.org.au

If you can relate to this, please reach out either to a work mate or via this forum. You definitely are not alone.


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How to Holiday with Kids

How to Holiday with Kids

Sometimes it feels like my kids will do everything in their power to ruin our relaxing family getaway. As if their evil little sub-conscious is aware that the adults need time to recharge and they get a kick out of seeing us stressed.

Take our most recent holiday for example. Our youngest girl cut her first tooth the day before we left and our normally perfect little angel temporarily morphed into the spawn of Satan himself.

Our eldest little girl also decided that no matter what she received, it wasn’t enough for her. The whinging was relentless.

The pair of them have a supernatural sisterly bond which allows them to cause as much disruption to their parents’ plans as possible. They work together to ensure that whilst one is content the other is wreaking havoc. Occasionally, when they get bored with the status quo attention seeking they will begin to work together, ensuring none of us are enjoying the experience.

Although this does seem a bit extreme, fellow parents will understand. Kids can be shits.

Fortunately, we did learn some ways to make the most of our time away so everyone in the family could enjoy it. Unfortunately we learnt most of our lessons on the penultimate day of our holiday. Nonetheless, if we ever decide it would be fun to holiday together as a family again, this is what we will do:

Ignore the Clock

You are on holidays after all. Relax. Unwind. Recharge.

If you’re a great bloke you’ll let the cheese and kisses sleep-in while you get the kids ready since she’s been up with them all night while you’ve been obliviously cutting trees down with your snore-saw.

Don’t get too worried about adhering to plans because the little units will make it hard to do anything on time.

Our favourite day (and last day) was the one that began with breakfast at lunch time. We had a loose plan of kid friendly activities without any time constraints and it worked well. We all had a lot of fun.

Food

One of our biggest issues was the time it took us to get ready to leave the hotel room each morning for breakfast. Every day we were all tired due to teething issues (get it?) and didn’t wake up until fairly late in the day. Adults need caffeine and kids need food in their mouth the instant they wake up otherwise everyone ends up hangry.

We were completely unprepared for this (my fault for not wanting to do groceries while we were on holidays) but having a bit of food in stock is critical – even if you mostly plan on eating out like we did as there were limited facilities in our room.

One thing you can generally rely on is tea and coffee facilities available in your accommodation for the caffeine fix, however I certainly won’t be drinking a beverage comprised of the coffee flavoured dirt often supplied in hotel accommodation #coffeesnob. So it’s struggle street until we can get to the nearest caffeine dispensary outlet.

Wear Them Out

The last night of our four night holiday was by far the best any of us had slept the whole time. We were all completely spent from swimming in the pool and a cycling a four wheel bike around all afternoon.

On second thoughts, this activity wore us out more than the kids

My advice for this would be to keep the kids doing the physically exhausting activities while you drink beer and provide general encouragement.

Distractions

Keeping the younglings entertained when you want to spend some time chatting to your beautiful wife is tricky, but worthwhile if you can pull it off. I know it goes against the parenting code but we occasionally allowed our eldest daughter to watch a movie on the iPad while we ate our meals. The youngest daughter was happy chewing on a teething rusk.

I know, I know. Not great, but it worked for us. There are other substitutes such as books or toys that may suffice to keep the children occupied long enough for you to enjoy your meal and have one of those rare adult conversations about things that aren’t related to the kids, like you used to have before you had kids.

Leave Without Them

If all else fails you have no choice but to leave without the kids. Of course I mean before you set off on your next holiday, not leave them and go home from your current holiday.

Seriously though, parent’s do benefit from some time without the kids even if only for a date night or even to spend a few hours at home together.

It’s not always possible but take those opportunities when you can. Your relationship will be better for it.


So when you see other parents stressed on their relaxing getaway, be sure to give them an empathetic smile in acknowledgment of the struggles you share. We are in this together.

Embracing time with the family

I think it’s also important to embrace the time away with the kids. As a working Dad, I find that I don’t get much opportunity to truly bond with my girls due to the business of day-to-day life. So I genuinely enjoy the holiday period for that reason. It is a chance to slow down and really appreciate the little family you have created and the joy that comes with that.

Enjoy the next holiday and make the most of the time you get to spend with the kids.