School For Dads? – Whatever Next!
SCHOOL FOR DADS.
Being a dad as we all know is an incredibly hard but rewarding job. But the skills needed aren’t actually taught anywhere.
We, as blokes are meant to be a natural at pretty much everything, except unlike a cupboard full of DIY projects, babies don’t come with an instruction manual. (That in itself is a massive design fault).
So just imagine if there was somewhere you could go and ask questions, develop an array of everyday needed dadhacks. Or, more importantly, just pipe up and say ‘I am f’cking terrified of being a dad. I’ve read all the books and been to all the NCT classes etc. but I still don’t have a bloody clue, and I want some help’ without any fear of ridicule.
Ideally, it would be, something like a school for dads – Well, not strictly a school more a course. A course of a few sessions down the pub with a load of other blokes talking about being a dad.
Yeah, that sounds like a pretty groovy idea, doesn’t it? And it is an idea had by a dad of soon to be two, Dave Perrins, whom back in January this year started ‘The Dad Course’ (DC). DC is ‘a Brighton-based organisation that aims to equip and encourage new dads to be the best parents they can be. We offer practical, interactive and relaxed courses providing a blend of practical skills, chances to hear from experienced dads, useful information and space for honest conversations.’
School for Dads – The Dad Course Interview
On the eve on Dave’s talk at this year’s TedX Brighton, aptly called ‘We Could Be Heroes’, we stuck him in the Hype hot seat to see if the DC is all it is cracked up to be or a just an excuse for blokes to go down the pub.
Dave, tell me about the background to DC, how did it come about and is it just an excuse for blokes to go down the pub and whinge?
So The Dad Course started up off the back of my experience of having a child. I went on a great antenatal course with my wife; we learned loads but it was heavily focused on the birth and, breastfeeding aside, there wasn’t loads of information about the practical stuff that comes next.
As time went on, I came across more and more men who hadn’t had the same good luck, or same kind of people around them and I wanted to do something for them. I’ve learned a lot but I’m not a midwife or a healthcare professional, so I decided the best thing to do would be to bring dads-to-be together with myself and other experienced dads to gain confidence, skills and knowledge for fatherhood as well as build a bit of a support network. We cover lots, and the guys have found it helpful. As for a chance to go to the pub and whinge… Maybe!
I feel like if that’s what a dad needs then, I’m up for it. We try and keep it dad focused and let them take the lead regarding what they need, so if they just need to get stuff off their chest and have a pint with other people in the same boat, that’s fine. There aren’t too many spaces to talk honestly and openly with other guys in the same position at that stage so hope to provide that. That said, there’s a lot more to it, and we hope dads go away having learned some useful practical stuff…
What does the word ‘Dad’ mean to you?
It’s loaded! I know it’ll evoke different things for different people. But for me being a dad means loving your kids, being there for them, encouraging and supporting them and putting them before you. I don’t want to be too specific, for me, one of the things that are critical for dads is not to feel they have to be a certain way, like really strong or bringing discipline – it might be that your partner is way better at that. What’s important is to bring who you are into fatherhood, if that’s the strong thing – great! But if that’s being kind and sensitive and gentle then that’s great too. Be you.
What was your own relationship like with your Father, did it cloud your view?
No, I have a really positive relationship with my dad and always have done. He is a very straightforward guy, who is very loving and has a very calm character. We’re quite similar I think really we’ve always gotten on well. Definitely a role model for me. I realise though that it’s not that way for many, many people, but I’m lucky – we all learn a lot about parenting from our parents (for better or worse). I’ve learnt so much from my dad that was another motivation in getting The Dad Course started – for those that don’t have a dad that they can have learnt as much from.
Lessons in how to be a dad should be compulsory yet we as men our assumed that we can naturally pick it all up – What was the biggest lesson you have learnt as from being a dad?
Wow. Big question! What I guess is that in one sense we are wired to do this. I’ve learned that I really do have a paternal instinct and it’s great to go with your gut and learn by doing and make a few mistakes and get better. But that instinct gets sharper – we never talk about it, but that instinct is there – so embrace it.
The media seem to have a fixation with the perception of dads as buffoons. We are babysitters that can’t change a nappy. This needs to change, how to you think DC can help that happen?
Yeah definitely, it’s something I’ve really noticed since becoming a dad. I think quite simply helping dads have the skills and knowledge will go some way. But culture doesn’t change quickly, so I think it’s up to each of us as dads to not allow ourselves to fall back into those stereotypes. – Because hey if it’s OK for me to be rubbish and lazy and it’s automatically OK for me to leave the kids with mum every Saturday for 5 hours while I play golf then why shouldn’t I?! , So it’s about living out a different way, taking the lead and showing that dads want to be involved, they love their kids, they care enough to take time to learn stuff. My primary thing is not that guys go away from TDC stuffed with knowledge, but that they go away ready to love and care for their kids and spend time and invest in them. That’s going to look different for every dad, but I think if we all do it in our own ways then great!
What’s the worst dad related stereotype that you’ve come across?
I think one of the most frustrating is the subtle stuff where I get loads of praise for doing something and if my wife does it people barely flinch. For example, my wife and I have both built retreat time into our diaries each year, where twice a year we go away for a couple of nights on our own. It’s really important to us. When I did this, particularly when Blake was younger, people would give me so much praise – ‘Oh man it’s amazing you do that’, ‘How are you finding it without mum’, etc. When Abby did it, people barely blinked! I think it’s a shame for dads and mums and actually, says a lot about how we see those roles and our expectations of them.
What does being part of the ‘Dad 2.0’ generation mean to you?
I don’t go in for labels too much, but I really like what the whole Dad 2.0 thing is about. I think that we’re making lots of progress as dads and there’s still a long way to go. One thing I love is that it allows freedom to both mums and dads.
I’m so glad that I get to spend so much time with my son, there’s no way I would have wanted to miss out on all the great times we’ve had together and I feel like my investment in him has really borne some strong bonds between us. And I think it’s really positive not just to default into classic gender roles, although they may work great for lots of people.
What do dads get from DC that they don’t get from NCT?
Well, I think NCT and other antenatal classes tend to focus very heavily on the birth and technicalities of that. We look at that but don’t go into detail too much, focusing instead on how dad can support at the birth. So we recommend dads do that, but we’re different. As well as thinking about birth our course is very practical and hands on, we look at how you can be a great dad rather than just a great birth partner so give attention to after the birth – both practical skills and how to look after your baby.
We also spend time chatting as dads and trying to go a bit deeper regarding how we’re feeling/thinking about stuff and preparing ourselves for what to come, because although it’s brilliant, it’s an absolute rollercoaster.
Name your top five ultimate dads role models?
Well, I’m going to be pretty plain – it’s the dads around me that I see and know who I have maximum respect for, which maybe isn’t very handy for an article where you’re trying to get other people interested! So I’m going to say…
My Dad, Steve – Was a great dad to me, always patient, kind and loving. Allowed me to follow my own path in life and let me make my own decisions. He gave me a good balance of structure and discipline but also the freedom to be open minded and go my own way.
My Grandad, Len – He raised my dad and his brother by himself from when they were very young after his wife died. In the 50s men didn’t do that kind of stuff, you know? I can’t even imagine the kind of sacrifice and determination it takes to do that. Being a single dad is tough now, imagine what it was like back then. Incredible.
My friend Mark Campbell – He runs a great pie company (Higgidy), but that’s not why I’ve chosen him. We lived with him and his wife when my wife and I were pregnant and house hunting. He showed me the benefits of being positive as a parent, of going for it and getting stuck in. I saw him as a dad first-hand and learned loads from him practically. And also, how many people would take in a couple of friends for five months when you have a young baby of your own?! He didn’t let having a kid be an excuse to stop being who he is.
Another friend, this time, Ben Szobody – Ben has 6 (6!) kids. And he and his wife still go out for dinner at friends’ houses (they take the kids with them and put them down there – yes all 6 of them), do the things they love and live a totally great and different kind of lifestyle. So many people when they become parents say they can’t do X or Y because they have to stay in with the kids. Ben shows that you CAN do X or Y if you want to and prioritise it. And even I would say that it’s important to do so.
The last one, I better pick one that everyone knows, or it’ll be very boring. I’m going to go with Liam Neeson in Taken.
So considering Dave has a business to run, another baby due to pop literally any moment and a talk at a little thing called TedX to prepare for, I’d like to say a massive thank you to him, for fitting us in.
Schools For Dads….Yeah, I like that idea, a lot.