Dad's the word
No instruction manual can fully prepare you for fatherhood and no advice fits all dads. On the day before Father's Day, Susan Daly speaks to some well-known Irish dads about the joys -- and challenges -- of fatherhood
Published 14/06/2008 | 00:00
Author Mark Twain understood that being a father is sometimes a thankless job. "When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years," he wrote, tongue firmly in cheek.
First-time fatherhood was nothing like what Gift Grub genius Mario Rosenstock expected -- it was "much better!" Mario and wife Blathnaid are the besotted parents of nine-month-old son Dashiel, who is already showing signs of his dad's talent for mimicry.
"We just loved the name Dashiel, but we call him Dash or Dashie. Just after the birth, the obstetrician asked us his name and said: 'Oh, like Dash from The Incredibles', and I had no idea what he was talking about. I never went to animated films because I didn't have a child before then!" Mario says.
"My wife Blathnaid and I were pretty much waiting for it a long time, so we were quite cautious when she fell pregnant. But once a certain number of months had gone by, I was over the moon.
"I'm a real hands-on dad now," he says. "I do the late-night feeds and get him ready for bed in the evenings, and do the early shift on the weekend.
"It wasn't at all what I expected after he was born. Friends had been throwing up their eyes to heaven, saying: 'You won't know what hit you! It'll be like a bomb in your life.' But I totally disagree. It was fantastic. Here we have this new addition, a new friend, someone for us to love and take care of, and someone to love us back. Every single moment has been a celebration.
"Don't get me wrong, we don't have it idyllic," Mario adds. "He doesn't sleep well at the moment, but I guess the honeymoon period won't be over till he tries to borrow money off me.
"I loved when he said 'dada' for the first time and he's mimicking already -- that's a good sign for the family business. If I clap my hands for him, he will clap his hands the same number of times.
"I'm really looking forward to him crawling -- when he has that first independence to move and we can stand back and go, 'Oh, that's where you want to be.'
"I can't think beyond the moment right now but in the future, I wouldn't care what he did. All I can do is enable him to be as happy as he can. I would not be a prescriptive parent.
"My only fears for him are in the short-term, when he gets moving about and we are trying to keep him safe from crawling," he says.
"We'll have to insulate the house in war survival kit, and have that rubber material covering everything. The next thing we're going to buy are those gates to keep him behind so he doesn't go headfirst down the stairs.
"His favourite toy is my mobile, which he likes to eat. Oh yes, and he likes to eat newspapers, so maybe he'll be a journalist.
"I'm glad I didn't have a child until I was in my thirties," says Mario. "When I was in my late twenties, and this is not a blithe statement, I was often working until midnight, trying to build this radio thing.
"I think I have only spent two days away from Dash in the last nine months. I just want to be with him all the time and love him and look after him."
A whole new horizon opened up for RTE political correspondent David Davin-Power when he became a father five years ago for the second time round. Son Ben was born to David and his concert pianist wife Dearbhla Collins, sister of renowned pianist Finghin Collins and is doted upon by David's three older children from another marriage, Nicholas, 29, Caroline, 26, and Julia, 24.
"I wasn't the slightest bit apprehensive about becoming a dad again, even though I'm now in my mid-fifties. On the contrary, I was delighted.
"My only fear was how the older children might react to it but they were great," he says. "Ben was five last week on June 10 and the older children love babysitting their little brother -- they are always in and out of the house visiting anyway.
"Having a little lad gives you a new, more rounded view of life in your fifties," says David. "It opens up the horizons once again -- you begin to think about where you will be when he graduates. It's certainly a target to aim for. But I mean that in a positive sense; it's not really something that preys on my mind.
"I would certainly be a bit more easy-going and less critical this time round. It's a function of having done it before. You are more laid-back; I might have been a bit more intolerant of tantrums when Nicholas was five, say.
"I have a fairly positive outlook on the future that is waiting for Ben. My older children were reared through the 1980s, which was a horrendous time for Ireland really and we weren't sure how stable the economic future would be.
"But the future looks very rosy for somebody of Ben's age, who might be coming into the labour market in 20 years time," he says. "It's funny, but I really wouldn't be thinking in these terms if I didn't have a five-year-old to think about.
"He's a very aware little fellow. He'll notice I'm on the television and the other night he said to me: 'You don't talk about Bertie on the television any more -- is Biffo the boss now?'
"He has come in and out of the Dail with me, but I think it is more to do with the fact that we live around the corner from Bertie.
"It's intriguing how he picks things up," says David. "My wife Dearbhla is a professional musician and sometimes teaches at the house. Now, Ben has this extraordinary grasp of how music works -- he can tell the difference between a cello and a violin just by listening to them."
A bright outlook
TV weatherman and broadcaster Martin King has been a dad four times over, and feels his parenting style is getting "more relaxed with each year". His wife Jenny has a son Dean, 18, and Martin has two older children, Victoria, 16, and James, 14. Martin and Jenny have two sons together, Matthew, eight, and Alex, who will be five on Father's Day.
"I suppose my style of parenting has changed over the years. I'm a little more relaxed now, especially when it comes to the older ones. I'm letting go, willing to give them their independence. Maybe five or six years ago, I would have been a lot more strict. Jenny says that yes, absolutely, I let the younger ones away with more now too.
"It still doesn't seem so long since my eldest children were born," he says. "When Victoria arrived, I remember thinking how absolutely gorgeous she was -- and my next thought was, 'Oh God, I'm going to have to deal with boyfriends for her!'
"Being a dad changed my whole perspective on the world, but one of the biggest things to change was my attitude towards money. It just wasn't as important to me as it was before the kids came along. I will always want to be able to provide for my children, but being with them is more important.
"Even now, if days go by when I don't see the older kids -- they live mostly with their mum -- I will always see to it that we talk every day on the phone," says Martin. "The purpose of the call is to find out how their day has been but it also gives me the chance to say each and every day that I love them.
"The nice thing about being on the phone is that you have to talk. I can sit at home with Matthew, for example, and we could be watching TV and not talking. Being in the same room as your children doesn't always mean spending quality time with them -- communication is everything.
"I'm always fearful when they go out socially and we have told them that if they are out and trouble flares up to get away from it. Just walk away. I hope they will follow that advice through, especially the boys. The value of life has become very cheap -- it seems like every other day you hear about some kid who has been stabbed, especially in the UK.
"The main thing is that I still enjoy every little moment and event in the kids' lives," he says. "My mum and dad told me to appreciate every moment because it goes by very quickly.
"I think what I do for a living is a little different so it gets me a bit of kudos with the kids. Just a little. I might arrive home and say to one of the kids, 'I said hello to you tonight on the TV' and they go, 'Oh, I missed that -- I was watching the Simpsons on another channel!'"
Hitting the right note
Singer and TV presenter Brian Ormond was only 21 when he found out he and his then girlfriend Natara were going to be parents, a discovery that would send most young men into shock. But Brian took impending fatherhood in his stride and "fantastic" Chloe, seven, is the apple of his eye.
"It seems like a long, long time since we first found out Natara was pregnant. But I wasn't scared -- some guys would be, maybe, but I just didn't feel afraid of being a dad at that age. I remember saying to Natara that there was no point worrying too much; we would just get on with it. But I've got brothers, sisters and cousins and I always babysat them when I was growing up.
"I was lucky, too, in that I had just given up an electrician apprenticeship to try to concentrate on singing, so I was around a lot," he says. "Everything changed when Chloe arrived. I reallyhad to think about her in every decision I made.
"I have Chloe every Tuesday and Saturday now and sometimes it changes depending on my or Natara's work, because we split up some time back.
"She's a fantastic little kid with this great sense of humour," says Brian. "To some extent, she seems older than her years, in the way that I was as a kid myself. But she's still just a little girl. I look at my friend, [singer] Mickey Harte and his daughter is 17. He says it's all ahead of me.
"It's only recently that Chloe's got to the stage where she plays up the whole embarrassment thing. You know, 'Ah, dad, don't kiss me goodbye in the schoolyard, only in the car'.
"Chloe's into Irish dancing now and choir, the Billy Barry kids and swimming, but I'd never force her into anything. The day she doesn't want to do something, that's her choice," he says.
"She didn't take a bit of notice when I was on You're A Star. Yet I'd arrive home and she'd be telling me how the various contestants went wrong, saying, 'Ah, Dad, sure that song didn't suit her at all'. She hits the nail on the head every time.
"My girlfriend Pippa [O'Connor] gets on brilliantly with Chloe. Pippa's a model and sometimes they would be playing with make-up or clothes and I would be giving out, 'Don't be putting make-up on you. You're too young!'"
Brian Ormond and Mickey Joe Harte will be holding music workshops around the country for the month of July. For more information, see www.musicooleurope.com