Tuesday, July 20, 2010

21st Century Dads

21st Century Dads.
For Father’s Day.
By Sue Leonard.

Published as the cover story in ‘Feelgood’ in the Irish Examiner, 18th June, 2010.

Once the family unit was sacrosanct. It consisted of a working dad; and a mum who cared for the kids. How things have changed! Now that mums work too, and divorce is commonplace, there are all kinds of functioning families. This father’s day let’s celebrate the dads who don’t meet the old stereotypes. What does fatherhood mean to them?
Declan Keaveney, 53, and from Maynooth separated from his wife in 2005. He, eventually, gained custody of his children, Coran, 14. Ciara, 12 and Cathal, 10, and his wife has since died. At first, Declan hired a nanny and continued working as a Garda. He adored his job, and gained constant promotion, but he gave it all up for the sake of his children.
“It was the best decision I ever made,” says Declan. “My children are so precious, and this is the most important time in their lives. I think it is vital for me to be there for them. I think one, or both parents should always be there. ”
Before he got custody, Declan took a parenting course.
“That was wonderful,” he says. “It gave me confidence. It was good to discuss ways of parenting with other parents.
“I give the children boundaries. I think kids like them. They test them occasionally to check they are still there.”
The best thing about being a dad, Declan says, is the satisfaction he gets seeing the children go off to school with a smile on their faces.
“To see that is fantastic. I got satisfaction from being a garda; from passing exams and from extra-curricular activities, but it was nothing compared to the satisfaction I get from parenting. It’s challenging, but life is no good if there are no challenges. The worst thing is when one of them gets hurt.”
Declan on Father’s Day.
“It doesn’t mean a whole lot, but I think fathers should be equal to mothers. It’s important to give fathers recognition.”
Xuan Busto, dad to Isolina, 6, and Fionn, 3, was once a computer engineer working with Intel. But three years ago, when he was offered redundancy, he decided to take it, and follow his dreams. A keen photographer, he set up a business, www.asturphoto.com, fitting his work around the children, whom he cares for at home.
“My wife, Shauna, works in admin in a university,” says Xuan. “The children were in a crèche full time early on. And we didn’t want that. After fifteen years of working in a job with a lot of stress, it was good to take a break. I may go back in the future, but right now, I’m enjoying being with the children.”
It’s not all easy. There are times when Xuan finds it difficult to keep his cool. Like when Fionn locked himself into the bathroom, or when the children spend their time fighting. And it can be lonely.
“I feel a bit left out at the school gates. I tend not to be included in ‘play dates.’ I had a friend who was an at home dad too. But he only lasted a year. That was hard for me. I miss him a lot.
“The best thing is getting to know the children. When they have a problem, they come to me. I love those intimate moments.”
“There are times I want to bang my head against a wall. Parenting is hard, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
“It’s good to give dad’s recognition. I think that’s important.”
Brian Finnegan, 45, is the editor of Gay Community News. When he was in his late teens, he wasn’t thinking about having children. Yet though he was gay, he wanted to be heterosexual.
“I was unhappy about being gay when I met my son’s mother. We hit it off, and began to have a sexual relationship. I thought, ‘hurrah I am part of the club.’
By the time Brian’s son was born, he realised he couldn’t be straight.
“We stayed together until he was a year old, to give each other support, and but by then I’d grown into myself. We separated, but we’ve always stayed friends. We take our role as parents very seriously and I’ve always stayed involved.
“My son was aware that I had my partner and that he was always part of my life; when we stayed in his mum’s house we always had ‘our room,’ but we didn’t tell him I was gay until he was nine. He took it well.
“The first time one of his friends asked, was when he was 17. He asked the friend how he knew and he said, ‘he has all the sex in the city DVD’s.’ We had a good laugh about that.
“Fatherhood is hugely important to me. And I know my role has been equally important to him. He has two male role models, his step father and myself. He’s been role modelled by a gay man who is liberal and a lover of equality and diversity in the world. Along with his mother, I’ve been instrumental in shaping who he has become.
“I know my relationship with my son is incredibly important to him. And he has grounded me in many ways I would not have been. He’s made me happier as a result for sure.”
“It’s usually the same day as my birthday, so father’s day gets shoved to one side. But it’s good to recognise fathers.”
When Pádraic McNamara, 23, first discovered he was to be a dad, he was shocked to the core.
“It was ‘whoa!’ I didn’t think I was ready,” says Pádraic. “It wasn’t planned. But when Darragh, now 10 months, was born, it was brilliant. I was at the birth and I was dazed with emotion.”
At the time Pádraic was living with Darragh’s mum, but the relationship didn’t work out. So he moved home to his mum in Mulhuddart. He has custody of Darragh for three or four days every week – usually from Monday until Thursday, leaving him free to work over the weekend.
“Being a dad is really rewarding,” says Pádraic. “It’s delightful just to watch your son, and to see how quickly he grows, and how quickly he learns. Darragh has given me a sense of meaning and purpose; he’s given my life a sense of direction.
“He’s a little angel. There’s not a bother on him. He’s easy to look after and he’s a great lad. He’s always happy. When I was still with Laura I missed my freedom, but I still have that now. My mother has taken to the grandmother role well. If I’m working – as a barman- she will mind Darragh for me.
“I have great plans for Darragh. I want him to learn languages and to learn a musical instrument. I want him to have better than I had. I’ll teach him strong family values. I’m determined to be a good dad.”
“My father was absent from a young age, so I never celebrated it. It’s just a date, a bit like Valentine’s Day. You should be a good dad all the time. It means nothing.”
Liam Duff, now 21, hadn’t planned to become a dad at nineteen, but he’d always wanted to be a young dad.
“I always thought that would be good,” says Liam. “My father was 35 when he had me. I was always aware of that gap.”
A 3rd year student at UCC – Liam misses out on the extra-curricular activities. It’s an hour’s bus trip to get home to Kinsale, to Hugo, and to his partner, Charlotte Cargin.
“People say, ‘shouldn’t you be travelling, or in nightclubs binge drinking,’ but I was never, really into all that. I enjoyed my Leaving Certificate holiday, but even in first year, before I had Hugo, I got bored with it. It seemed trivial and a waste of money.
“The best thing about being a dad, is Hugo’s ability to be always happy. However upset you might be, Hugo will come in and give you a hug. If he walks into a room you can’t help but smile. He’s always jumping around smiling. It’s contagious and has an uplifting effect. He can be frustrating, and I get frustrated with him, but that’s a small thing.
“I hope Hugo and I have a good mutual respect for each other. I hope I can be a good friend who can influence him. I’d like to help him acquire a good spiritual compass, because if one has that, life can be much easier.”
“I think fathers should be recognised, but I’m not sure father’s day is the way to do it.”
© Sue Leonard. 2010.

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