Fatherhood Through the Decades
By Sue Leonard
Pubished as the Cover Story in the Irish Examienr. June 17th 2011.
Once the role of a father was clear. He’d pace the floor whilst his wife gave birth; he’d get legless ‘wetting the baby’s head’ with his pals – and from then on, he’d be the main provider, and, possibly, the disciplinarian. The hands on stuff – the nappy changing, feeding and day to day care would be left in the capable hands of his wife.
How that has changed! Dads are now expected to muck in with all the baby-care; with the provision of paternity and parental leave there’s no excuse for them not to. There’s been more blurring of roles still, with the onset of the recession. Unemployment means that many dads are now the chief carer.
Is it difficult defining fatherhood when life was so different for their own dad’s? And what are the main challenges for dads today? We talk to fathers from five different decades.
DAD IN HIS TWENTIES. Mark Garbutt. 29. Dad to Leon, 8, and Kayla, 4.
Mark was a happy go lucky 21 year old when his 19 year old girlfriend, Sharon became pregnant. At the start parenthood was a challenge for him, but he’s now happier with his life, than he’s ever been.
“I missed out on going off and doing my own thing like other 21 year olds, but it never really bothered me. You just get on with life.”
Mark has lost touch with most of his old friends, but he’s made a lot of new ones through the Educate Together school in Lusk.
“I’m the youngest dad there, but we’ve grown up now and do grown up things. We go for nights out with other parents, and to dinner in each other’s houses.”
Senior Contractor for an electrical company for the past ten years, life has been busy. But Mark has always been a hands on dad, even helping out with the night time feeds.
“On week days Sharon would do them, because I left for work at 6.45 am, but I’d take over on Friday and Saturday nights.”
Mark’s dad wasn’t hands on – but he remembers playing in the park with him. And he loves hanging out with Leon and Kayla.
“On Sundays we’ll do something as a family. We’ll go to the beach, or to Malahide Park. We have a great time. The best thing about being a young dad is the energy I have,” he says.
• My advice is to talk things through when the baby is small. The first six to nine months are the hardest time. It’s important to work things out.
DAD IN HIS THIRTIES. Seán Óg Ó Duinnín. 36. Dad to Siún 2 ½.
Married at 24 to Ciara, Seán, from Macroom, hoped he’d be a young father. But it didn’t happen. So when Ciara finally became pregnant, the couple were overjoyed.
“Siún was born in December, 2008. She and Ciara came home on Christmas day and we sank into this groove of domestic bliss. We were so happy.”
But when Siún was nine and half weeks old, tragedy struck. Leaving a friend’s house, Ciara collapsed and died – from sudden adult death. Devastated, Seán struggled to cope, and now has the help of Zara, a German au pair girl.
Life is challenging. Principal of a secondary school, work is busier now than it was a decade ago. But Seán relishes his time with Siún.
“She keeps me going. I come home and she runs into my arms. Like her mother, she’s such fun. I love socialising with her. I love taking her out for lunch or a coffee.”
Seán’s father was 50 when he was born. He didn’t change nappies, but he was a born entertainer.
“He was a musician and story teller. I’d go everywhere with him. We played at weddings from the time I was 11. He spoke to us in Irish. I want to hand the music and the Irish on to Siún.
“Fatherhood has changed me. Before, I didn’t know what worry was. But being Siún’s father is the most important thing I will ever do.”
• My advice is to give unconditional love. But also to fit your child around your life. Siún is the centre of my world, but I don’t pander to her.
DAD IN HIS FORTIES. Rodrigo Lara. 41. Dad to Thomas, 8, Max, 6 and Daisy, 3.
From the time Rodrigo married Josephine his life changed. He moved from Ecuador to Ireland, so had a new culture, a new job – importing flowers – and in 2002, a new baby.
“Having a baby was completely different to anything I could imagine,” he says. “Just seeing this new person who is part of your life. Every smile, or movement of his hand made us so happy.”
Rodrigo thinks 34 was an ideal age to become a father.
“You’ve learned a lot of things and are able to transmit them, and you still have the energy to play football with them. I have plenty to give – and am able to provide what they expect from a dad.”
“My father wasn’t around much. He worked away. My grandfather lived with us. He was the kindest nicest man, but my mother was like a close friend. I could talk to her about anything, and she was always there for me. I’d like to be like that for my children.
“I love Saturdays. We have pancakes and the children help to prepare them. Then we go to our allotment for a while, and maybe have a picnic there. After that we’ll go for a walk, and hopefully find a playground.
“The main challenge for me was learning patience. I think I’ve learned it as the years have gone on. And I worry about providing for the children in the recession.”
• My advice is to be involved in your children’s lives. And to plan your life around theirs.
DAD IN HIS FIFTIES. Carlo Gébler. 56. Dad to India-Rose, 29, Jack 24, Finn, 20, Georgia 16, and Ewan 13.
Author Carlo Gébler had a famously difficult relationship with his father, Ernest.
“I was aware that my father was permanently irritated by me. I never had a conversation with him about anything meaningful,” says Carlo, on the phone from his house near Enniskillen in Northern Ireland.
With a fractured childhood; Carlo’s mother Edna O’Brien, left the family home when he was 7, and didn’t get full custody for seven years, Carlo had no good male role model. So he has learned his parenting skills from his wife.
“We have a life of permanent domestic sharing,” says Carlo. “My main role now is as a chauffeur to the children. I write in my spare time!”
Have the challenges changed with the years?
“I’m a lot more tired now. I am so tired, but the main difference is that at 26 I knew nothing. I now look at Georgia going to a party and feel a terrible stab of anxiety. I don’t worry about her safety, but I despair of the world she’s inheriting. And I worry about the heartache and pain she’ll have to go through. I just want my children to be happy.”
“I love talking to my children,” says Carlo. “That, and listening to them play an instrument. ”
• My advice to fathers is to enjoy your children in the moment. And read to your children. My children know if they ask for a book they will get it straight away. They’ll be denied a McDonalds, but a book? Never!
DAD IN HIS SIXTIES. Howard Campbell. 65. Dad to five grown children and to Ruadhan 12, and Caoilfhionn 9.
Howard Campbell had two families; one in his twenties; the other in his fifties.
“My first five children had left home when my wife became ill and died,” says Howard, a retired doctor from Kilkenny. “When I met Emer, who was still young enough to have children, I was open to the idea. I can’t imagine not being a father, and the second time was even more enriching than the first,”
Although Howard was more of a hands-on father than his father had been, in his twenties he was busy with his career as a General Practitioner. When his second family arrived, he retrained as a psychiatrist and worked part-time.
“And now I’m retired, and have become the main carer. I do nearly all the cooking and looking after the children, because my wife is working. People have said I’m crazy but I really enjoy cooking. And the children are quite self-sufficient. It’s mostly a matter of driving them everywhere, and I did that with my first family too.
“The main challenge is the lack of energy I now have; and the main difference, is that my peers no longer have children.
“I enjoy watching television with the girls, and especially cookery programmes. The favourite in Jamie Oliver. And I enjoy walking in the country with them.
• My advice is to accept that they’re you’re not as physically resilient as you were. I would urge fathers to retire, if they have the wherewithal. Then you’re more available to your children.
Copyright. Sue Leonard. 2011.