Your first reaction when you found out you were going to be a Father?
I thought, “game on.” I wanted to do it well, you see. I felt I had something to prove. Still do.
What do you remember about the births of your children?
It’s corny, but I remember feeling awe and respect for my wife. The births were not gentle, tender, life-affirming experiences. Both required medical intervention. They were stressful.
What has Fatherhood taught you?
That parenthood, indeed life generally, gets easier when you stop trying to control everything.
What is the most challenging part of being a father?
I used to enjoy spending time alone, like, a lot of time alone. I used get entire weeks of solitude, camping or biking or whatever. It was my way of clearing the clutter of every-day life. Now there are people around all the time, little people, who have constant and unreasonable demands, and lots of little plastic stuff that I step on and have to repair with super glue. So the loss of free time has been an adjustment. They’re 7 and 4 now, so it’s getting better. Incrementally.
What is the most rewarding part of being a father?
Watching the kids exhibit the values I teach them, caring for others, for each other etc. Even something as simple as watching one kid get the other one a glass of water is a joy. The ability sympathize lays the groundwork for the children to get the most out of their relationships later on.
Tell us about how you managed to find time to write your first novel ?
I had been using the busyness of life with kids as an excuse: to not write, to not exercise, to eat poorly. I was still in the trap of seeing parenthood as some kind of temporary state. I always thought, ‘later, when they’re older, I’ll find time to do X,Y and Z.’ Then I realised there is no later. You don’t find time you make it. So I wrote the novel before work, after work, on holidays and weekends. I tapped the book out, one sentence at a time, often on the notes function of my i-phone. It also helped that I have a supportive wife who wants me to succeed. I don’t know how single parents do it. They have my highest respect.
Your book deals with big issues like global warming and the existence of God- how will you be encouraging your kids to grapple with these areas?
Those issues and questions are big. But their source is local and personal. That’s why I stress value lessons. If you live life only for yourself, I tell them, it’s never going to be fulfilling. That’s the message of my book too, (The Current, available on Amazon and elsewhere, [sorry, couldn’t help myself]).
As a writer, what sort of story would you like your children to tell with their lives?
An honest and self-effacing story. I spent a lot of time pretending to be different people. I did self-destructive things to win the respect of people whose names I can no longer remember. I want my children to feel more secure in themselves than that.
What was your approach to work before and after kids?
I know I’m supposed to say that I realised work was just a distraction and that family was all that mattered. But my ego won’t permit that. If anything, I feel my relationship with work became more complex. I demanded more from a job: more money, more flexibility, more satisfaction, more prestige, more meaning. I’ll let you know when I get the balance right.
Biggest crisis you faced as a Father and how did you survive?
It’s pathetic, I know, but the biggest issue for me was/is not having my wife’s attention directed solely at me anymore. I’m emotionally needy and high maintenance. I’ve only just thought of this now, but I suspect I channelled a lot of that emotional energy into my book.
What do you remember about Your Dad from when you were a child?
Dad was this guy who drifted in and out of family life. He was always at work, or sleeping in, or in another room. He made cameo appearances. I don’t think he likes children much. He’s French, you see, and, over there, children are turned into little adults, they’re broken in, like wild horses, their flamboyancy and natural curiosity replaced by self-doubt and good table manners. So what I remember most about dad was tiptoeing around his imminent anger, his frustration at us just being kids.
And it kills me when I behave the same way.
So how does being a father change how you relate to your Dad?
Your question implies there has been a change, it begs for some kind of positive outcome, some kind of learning. My father told me, point blank, that I’m a better dad than he ever was. I’d like to say that I had an ‘a-ha’ moment when I realised ‘oh this is what dad was up against,’ but I haven’t. If anything, I’m less tolerant of his disapproval now that it’s directed at my children.
Do you think he did a good job?
He provided for the family.
What do you see as the role of Fathers in society?
What a father’s role is and what it should be are getting closer to being the same thing. A father essentially frames the norms of acceptable male behaviour. He is a benchmark against which children will set their expectations of maleness. Dad informs his children’s understanding of what male relationships will be like (in friendship, marriage etc.). Fathers also model norms of acceptable behaviour for their sons. It’s not about teaching your kid how to kick a ball, it’s about helping your child to interpret and apply social and cultural values through a male perspective, through a man’s experience of the world.
What do you think of Fathers today?
I think we’re supposed to believe there’s some kind of identity crisis for the modern father: ‘how can men really be ‘men’ in the context of ever shifting expectations etc. It's a tired proposition and a wrong one.
I think fathers have never been more encouraged to openly parent than they are today. Go to any kiddie swimming pool in a Melbourne suburb on a weekend and you’ll find it’s mostly men (tatts and all) splashing around in there with their babies at ‘water awareness training.’
When I talk to older fathers, the baby boomer generation, for example, they seem jealous that we can embrace being active dads. I get the sense many of them wanted to be more involved, but it wasn’t ‘manly’ to do so back then, it was a cultural restriction, as it is for many cultures today.
Best advice for Fathers?
I struggled with this question, came back to it several times. How do you answer this without sounding like a jerk? So here’s the advice I would give my pre-dad self: ‘stop perceiving kid-related activity (e.g. playing, bath time, bed time story etc.) as a delay or an obstacle to what else you might be doing/achieving. The children will instantly feel less annoying.’
Where do you find inspiration?
Three elements drive me to write: ego; legacy; curiosity.
How do you want your kids to remember you?
As someone who always had time for them, and someone who always tried to understand their point of view, even if I disagreed with it.