Building better dads

Fight the right fight

At that point in my life, it was one of the hardest things I had to do. I wasn’t an honest character, I lived in a world where my lies were layered on top of each other and the main reason I was like this was because I was afraid to hurt people. A recurring theme in my life was I ended up hurting people close to me even more due to my lack of integrity and consideration for others.

To find out my girlfriend was pregnant wasn’t a real surprise, she had become pregnant quite a few times since we had been together since the age of 15. After the first miscarriage we were told that she probably couldn’t have a child so we never used protection, there were more miscarriages but this particular time it looked like the pregnancy was going to happen, this is where I had to do that hard thing I mentioned earlier.

I started the conversation with ‘we need to talk’, this is never a great lead-in to sharing what’s on your mind and my girlfriend instantly become concerned. ‘What’s the problem?’ she asked, I didn’t respond, ‘what’s the problem?’ she asked again. I knew exactly what I wanted to say but there was this block in my mind which was preventing me from speaking my mind and it was agony. For the next 10 minutes she persisted and tried to extract what was in my head, I tried to stay strong and prevent her from prising my mind open but then out of nowhere I said it;

‘I think you should have an abortion’

We all know the sound of crying that so emotion-filled that it comes from the saddest, darkest place, this is what I heard, ‘why would you want this?’ she sobbed. Of all of the times in the past where I should have been honest but wasn’t, this was the one moment where I absolutely had to be, ‘I don’t think we should have a child because I don’t see us being together’. I was destroying her.

Over the next few weeks we looked into having an abortion and we were 99% of the way towards going through with it but in the end she couldn’t do it, while having a child wasn’t what I wanted I came to accept that I was going to become a dad.

The birth of my daughter seemed to hit me at a time in my life where every corner I turned I was faced with a big event that created awareness of who I was and the direction I was heading in. I was a low-skilled, insecure, self abusive, lost young man who was going down a very dangerous path. This clarity around my current position made me realise that I wanted more from life which made me start working on growing and developing myself into a better man.

My girlfriend and I tried to make it work and while I was changing into a much better person I had created too many scars in that relationship. She would never be able to trust me, I had let her down way too many times and not long after the birth of my daughter we went our own separate ways.

I can see why many young men ‘do the runner’ on their child, I had no idea about how to be a father, I was just learning how to be a normal person myself. I would pick up my daughter up and she would just cry, I wouldn’t know what to do, I felt hopeless. Everyone would laugh at me when I tried to change her nappies and inevitability a female would take over. To me, it felt like the mother is a necessity to a newborn, the father is there but isn’t really needed. I was lucky that my Mum and Dad were so supportive around that time as they helped me do my bit and through my dependency on them for my own life meant that I wasn’t going to disappear on my child.

Image by Giles Cook

Image by Giles Cook

It took nearly a year for me to get to have a moment where I had a strong connection with my daughter.

One night it was just her and I at home, I was still living with my parents at this stage so they would normally do a lot of the parenting work with me. I was lying on the couch with my daughter and something switched inside me, I now knew, I knew that she needed me, that I could get so much back from her, that I had a responsibility to this child, that I was her Dad and that was an important role in both of our lives. From that moment forward I decided that I was going to try my best to be a good dad.

It’s now 17 years later and my daughter is about to become a woman in the world. I could sit here and share with you about how I was always an amazing father but I don’t think there would be truth or any real lessons to share from that. There are some areas where I was a good father, I was fun, I committed to being there and providing for my daughter, I put time aside to create good habits in her life and I always loved her but I sometimes look back and think about what I would do differently based on what I know now.

To me this is what I would like to share today, so hopefully someone who is in the same position I was in when I was 19 can take something from this.

Learn how to nurture.

I’ve always been amazed how the majority of women know how to look after a child, especially a baby or a young child. They can go into a situation with a child they don’t know and the seem to have this amazing ability to nurture them. They know what to provide, when to provide and how to provide it to them. I’m not sure if this is something that women are born with or if they pick it up from their mums but I know it’s something I didn’t have as a young father.

Looking back I didn’t understand my role in nurturing my daughter, I remember thinking that I wanted my daughter to be an independent person but I didn’t realise that it was my job to build the blocks that created the framework for this independency. If I could go back knowing what I know now I would have spent a lot more time nurturing my daughter. I would have spent more time understanding what she needed me to provide and how I could do that to the best of my ability.

You have to let go of yourself a little bit.

I did take responsibility for my daughter, up until the age of 5 I had her every second weekend and every Tuesday and from 5 years onwards I had 50/50 custody. While I made this commitment and did what I was required to do I was still very much on my own path of self discovery and making my mark on the world. Through this time I managed to achieve a lot of big goals but sometimes they would come at a cost to the commitment to my daughter.

A while ago I met a wise women and she talked about the ages of men, how a young man needs to be a warrior. I have learnt that unconditional love comes from us learning to trust, when we put a bid for love towards someone they respond with the right kind of action, that there is no betrayal of this. I do wonder that if I wasn’t so busy trying to be a warrior I would have been better at building my daughter’s trust in my unconditional love, she knows I love her but I could have done better.

I do feel that men need to chase something in life, to do something that makes us feel like a warrior, it’s just that we need to get a balance of this and being able to give the love that our children need fro us at the same time. I’m not sure if I always got it right.

Fight the right fight.

I was lucky that my daughter’s mother and I always got along. We are both similar in that we don’t like conflict so there were never any real problems. Being a part-time parent will inevitability cause some frustration as you both have different ways of doing things. I always thought of this as an advantage as I figured that it would show my daughter that there is more than one way to live life but the problem is sometimes there were times where I should have rocked the boat a bit more and fought for what I felt was important.

An example of this was that my daughter’s mother would allow her to give up on hobbies if my daughter complained that she didn’t like it, because I didn’t like conflict I would object but it lacked conviction. I think I should have tried harder.

It can be a hard balancing act to maintain a good relationship with the other parent and sometimes you have to accept that you can’t get your way but sometimes you do need to be strong and fight for what you feel is right for your child.

I know that as you are reading this, it may come across that I feel I didn’t do a good job as a father, that’s not the case, I think I did my best at the time. It’s just that time gives us insight and that’s what I wanted to share here.

Bevan and his daughter

Bevan and his daughter

Ultimately, your job is to love your child, to be a good man who creates safety, that accepts them for who they are, shares his wisdom and helps their child live a life that is good for them. I know that being a father has taking me to the extremes in my life but I wouldn’t change it for anything else. It’s been the hardest and best thing.

Good luck, be the best Dad you can be.

Bevan James Eyles