Mission: Impossible? Not any more for new fathers
A former commando describes to
Lisa Salmon the dads’ guide he’s written in the style of an Army battle manual – ideal for Fathers’ Day
Being a good dad is one of the hardest missions on which a man can be deployed – and the lack of training can make it twice as tough.
As well as being full of love, the best dads need discipline, patience, planning skills and endurance – many of the qualities required by elite soldiers, in fact.
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But our troops get thorough training to perform their rigorous duties, unlike dads, whose training is usually all on the job.
However, an ex-commando who has cleared minefields in Iraq and tracked drug traffickers in the jungles of Belize has crawled in on his belly to help other dads who feel as unprepared and daunted as he did when he brought his first son home from hospital.
Neil Sinclair, who spent six years in the Army before taking on the untrained mission of fatherhood, has written Commando Dad: Basic Training, a guide to being an elite dad of babies and children under three.
The practical, how-to guide is a gentle reflection of the basic battle skills manual that Sinclair was issued on his first day in the Army.
It gives dads clear, step-by-step instructions about looking after babies (BTs or Baby Troopers, as they’re called in the book) and children in the early years, under headings including Preparing Base Camp (preparing your home for the new baby), New Recruits: Surviving The First 24 Hours (including nappy changing and how “occasionally a BT will fire a howitzer into their nappy“), Dealing With Hostilities (tantrums and ‘battle fatigue‘), and Morale: A Commando Dad’s Secret Weapon.
Sinclair, who since leaving the Army has worked as a registered childminder and as a stay-at-home dad to his three children, Samuel, ten, Jude, aged nine, and five-year-old Liberty, explains: “When I was in Iraq I was trained to disarm mines, but when I became a dad I had no training. The first six weeks were horrendous.
“We had nobody to give us advice and I tried to find books to help but couldn’t. I really felt out of my depth. So I drew on my military experience, and used military precision to get on with it.”
The discipline and organisational skills he’d learned in the Army came in very handy for his new role as a dad, but it wasn’t until Sinclair’s wife, Tara, had their third child five years ago that the idea of writing a book was born.
“I realised all the books were the same as when we’d had our first baby five years before, and that no one had written a basic training manual for dads,” explains Sinclair.
“My wife just said, ‘You’ve been a stay-at-home dad, and if anyone can write that manual, you can’.
“There’s nothing out there for dads; they feel sidelined. There’s a lot of dads who really want to know what to do – they don’t just want to pat their wife on the back and give her a bunch of flowers, though that’s important.
“They want to do more, and hopefully my book’s going to give them the tools to be the dad they want to be.”
All the information in the book has been approved by health, childcare and nutritional experts, but every bit of it comes from Sinclair’s experience as a commando, stay-at-home dad and childminder.
As well as practical advice on how to feed, bathe and hold babies, discipline toddlers (MTs or Mobile Troopers) and entertain and transport them, the book is full of top tips including: “A commando dad always has his kitbag squared away, ready for redeployment” (a kitbag being a changing bag on civvy street), and “As your MT gets older, have a trigger word that tells them you need them to be quiet straight away.”
While dads should gain confidence from following Sinclair’s hard-earned advice, they’ll do well to match his infectious enthusiasm for looking after kids. This is a dad who clearly loves children and the life he now leads, despite its huge contrast with his former life as a commando.
However, he admits: “God it’s hard work.
“I’ve been a commando and done lots of stressful and physically demanding jobs as part of that, but I had no idea how relentless the work was when you’re a dad. It’s so tough, but ultimately so rewarding, and fun.
“I feel very privileged that I’ve been a stay-at-home dad – I’ve seen so much of my kids growing up.”
While most men aren’t quite such devoted childcarers as Sinclair himself, he points out that the idea is for dads to be able to dip into the book as and when they need it to get help with a particular childcare task.
“A commando dad is a hands-on dad,” he stresses.
“He gets involved and takes his responsibilities seriously. He spends time with his kids, caring for them – and he gets the information he needs to do it.”
He adds: “It’s all about bringing military precision to parenting – planning and preparation prevents poor parental performance.
“It’s so parents can get themselves in a position where they can enjoy being with their children because they don’t have to worry about the organisational side of things. That’s got to be a good thing.”
Commando Dad: How To Be An Elite Dad Or Carer is published by Summersdale, priced £9.99, available now. For more information and advice from Commando Dad, and a dads’ forum, visit www.commandodad.com
Ask the expert
QUESTION “I’m planning to return to my job after having a baby, and am struggling to work out how many hours I need to do to make ends meet. What factors should I take into account?“
ANSWER Will Hadwen, rights adviser at the Working Families charity, says: “The first thing to think about is how many hours you actually want to work, bearing in mind how you feel about your job and your family life.
“You’ll need to investigate local childcare and see how much it costs. Depending on your role, you also need to be realistic about how many hours of work are likely to be viable as a part-time job. The Working Families Flexible Working Guide (available at www.workingfamilies.org.uk) can help you go through some of these questions.
“You could then look at the affordability of different patterns of work. Currently you need to work at least 16 hours to get help with childcare costs from working tax credit, but this will change under the new benefit, universal credit, which starts in 2014.
“If your employer offers a childcare voucher scheme, this may work out better financially. You’ll also need to factor in the costs of travel to work and any other work-related costs you’ll have.
“You can use the Working Families webtool ‘Choosing your working hours‘, which is also available on our website, to look at how much you‘d take home.
“And bear in mind that if you can offer your employer more than one option, it can make negotiation easier.”
Father’s Day gifts
King of the Daddies notebook
The Letts Father’s Day wire-bound notebook is the perfect little gift for dads, containing 160 lined pages for him to scribble notes in. Available from www.letts.co.uk or by ringing Letts on 0131 654 7695, £6.99.
Hallmark Recordable Artwork
This framed blank canvas board and set of six coloured paints and a paintbrush comes with a recordable panel so that children can draw a picture for dad on Father’s Day and record a message to accompany it. Available from Hallmark stores and www.hallmark.co.uk, £12.99.
Busy Pictures Acrylic Block
A freestanding block that can feature a picture of dad and kids. Select your own favourite photo and visit www.busypictures.co.uk to have it made into a block. Prices start at £29.99 for a 6x4 block.