LOVE & FAMILY THROUGH A FATHER’S EYES

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Having a baby is fundamentally life changing, however rarely do we pause and focus on how the experience affects fathers. So today as we celebrate the men in our life, we asked  four fathers to open their hearts and share their journey through parenting. Happy Father’s Day x 

MATT TINNEY – SUNRISE REPORTER & FATHER OF 2

Photographed by Bronnie Joel Photography.

What was your reaction when you first found out you were going to be a father?

I was in shock. I couldn’t believe it. We’d been trying to have a baby for more than two years. I remember the morning when Nikki showed me the pregnancy test. We were at a hotel in Queenstown, the adventure capital of New Zealand. The double line was faint. Nikki did more tests and the second line gradually became darker. It was the end of our struggle to have a baby. We’d been to see fertility specialists and underwent tests and were only months away from starting IVF. Anybody who has struggled to have a baby knows how physically, emotionally and mentally draining that is. When we found out we were on the journey to parenthood, we couldn’t believe our luck.

How was your journey into fatherhood?

Nikki was sick during pregnancy with Flo. As a man, I have no idea what that feels like. Perhaps like the morning after a big night out, but without the fun of the big night out. I was thirsty for knowledge about what was to come. There are mountains of books and resources. It’s overwhelming. A friend of mine, Rebecca Maddern, who I worked with on Sunrise, recommended a book by Midwife Cath called ‘The First Six Weeks’. It was so simple and carved out a role for dads. I felt empowered and armed with the knowledge to become a good dad in those early weeks. Midwife Cath has since become a good friend.

Can you please share a little of your experience of birth?

When I think back to Flo’s birth, it stirs up a mixture of strong emotions. Happiness, worry, fear. Flo was born by emergency caesarean, after tests showed she was struggling. When she was born, she was so big and beautiful and I noticed the birthmarks on her face. Those birthmarks were indicators of the challenges to come. The paediatrician frantically worked on her because she was struggling to breathe. I fainted and slumped to the ground. I had to quickly pick myself up because Flo needed to go straight to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and I had to go with her. I spent the day with Flo in NICU while Nikki was on the ward. This is not the birth experience we were expecting. We felt robbed. A moment which should’ve been filled with joy, was impacted by fear. We grieved the child we thought we were going to have. But eventually we reached a point of acceptance. Flo has extra challenges and that’s OK. She is almost two-years-old and she brings so much joy to our lives. This year, we had our second child, Vance. He too was born by emergency caesarean. But his birth was calm. Nikki got to hold him straight away and feed him. I’m glad she got to experience birth that way.

How did you feel holding your baby for the first time?

Before I got to hold Flo, I fed her a sugary substance while she was in NICU. She sucked it off my finger. It was such a special moment. I remember the midwife, a young Muslim woman, was so caring and supportive. She could see I was in shock after Flo’s birth but she guided me. Eventually, I could hold Flo in NICU. It was amazing. But I couldn’t help but feel Nikki should’ve been able to hold her too. Nikki was recovering from her caesarean on the ward and wasn’t allowed down to NICU. Even though Flo was struggling, I tried to shoulder the worry and let Nikki know everything was OK. I remember cuddling Vance after he was born in the theatre. It was a moment filled with joy and relief, after all we’d been through with Flo. Vance was strong and chilled out in his first moments. He has been like that ever since.

What have you learned about your partner throughout the journey of parenting  together?

I think Nikki is the strongest person on the planet. I guess I knew that because of the way she confronted and survived cancer a decade ago. Nikki wanted to be a mum more than anything in the world. As a mum, she is loving, caring and funny. That’s exactly what she was like before we had kids. I can already see how her influence is having a positive impact on Flo and Vance. We’ve learnt as a team we can jump any hurdle that is put in front of us.

How has fatherhood changed you?

Before I became a dad, I was a workaholic. It’s all I knew. That’s what my dad was like. But the role of fathers has changed dramatically in a generation. I wanted to be as involved as possible. I looked at my childhood and picked the things I wanted to do in a similar way with my kids and the things I wanted to do differently. I put my kids first. I want to be there for not only the big moments but the little moments which may seem like nothing to us, but are important to them. That means I juggle like crazy. I haven’t always got the balance right. But I learn and move forward.

How has parenting changed your relationship with your partner?

We’ve always seen ourselves as a team. We love each other even more now because we’re lucky enough to have made a beautiful family together. We try to make sure we provide a good example to our kids. But having two children under two can be stressful. We’re juggling the needs of a baby and toddler and that means our needs take a backseat. We try to make sure we make time for each other. If we’re happy, the family is happy.

What is the most challenging thing about fatherhood?

The most challenging thing about fatherhood has been coming to terms with having a child with extra needs and learning how to enjoy every moment and not just worry about the future. We saw a counsellor to help us with that. But we’ve mostly had each other to provide a shoulder to cry on during the tough times. Nothing can prepare you for becoming a parent. It’s like cutting a path through a jungle, you don’t know if you’re going the right way or the wrong way. When your child has extra needs, you can be left grieving the kid you thought you were going to have. Antenatal classes don’t prepare you for that. Nothing prepares you for that. The love between Nikki and I has got us through. We’ve poured so much love into Flo and we feel the love from her every day.

What do you love the most?

I love the little moments. The cuddles, the smiles and the giggles. My heart melts when I see Flo giving Vance a gentle pat. I enjoy taking Flo to the beach and reading to her. I’ve been reading ‘Matilda’ by Roald Dahl a page or two a night. It’s taking us a long while to finish, but it’s fun to read in a different voice for each character. My parents used to read to me every night and I wanted to do the same with our kids.

How would your children describe you?

I reckon if my kids could talk in full sentences, they’d say I’m a loving dad and a dag. I make pancakes on the weekend while we sing and dance to 90s music. Yes, I’m that daggy. I’ll probably be the dad who’ll embarrass them when they go to school.

I hope my children will one day look back and say “my father was…. there for me. They may be small, but I know kids take in a lot and that shapes how they become as adults. I want my children to be accepting, loving and adventurous. Even though my dad worked a lot, he took my brother and I fishing and to footy games. Those are memories I cherish. I’ve been working on an upcoming podcast series, inspired by Flo. One day I hope she’ll listen to it and be proud. It’s something which I’ve challenged myself to do and it has been daunting, but rewarding. I hope Flo and Vance find things they enjoy and challenge themselves. I’ll be there to cheer them on!

DOUGALL PENNEFATHER – STAY AT HOME FATHER OF 2

What was your reaction when you first found out you were going to be a father?

 Even though it wasn’t planned at that point I was super happy and couldn’t stop smiling.

How was your journey into fatherhood? 

Being 41 years old at the time I was ready in terms of time and emotional input. I spent my days cooking as much good food for my partner, reading up on as much as I could to do with birth and doing a Calm Birth course with my wife. Luckily there was a new fathers course being run at the Bangalow medical centre over four weeks and this was invaluable in terms of dealing with the first few months.

Can you please share a little of your experience of birth?

The first child was definitely a marathon. Watching in awe whilst helping my wife breathe, eat, deal with extreme forms of pain and body transformation over 20 hours was extraordinary. I remember holding her in an awkward position for two hours whilst she was contracting and my back burning in pain, yet that was nothing compared to her so I didn’t say a word.

How did you feel holding your baby for the first time?

 Cried. Greatest moment of my life. Very special.

What have you learned about your partner throughout the journey of parenting together?

Spelly (Isabella Pennefather, co-founder of Spell & The Gypsy Collective) has built an empire from scratch with her sister all whilst being a mum, that is remarkable. She is a very strong and resilient woman and knows what she wants in life. And she likes off white…

How has fatherhood changed you?

Made me understand what real love is and become a more empathic person to others around me.

How has parenting changed your relationship with your partner?

Gives you so many more levels of love and something you share that is unique only to you two regarding these little humans that are yours.

What is the most challenging thing about fatherhood?

I am a stay home dad, finding time to do some things for you. Like surfing and fishing.

What do you love the most?

Being a family unit and travelling and sharing life together. Watching them learn.

How would your children describe you?

I am very hands on, there for them and involved with their sports etc. My recent birthday card said I was the best dad and cooked them great food.  It is always nice to hear. 

I hope my children will one day look back and say “my father was….never boring and showed us how life should be lived with a smile, caring for family & friends, helping those in need and looking after our earth.” 

DAVE WINCHESTER – PROFESSIONAL BODYBOARDER & FATHER OF 4 (also pictured main)

What was your reaction when you first found out you were going to be a father? 

I was nervous and excited. We were both on the “younger side” compared to today’s average age. I had just signed a four year deal so Aimee wasn’t going to have to work that much, so we decided to give it a go.

How was your journey into fatherhood? 

It was great, so much to learn. I didn’t know what I was doing or how do deal with an emotional pregnant wife! We did the classes and everything like first time parents do. We bought all the things you don’t need, but think you do at the time. I look back on it now as a complete learning experience.

Can you please share a little of your experience of birth? 

Aimee was overdue and had to be induced. It was super strong and intense from the start. Turned into a really long labour and ended up in a C-section. Not the way we wanted it to go, but at the end of the day Aimee and Coco were healthy so that’s all that mattered. To be honest as a father you feel a little helpless at times and usually you want to try and fix the problems at hand, I learnt you just have to be there and do what they say.

How did you feel holding your baby for the first time? 

It was amazing, best feeling ever. She had a super dark mohawk and a tan like Aimee. It’s hard to believe how fragile life is when they are that small.

What have you learned about your partner throughout the journey of parenting together? 

She is an incredible women, and doesn’t stop. Aimee doesn’t have much spare time on her hands but manages to always get them all looking fresh and out the door. Aimee always puts the kids first which is great, but sometimes I remind her that she needs it also. She loves surfing also so every now and then she gets a break.

How has fatherhood changed you? 

I don’t want to say it but I guess you mature a little!  Fatherhood puts a lot of things into perspective for me, you just realise that life goes quick so you want to try and enjoy as many moments as you can. Being a parent is also about managing situations and trying to get the best outcome at the time. Pick your battles.

How has parenting changed your relationship with your partner? 

It’s stronger than ever, don’t get me wrong we have our moments like everyone else but at the end of the day you’re working as a team so you have to come out on the same side at the end of it. Kids push your relationship to another level, the work load is massive, mentally and physically draining at times. We have been doing it now for 11 years so we know when each other are at their limit and it’s time to tap them out of a tough situation. We try to still have a fun relationship because that’s why we got together in the first place, we enjoy each other’s company.

What is the most challenging thing about fatherhood? 

The girl factor, girls are so emotional and I struggle with that sometimes. Nowadays I just laugh because sometimes the behaviour is so far from logical thats it’s laughable. I do realise I have to be careful what I find funny and they don’t. As a big family we all have to help and do our bit, we explain to our kids that if we don’t all help as one big team our family just won’t work. I guess me for me, being a father, I just want my kids to grow up to be good people, respect others and enjoy life.

What do you love the most? 

I love doing things with them that I love, like surfing, and then seeing them get the same feeling and enjoy it just as much as I do. I love making crepes on the weekend with them and watching them eat 7 and feel sick. Or having a family movie on a Saturday night. I love being around them, they are such fun kids. I love when they ask me a question and I actually know the answer!

How would your children describe you? 

Hopefully fun, strict , annoying, silly, caring.

I hope my children will one day look back and say “my father was….the funnest Dad in the whole world.”

MICK TALBOT – MARKETING MANAGER & FATHER OF 2

What was your reaction when you first found out you were going to be a father?

Pretty much shock is the first word that comes to mind! Hayley told me on a midweek evening after work, I can’t remember the exact words but we were kind of speechless. I do remember after she told me, the next few hours we did not say a word to each other and just went about our night as if nothing had changed!! Pretty much shock initially I think. It is certainly a unique situation you find yourself in, I found it really hard to get my head around for the first few weeks.  Added to that, we found out when Hayley was approximately six weeks pregnant, so we obviously didn’t want to tell people that early, so it was a lot of time in my own head really processing it.  The first few weeks when it was only Hayley and I with the knowledge she was pregnant, we would talk for hours on what was to come.  We would go from both being so insanely excited to, ‘holy sh*t this is actually happening, we are going to be parents!’  I don’t think you can ever be fully prepared or fully ready for parenthood.  I am so grateful for how we came into it, we hadn’t planned specifically either of the pregnancies, and I now feel, if we actually waited until we felt we were ready, we would most probably not have any kids to this day! It is the best thing in the world and would not change it for anything at all.

How was your journey into fatherhood?

We were super excited once we got over the initial shock. It was eight years ago so my memory may not be as sharp as it should be though I felt the journey was pretty smooth. For Archie, our eldest, we were following a hypno-birthing plan.  This was great for a few months for sure and we feeling great about everything happening nice and naturally, until Archie was breach and he didn’t end up turning, so our best laid plans were done away with and we adapted to what was best for the baby. I tried to read a few pregnancy books like “So You’re Going To Be A Dad”, though I felt I actually wanted to experience the journey for myself without any preconceived thoughts so I didn’t dig too deep into the books or blogs.  I did make sure I paid attention in the birthing classes at the hospital, I felt these were important and set a good base.  You really do learn so much once the baby is born and it really is learning as you go, and rest assured you pick it up super quickly, it becomes second nature.

 One really cool thing Hayley made sure we did was to capture the various stages of the pregnancy, not just the birth.  We had a beautiful short film produced of vision from before Archie was born and once he was born and back home we captured these special moments as well.  I’m so glad we got that done as it captures a beautiful time in our lives.

Can you please share a little of your experience of birth?

It’s was surreal. One minute there are two of you and the next there are three and a couple of years later, four! You never know what to expect with your first child.  The doctors were talking through what was happening and really very quickly I had a baby in my arms, he was so small and so fragile.  You couldn’t wipe the smile off my face!  Archie was a caesarean birth due to him being breach, I really felt for Hayley as we were so very much wanting a natural birth and truthfully felt like there was this pressure from the outside world that if you don’t have a natural birth you are less of a parent and your child is less ‘natural’. I really felt we were going to be judged, and actually telling people we had or were having a caesarean felt taboo.  I feel a little sad thinking back to those thoughts, and those pressures but you know what, it’s such rubbish, however your baby comes into the world, as long as they are healthy and mum is healthy, that’s all that counts.  I certainly was more so at peace with his birth being a caesarean, knowing this was the best thing for him and for Hayley. Our second son, Phoenix’s birth was a little more complex, Hayley tried for a natural birth and when her waters broke at 5am one morning at around 36 weeks, we were then in the hospital for two days trying for a natural birth, though again, the best decision for her and the baby was a caesarean. Once we decided the C-section, Hayley was taken away and I waited in the room until I was called to go in when Hayley and the doctors were ready.  Within a blink of an eye, I was holding our new little boy. I distinctly remember Archie had big round eyes, like Hayley. I noticed Phoenix’s were not as big and round, more like mine.  The two boys are so different now and you could see this from the time they were born.  So yeah, my experience was really special and so so positive.

How did you feel holding your baby for the first time? 

All of a sudden I’m holding a tiny little human who we now have to make sure stays alive and grows and is healthy and flourishes!!! Just an overwhelming sense of pride and responsibility I think.  The boys were small and felt so tiny when they were born, my feeling really was to just protect them with my life. With both boys being caesarean, I was lucky enough to have the doctors on both occasions giving the boys straight to me! I felt so grateful that I held them straight away, though felt sorry for Hayley who had being carrying them for nine months and I was actually the one to hold them both first.    For both births we didn’t find out the gender.  We felt there are not really too many surprises in this world and to find out the sex of your babies right when they are born is one of the greatest surprises you could ever have!  That surprise of another boy was so cool, thinking that Archie would have a little brother to love and teach throughout life was a really special feeling for me.  I am a twin, and growing up with someone who is experiencing everything at the same time as you are is extremely special and I loved it, though to have someone a couple of years older guiding you, whilst being your best mate was a dream I had for Phoenix right from that first time I held him.  I still have that feeling.

What have you learned about your partner throughout the journey of parenting together?

I have learnt that strength comes in so many different forms. Physical, intellectual, mental etc. Hayley’s emotional intelligence is super super high and I’m so grateful for this. She can see and feel things with our boys which I just cannot and she reacts accordingly. Her emotional connection to the boys is so strong and I am in awe of this everyday. I love how my wife doesn’t succumb to the pressures of the everyday world to do the easy boring same-same style of parenting.  She challenges us to try things and to be ourselves and to pave our own path.  I don’t think she does this consciously, which is great, it’s just her.  I love it…. And I need to tell her this more!

How has fatherhood changed you?

I think I have always been pretty patient with people, though I think I’ve become even more patient with kids. I kind of wonder what I did with my time before kids because I love hanging with them so much and it’s strange thinking what I was doing with that time beforehand. I certainly have a desire to learn more now, I want to set an example to the boys that learning and experiences are so fun and make life even better.
I have realised that life isn’t just your initial surroundings. There is a big bad world out there which I want to discover more now than I ever have.

How has parenting changed your relationship with your partner?

It’s very hard to finish a sentence let alone a conversation now! Interruptions are constant so we have learnt to probably hold the important conversations until the end of the day. Parenting has obviously changed the amount of one on one time with us, it now takes more effort to find this quality time together which is super important! I do feel however that we are more in tune with each other.  I feel I can certainly read Hayley better now … if she’s happy, stressed, upset etc and I then adapt and make sure I am respectful of these feelings. It is really important to carve out time for yourselves, just the two of you.  This is something you can not underestimate and is always worth the time and energy. Not to mention the free-flowing adult conversations you can have!

What is the most challenging thing about fatherhood?

Staying awake after 8pm! Getting the balance right for the kids, Hayley and myself as an individual is challenging.  I feel it is easy to prioritise the kids and give them my all, though I have to catch myself sometimes because I realise that I am sometimes not giving Hayley the attention I should be or myself the attention I should be.  Even if that is a 30 minute surf or run etc.  I travel a lot for work so I guess I am lucky that when I am home I am fully engaged with the kids and making sure I give them and Hayley my all.  It’s still a tough balancing act though.

What do you love the most?

You know what, I really love the cuddles! I love the feeling I get when our boys have massive smile on their faces. That is the best!

How would your children describe you?

Definitely as the worst singer in the house… no…the universe! Apart for my singing ability, I think they would describe me as loving, caring and adventurous.

I hope my children will one day look back and say “my father was….an inspiration”

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