Rene Vaile, 41, works as a photographer and lives on the side of a mountain in Bowral (NSW). When his son, Lou, was born, Rene became a stay-at-home dad for the first year while his partner returned to work. We’re profiling Rene as part of the Calvin Klein At Home Series, celebrating all different types of dads in the lead-up to Father’s Day.
“I think most people think that having a child limits their life. But I completely disagree. I think it opens your eyes to having more fun, because it allows you to reconnect with your inner child. You’re constantly making your child aware of things that are happening around you – insects, birds, clouds, smells… Noticing those little things reawakens something inside of you.
“Since becoming a dad, I still do everything that I want to do. I still travel, for example. It’s easy to bring your kid along and chuck them into the seat next to you or walk around on an airplane to get them to sleep. OK, so maybe it’s not the easiest thing to do, but what I’m saying is that ultimately you make your own limits.
“Having a child can give you an easy ‘in’, too. Lou and I used to sneak into the aquarium and all sorts of places through the gift shop. You let the child go first, then you run in after him and, sweet… you’re both in.”
“I grew up in New Zealand with this state forest across the road. So as kids we had this outdoorsy lifestyle and complete freedom. We could leave the house on our own and just go out and explore. Now I’ve come full circle in returning to the country. Somehow I just never thought about raising a child in the city. Right now, it’s all about dirt life for Lou.
“When Lou was born, I went into it thinking I had this great opportunity to learn something new. I was fortunate to have enough cash in the bank to take a year off. My wife went back to work fairly early on – I mean she was also always there for Lou, but she’s a stylist and wanted to stay involved in her work. Whereas I just wanted to forget about it all for a while. So I was the mum for a year.”
“I talk fondly about how much I enjoyed that year now, but at the same time, I don’t remember a lot of it because it was so hard. Some bits were horrible. But I would do totally it again. I just felt it was necessary to be there at that point. And I don’t know whether it’s because we spent so much time together at that early stage but Lou and I really close. We’re really close.
“You have all these grand ideas about parenting and the reality turns out different. We used to dress Lou in lots of colour and prints. Now he’s five and his favourite colour is black. We also wanted to immerse him in the environment and the outside world – I’d take him for a walk to the park and we’d sit there and just watch a flock of birds for a good half hour. What does Lou like doing most now? Watching video games on YouTube.”
“Going through a separation like I did brings its own set of emotions. My one piece of advice to anyone in the same situation is really simple: just try to be kind. Be as kind as you can and be kind to yourself, too. You’ll have good days and you’ll have bad days. Usually sources of conflict will arise around decisions with your child, but in those moments just ask yourself: ‘What’s the best for my child?’ Because you’ve always got to put them first.”
“What I learned from the separation was that nothing good comes from anger. Everyone makes mistakes, myself included. Try not to play the blame game – it’s pointless. Forgive if you can and that includes forgiving yourself.”
“With parenting sometimes it all goes out the window. Like I feel guilty today, because Lou has had ice cream and chocolate croissant and instant noodles, and now I’m aware that I really have to give him some vegetables tonight. Usually we’re really good, too.
“I feel that with Lou I’m not so much here for him as a father or a father figure, but I’m here to serve as his guide. From the very beginning, when he first came into the world, he always had his own personality – he walked his own walk, he made his own decisions. So I just feel that my role is to guide him towards the right path. I’ll always be watching him closely. But I know that I’ve got to trust him, too, and not be afraid to let go. I want to show Lou the ropes but not hold on.”
Shop the Calvin Klein Father’s Day range: here
Photography: Ben Sullivan
To read more in the series click here