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David Campbell on Beating Booze, Taming Anxiety And Why His Kids Inspire Him To Raise His Game

Luke BenedictusBy Luke Benedictus.
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David Campbell was 10-years-old when he discovered that his father was, in fact, the rock-star, Jimmy Barnes. “Lightning struck that day for me,” the singer and TV presenter says. “Emotionally, it rocked me.”

David went on to forge a strong relationship with his dad. Yet he acknowledges that childhood experience had a huge impact on his own approach to fatherhood. Not only did it make him even more determined to be there for his son, Leo (9) and twins Billy and Betty (4), it also inspired him to take an unflinching look at the way he lived his life.

Here’s what he learned.

“Not having direct time with my father, especially in the formative years, has affected me greatly as a parent. I really wanted to make sure I was a strong presence in my children’s lives. It’s vitally important for me to be around. I want my kids to know that I’m here for them.

“That’s coming from a place of being extremely mindful that I didn’t always have that and knowing that I missed it. Me and my dad are very close now, but being an entertainer’s kid, it wasn’t a normal parenting. I don’t know how to fix a tyre. I don’t know how to put up a shelf. I did not have a father around who did what regular fathers did. That’s just that’s the way it was.

“But what’s more important than all that is that you’re there emotionally for the kids. When my dad came into my life with (his wife) Jane when I was 10 or 12, I put them to the test a few times. But I soon knew deep down that they were emotionally committed to raising me even from a distance.”

“I don’t know if I was an alcoholic, but I was definitely skirting around the edge. I was certainly a binge drinker. I’d get on it with my mates and, because I was in a band and because of who my father was, I sort of fell into going hard at it.

“As a parent, it was definitely not the right or the safe thing to do. That doesn’t mean that my kids or my wife were ever unsafe with me. But emotionally I sort of stared into this dark room where it could all head to. And I was very lucky to pull the ripcord and get out before it was all too late.

“What happened was I had this one hangover. I was with Lisa, my wife, and we were going on a holiday to Broome and so we decided to have some drinks the night before we went. I woke up the next morning, the day of the holiday and I was sick as a dog. I was so hungover.

“I had to pack quickly and get to the airport and I couldn’t stop sweating – I felt so sick. I remember my son, Leo who was three and a half saying to Lisa: ‘Dad’s not feeling well’.

“At that moment, this alarm bell just went off in my head. It was like: ‘No, that’s not the memory you’re going to have of me. You’re not going to remember dad feeling sick on the weekend because he had another big night with his mates. You’re not going to remember dad getting drunk every Saturday night.’

“Because I grew up around that. I saw my dad struggle with addiction and I also saw how devastating an impact that could have on children, and on me, due to alcohol-related incidents in my family. I knew that that wasn’t the way to parent. You don’t want to put a child at risk of that.

“On the way to Broome, I just slept until the plane landed and then I got in the pool and I started to feel better. We went to lunch and I said to Lisa: “That’s it, I’m done drinking.’ A month later Lisa joined me as well.

“And it’s the greatest relief I’ve ever felt – it’s like putting down the heaviest load. I knew that my drinking was stopping me from being able to grow because I could numb my feelings so I didn’t have to deal with them.

“Since I gave up, I’ve had to confront a lot of things that I can identify about myself that I couldn’t before. I’ve realized that I grew up with a lot of shame and a lack of self worth.

“When you’re a child that’s had a very confused upbringing and you’re raised by a single parent and you realize that people have lied to you – look, there are kids who have gone through much, much worse – but I think that did have an impact on my psyche and on my life.

“For me to deal with that, and to raise mindful and emotionally intelligent kids, I had to get out of my own way. I had to stop numbing myself and acting like it was okay. Because it wasn’t okay.

“A lot of it was down to my own anxiety. I was a highly anxious personality and that was going to get in the way of me raising a child. With a lot of therapy and self-analysis, I can deal with that a bit more. But I couldn’t do that when I was drinking because it just takes the edge off. And I don’t want to take the edge off. With my children and my wife, I really want to be clear with my intentions. I’ve seen the damage it does when you don’t do that in my own family. I don’t want that. Somehow I had to stop the cycle and so I did.”

“When I became a parent myself I realized that I needed to be mirroring what I want my kids to be. You obviously want your kids to be Version 2.0 of you. But if the version that you’re putting out there is rubbish, well, then they’re just going to lap you in their teens.

“You want to make sure that you’re constantly evolving. I guess that’s why I’m striving to do different things now by being sober or by going vegan or by getting more involved in what we’re doing to the planet. It’s all to do with my kids.

“I started doing it because I wanted to be healthier. Then that turned into something bigger about wanting to improve the planet for my kids and actively show my kids that you can make healthier choices and be more physically active.

“My kids still eat a bit of meat. I’m not a zealot about it – I want them to make their own choices. But the example that Lisa and I have tried to set is one that I think is really important. Hopefully it helps my kids continue to make the right choices in their lives.

“So I look at myself and I try to be better. And a lot of that really is to do with Leo and Billy and Betty. I want them to never have to worry about their dad. I always want them to be able to trust who I am. And I want them to know that I started off as a bogan kid from Adelaide with a chip on his shoulder who had way too much energy and was highly anxious and used that energy to get on stage. But that wasn’t me forever. I changed and grew into something else.

“It’s not like I’m superman. Every day I don’t know if I’m going to wake up and have an anxiety attack or a panic attack. Every day I don’t know if I’m going to make the wrong decision. But what I do know is that I can reduce that risk by not drinking booze, by being conscious of how I eat, by spending conscious time with my kids where I’m not on my phone all the time. Then I feel like I’ve done the right thing for that day and that’s all I can do.”

David Campbell’s new album, Back in the Swing is out now on Sony Music