“They f*ck you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do.” Those opening lines of Philip Larkin’s famous poem, This Be The Verse are a bleak warning to every parent. The message: despite your good intentions you’ll inevitably pass on character flaws, habits and insecurities that affect your kids in a self-perpetuating cycle of damage.
In Larkin’s world-weary view, such intergenerational hangovers are inescapable. But at TFH we like to think that forewarned is forearmed. That’s why we quizzed five dads to reflect on how they fear they might screw up their kids and how they plan to stop that from happening.
“I worry about their work ethic”
My mum and dad were first-generation immigrants from Vietnam. They were loving parents definitely, but growing up we never had much money. What they did do was hammer home the importance of hard work. They were always strict – we were expected to study all the time – and, while I sometimes resented it, I guess it paid off. My wife and I own a couple of dental practices now and while business could always be better, I suppose we’re comfortably off.
As a result, my kids have a very different upbringing than I had. They go to private schools, have overseas holidays, horse-riding lessons, the lot. I want to look after them and give them the experiences that I didn’t have. But I also worry about how to instil that hunger and drive to kids who’ve basically had a pretty easy life. I worry they’re not going to have that work ethic, which is so important in whatever you do.
What’s our plan? We’re just trying to set the right example and show them how just hard we still work. Hopefully, that influence rubs off.
“My kids don’t have the same freedom”
I grew up in the country. Back then as kids we had an outdoorsy lifestyle – bikes, motorbikes, fishing, jumping in lakes, falling out of trees… We ran about from dawn til dusk.
Things are very different from my two sons. We live in the city for starters in an apartment. But my wife is also super protective of them. I get it to some extent, because they were sick a lot when they were younger and suffer from bad allergies. But I guess you’d call her a helicopter parent. My kids definitely don’t have anything like the same freedom that I had growing up.
But also – and my wife would hate me saying this – I sometimes worry that we’re bringing up a pair of little wusses. All they want to do is stay inside and play Minecraft – which isn’t such a bad thing during lockdown!
Once COVID is more under control, I’m trying to persuade my wife to let me take them camping for a week. I’d just love to see them become a bit more active and independent.
“I feel bad that my son is an only child”
My partner and I met in our late 30s. When we decided to have a family, we had a lot of complications with pregnancies. We ended up having to do multiple rounds of IVF – it was a really difficult time. But things worked out in the end. We had a little boy – he’ll be six in August – he’s a cracking little fella.
Given our age now – we’re both in our mid-forties – we can’t have any more kids. And, yes, I do feel bad that our son is an only child. I grew up in a big family and I’m still very close with my brother and sister. It bothers me that I’ve deprived my son of those relationships. I learned so much about life – sharing, co-operating, sorting out arguments – by hanging out with my siblings. So I feel like my son is missing out on a lot.
I’m just trying to make sure my boy develops a strong bond with his cousins and make sure he has lots of play-dates with his friends. As my wife keeps trying to tell me, being an only child isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“My screwed-up love life has influenced her view of relationships”
I split up from ex wife when our daughter was two. Was it an amicable separation? It was not. Looking back, I was so angry and hurt. Neither or us behaved very well. I wish I could have done things differently, but the way things played out, my ex and I still have a frosty relationship. We’ve learned that it’s best to keep our contact to a minimum.
My daughter is 14 now and we’re very close, thank God. She’s a really Daddy’s girl. On the relationship front though, things haven’t worked out for me. I’ve had two long-term girlfriends over the past 10 years, both of whom I lived with and who developed a good relationship with my daughter. But when we split up, they just disappeared out of her life.
I don’t know if all this will have any effect on my daughter. But I worry that observing my screwed-up love life has twisted her view of relationships. I wish I could have showed her that a relationship should be a lasting thing. But what can you do? I just try and focus on making sure my relationship with her is as good as it can possibly be.
Will my depression will impact on my girls?
I’ve suffered from depression for the past 10 years or so. It’s up and down. But when I get a bad bout I start to feel really drained – like everything is an impossible effort and all I really want to do is sleep. During those periods I also catch myself becoming more irritable with the kids – I’ve got two daughters aged three and six.
My biggest fear is that my depression will impact on my girls. During those periods I know that I’m not as present or attentive as I should be as a dad. I used to worry about that so much and feel so guilty. It almost became like a vicious cycle, starting another bout of depression.
But my girls also motivate me to look after myself better. I’m on medication now and make sure I exercise regularly – just control the things that I can control to try and keep myself on an even keel. As well, during those periods when I am struggling, we tell the girls that “Daddy isn’t feeling well.” The last thing I want is for them to feel like it’s somehow their fault.
Names have been changed