Michael Klim: “Divorce Has Made Me A Better Dad”

Luke BenedictusBy Luke Benedictus.
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Father of Stella (13), Frankie (8) and Rocco (11)

“How do you compare the highs of being a dad with the high of being an Olympian? You can’t – they’re just not in the same sphere. I was very fortunate to win Olympic gold and break world records at the same time. That was the highest achievement I could experience in sport. The adrenaline, the rush, the adulation from the crowd – it was incredible.

“But the highs of parenthood are more intimate. That’s the thing that I was never prepared for as a dad: those insatiable emotions of love and appreciation and pride. In sport when you win, it’s almost like a feeling of relief. You work towards something and, obviously you’re proud of your achievements, but it’s not such a nurturing emotion. The highs of being an Olympian are momentary, but the highs of being a dad are ongoing.

“The one thing nobody told me about fatherhood was how challenging it is.
It can be bloody hard at times. But it’s also incredibly rewarding.

“What’s been the hardest phase so far? Right now, actually. Like quite a few dads out there, I’ve gone through some changing personal circumstances as well as a divorce. That’s required a lot of adaptation both for the kids and myself.

“Through all that, my priority has just been to try and be the best dad that I can be for the kids. It’s been a difficult period for me personally, but I’ve just tried to ensure that the kids are OK and keep them as unaffected as possible at what could be an unsettling time

“My support network of my partner, my friends and my family was really, really important to help me get through this. Self-care is a big factor too. I still try to look after myself – my fitness and swimming helps me mentally cope with stress. But I’ve also worked on the emotional side of things. Mindfulness is something that I’ve focused on by making more time to stop and reflect. I’m attempting to “declutter” my life by trying to say “no” a lot more. There were probably times in the past where I was trying to do too much. But I’m now focused on creating a more sustainable lifestyle so I can spend as much time as possible with the kids.

“Divorce has, I feel, made me a better dad.
It’s made me prioritise what is important to me and the kids are very important. Their happiness is very important.

“What part of my dad game am I working on at the moment?
Well, I’m definitely working on my jump-shot, I haven’t won a game of horse against my son for about two years and he’s only 10. I need to get better at Connect 4 against Frankie, too – she’s a genius at that.

“But I’m also working on being my kids’ friend as well as their parent. As a dad, you have to be authoritarian at times. But you’ve also got to have fun. Sometimes I get too carried away in making sure the structure is there for my kids and they’re doing the right thing. But ultimately, what makes me the most happy is when the kids are having fun. So I’m working on having more fun with them myself.

“The best piece of advice someone has ever given me about parenting is just to be adaptable, because there’s no manual. We’re dealing with these human beings that are a compilation of different DNA, but at the same time, they’re their own individual beings. Sometimes as a dad, you can be convinced that you’re doing the right thing. But you have to remember that your kids have a voice too. It’s really important to listen to them.

“As a dad, I think sometimes you have to help your kids to overcome their fears.
For example, my son, Rocco, was really nervous before his school swimming carnival. There was all this expectation on him due to having a father that was a swimmer – he was worried about that judgement from his peers. Rocco didn’t want to swim. But I gently encouraged him and made sure that he was signed him up in every event.

“At first, he was a little embarrassed about getting up there on the blocks, but he managed to overcome those emotions. In the last event of the day, Rocco swam past one of his schoolmates to win the breaststroke. To this day, he always remembers that moment.

“For him to have such a positive experience after I nudged him out of his comfort zone was pretty rewarding. Sometimes the greatest rewards come with the greatest challenges and, I think, a lot of growth can happens in those periods. I felt super proud of Rocco for the way that he managed to face down his fears.”