Growing up in Drouin, Victoria, my dad wasn’t really around much. And when he was, well, let’s just say that I don’t have real good memories of those times.
But my mum was always there for my sister and I. She stepped up to play the roles of both parent and made absolute sure that we never missed out on anything. My sister became a professional netballer and obviously I played football. So as kids she had to drive us everywhere – often my sister was playing in Melbourne and I was playing footy all around regional Victoria. My mum just always made sure we had everything we needed.
The way things were with my dad really showed me what not to do. I always knew that I wanted to go about fatherhood a different way. When my daughter Matilda was born (in 2015) I was determined to be a good dad.
The AFL culture has changed towards fatherhood. It’s more supportive now – the clubs offer crèches and recognise that many players do have to juggle those roles. Clubs don’t just want you to be a good player any more, they want you to be a good person. Fatherhood is a big part of that.
Going through a relationship break-up as a dad was really hard. Suddenly my daughter was removed from my care. At the start, I was in a position where sometimes I was only seeing her every second weekend. That was a real low-point for me.
Trying to deal with all that while also trying to be a professional athlete was difficult. You’ve got to be so focused as a player and when you’ve so much else going on in your mind it’s tough. I was having to rock up and train while all the time I was thinking about when was I going to be able see my daughter again. It was a struggle and probably did affect my football.
What advice would I give to another dad going through a break-up? Talk to people. Realise you don’t have to figure it all out on your own. Talk to your mates or talk to professionals. I was lucky being at a football club where they had psychologists and counsellors. I started seeing a counsellor. Talking things over helped a lot. It lifted a lot of the weight off my shoulders.
It also helped me to simplify what I really needed to do. I realised that I needed my job playing football to support my family. And it reinforced to me that I needed to be the best dad that I could possibly be.
One of the biggest things I learned (about co-parenting) is to try and appreciate the time that I do have with Tilly instead of focusing on all the time when we’re not together. When I’ve got her we do so much together – ballet concerts in the living room, kicking the footy in the street, riding bikes… We just try and make the most of our time.
The part of my dad-game that I’m working on now is trying to strike that parental balance between being the good-time guy and being the disciplinarian. Because I don’t have my daughter with me all the time, I want her to enjoy our time together. But I need to find a way to provide the discipline too. So it’s that good cop / bad cop dilemma.
My children’s book came about just from hanging out with Tilly and making up stories and rhymes. A couple of years later all that has turned into a hard-cover book. What’s my advice about toilet training? Mate, it’s all about patience. Everyone wants it to happen as quickly as possible. But you just have to be patient until one day everything finally just clicks…
Poopy Pants and Potty Rants is on sale now. Buy it here