21st-century dad

22 May 2011, by Phillip Hodson
In his first column as DBG’s health guru and agony uncle, psychotherapist Phillip Hodson asks: what does it mean to be a dad today?

Fatherhood is a totally life-changing experience. May as well enjoy it. Photo by D Sharon Pruitt

What does it mean to be a dad in 2011?

I hope it’s more than the definition I got some years back from a weed-smoking hippy who said: “Well, I was present at the conception, weren’t I?”

I was recently asked by my professional organisation, the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, to answer 20 questions about myself. The final one was: “What has been the greatest achievement in your life, or the achievement you value most?”

I wrote: “Parenting my children.”

I can’t think of anything that changes an adult’s life more than having a child. Or rather, I can’t think of anything that should change your life more than having a child.

I have never quite understood the hoo-hah about weddings, even those involving royalty. In my book, marriage is a question not an answer. After all, one-third of new marriages end in divorce within five years.

But you can never, never, never divorce your kids. Getting pregnant therefore outranks marriage or cohabitation by the same amount that a general outshines a corporal.

In my view, the ‘big day’ is not a wedding but your first child’s natal day. From that moment, you undertake a responsibility for as long as you live. (You’ll certainly still be handing over money in their 20s, unless you’re far cleverer than me.)

A dad in my book is not someone who, after his third divorce, decides to father his next child in his late 60s. He is a man who understands that it’s not a great idea to junk one family to start another just because you want better sex with younger women. It’s equally weird to give life to offspring whom you know you will probably abandon by dying before they’re 15.

Of course, if your marriage has ended despite your best intentions, and access to your children is difficult because your ex is a jealous nightmare, and you’ve fallen for a lovely women who yearns for a family of her own – then I do understand. But remember, you still only have limited time and energy. You cannot be in two places at once, despite what you think, and your existing kids still need you to make continuous efforts on their behalf.

So, while DNA will always tell you whether you were present at the conception, fathering actually starts when you accept that you’ll be the guy fetching the morning-sickness bowl.

I have raised two stepsons and a son and am still alive to tell the tale. So not only am I a professional psychotherapist, marriage counsellor and sex therapist of 30 years’ standing, I’m also a fully paid-up, card-carrying, ‘Official’-stamped Dad. And I’ll be here each week to help with the embarrassing stuff all dads have to deal with – concerns, conflicts, mood swings and tantrums – and that’s just among the grown-ups.

If you would like me to tackle a specific subject in the column, I’d love to hear from you at agonyuncle@daddybegood.com. My aim is to write what you want to read, so let me know. (I’m not available to answer private queries.)

Phillip Hodson is a Fellow of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. He used to be the BBC1 Saturday morning agony uncle for kids

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