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Why being a hands-on dad is finally viewed as a very, very important job

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Angelina Jolie, Zahara, Brad Pitt, Maddox

Angelina Jolie, Zahara, Brad Pitt, Maddox

Angelina Jolie, Zahara, Brad Pitt, Maddox

Throughout his illustrious career, Hollywood actor and heart-throb Brad Pitt has won countless awards. His marriage to the equally successful Angelina Jolie also appears to be a rip-roaring success. But despite all his achievements on the professional and personal fronts, the 50-year-old star says his most rewarding role to date is being a dad.

What is it about fatherhood that makes one of the world's most celebrated men extol its virtues? We spoke to two Dublin dads to find out what they think of their fathering skills and how being a father has changed their lives.

Paul Daly (right), originally from Dublin but now living in Wexford town, is married to Janette O'Hanlon and has two children Alex (14) and Emma (7). The 47-year-old, who became a stay-at-home dad after being diagnosed with cancer five years ago, says nothing prepared him for the emotional high of becoming a father.

"Janette and I had our challenges in becoming parents and it was a long road of ups and downs and highs and lows before we had Alex, so the feeling of my family unit being complete was overwhelming.

"I had the son I always wanted and was going to do all the things that fathers do with their sons. Then Emma was born in 2007 and I finally understood the saying about fathers and their daughters - it's a surge of love like no other.

"Anyone who knows me will tell you I embraced everything about fatherhood - I'd wanted it forever. As a hands-on dad I've loved everything about it and have never been afraid to show it. It's rewarding, but also hard work and there are no rights or wrongs.

basics

"Being a homemaker and keeping well for the children keeps me going. In a way the recession, becoming a one-income family and my illness have brought us back to basics in the things we do with the kids.

"I've discovered that I'm quite a good cook so there's a lot of baking of everything from pizzas to cookies. We are a family of animal lovers so with three cats and three dogs there's also a lot of walking done.

"Being a dad is hard in the beginning as you don't know whether you're coming or going.

"But not only do we instinctively know that in general fathers are really important to their children but science also confirms that dads contribute to their social-emotional, educational and cognitive development.

"When you become a dad, you realise a love that you never thought possible before.

"Sometimes it can be the hardest challenge you've ever faced - it will test your patience and self-control to the max, yet by contrast it's the most emotionally uplifting feeling too, and when you least expect it."

Gavan Duffy (below) lives in Dublin with his wife Joanne and their sons Milo (9) and Rowan (7). The 42-year-old, who is a partner in the web design company www.weareopen.ie, says before becoming a father he had no idea how many facets there were to the role, but is determined to be the best dad possible to his two little boys.

 

"When you first become a father, you're thrilled with the newness of life. You don't really realise in the beginning - other than the thrill factor - the gravity of the position. Then as your children grow and you vicariously live your life through them, because you've been there you begin to enter a new arena that is only to be described as an overseer.

"You become responsible. You become a benefactor, supplier, gladiator, pitch-side supporter. I would say it's a multi-tasking as well as rewarding role.

"I play as much as possible with my two boys at whatever they are doing around the house or garden.

"So that could be anything from building bases for Nerf attacks to lining-up a penalty to win the Champions League. We also love to read together, sketch and act out funny movie scenes.

"If I had more time I'd love to bring them on a trip across America and meet up with the guy from Man v Food as we spend a lot of time together dreaming of some of those American diner dishes.

"If I could give advice to new fathers I would say that being a healthy and happy dad is one of the greatest gifts you can give to your kids. But don't forget, Mum is always right."

Child psychologist Peadar Maxwell says men can often be pigeon-holed into being seen as the less emotionally-skilled parent and think they can't help a child with particular problems or issues. But more often than not, children just want someone to listen to them and spend time with them.

"Bonding and attaching with our children does not require special skills or endless free time," he says.

"Instead, it happens when we feed our very young children and cook with our older children. Bonding happens by being available to our children by sitting with them, helping them and tucking them in at night.

"Attachment is strengthened when we teach safety and give our children boundaries - so I would say most fathers have the capacity to be a good dad.

"With regard to emotion, I would suggest that fathers experiment with expressing themselves a little more than they are used to.

"Rather than pushing themselves too much they should make small comfortable changes such as grabbing a few minutes to kick a ball together, or telling their child they need help gardening or helping with a household chore.

"Fathers can ask their child to help them at the supermarket or say, 'I'd love to have your company'.

CONNECTING

"Walks, bike rides and family film nights are also great opportunities to talk about things, remember your own childhood or listen to what your child has to say.

"At the end of the day we fathers can demonstrate how much we love and care for our children by providing and protecting, but it also means so much to a young person to hear kind, connecting words like 'I love you'."

The Wexford-based psychologist says it can sometimes be difficult to strike the right balance between having a fun relationship with your children and ensuring that certain rules are obeyed - but it is important for parents to ensure the family roles are defined without too much discipline being enforced.

"Of course parents, mother or father, need to be in charge of their children and offer their young child or teenager a sense of safety, but there is no good reason to be overly-stern," he says.

"The best time to parent and discipline a child of any age is when things are going well. Children learn so much from being with their parents and fathers can use trips to the DIY shop or the to-ing and fro-ing from extra-curricular activities to practise chatting with their sons and daughters.

"Humans are, of course, social creatures, constantly observing and learning about good and poor behaviour from one another.

"Fathers who engage with their children in a positive and caring way are teaching their sons how to be a good man and priming their daughters to expect care, attention and respect from other significant males in her life."

Maxwell says that children benefit from positive experiences with many different caring and loving adults such as grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles and where possible we should ensure they have time to interact with many significant members of the older generation.

"Each age, gender or personality has something unique to offer the child or adolescent," says the expert. "Fathers and grandfathers bring a sense of the physical world by teaching their children and grandchildren about things they know about or activities they enjoyed which might be different to what the child's mother has experienced.

important

"That could be outdoor adventures, observing and talking about different kinds of work or sport or even engaging in the rough and tumble that body awareness professionals tell us is so important for development.

"Also, while it is important for boys to learn about guy things from their dads it is also important for girls to have the positive attributes of a caring male figure modelled for her too.

"So if a mother is concerned that her child has no access to his or her father she might give more attention to a positive grandfather figure."

With six children to take care of, Brad Pitt may find it difficult to give each one his undivided attention, but Maxwell says that simply being involved with your children and ensuring they know you care will help them to become well-rounded adults.

"Children with involved, caring fathers are predicted to have better educational outcomes," he says.

"A number of studies suggest that fathers who are involved, nurturing and playful with their infants have children with higher IQs as well as better language and thinking capacities.

"Toddlers with involved fathers go on to start primary school with higher levels of academic readiness. They are more patient and can handle the stresses and frustrations associated with schooling more readily than children with less involved fathers.

"So there's something special that happens when a loving, caring and involved father spends time with his children and it does not, in any way, take from the importance of a mother; it simply indicates that men have their own unique contribution to make to their children's lives."

significant males in her life."

Maxwell says that children benefit from positive experiences with many different caring and loving adults such as grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles and where possible we should ensure they have time to interact with many significant members of the older generation.

"Each age, gender or personality has something unique to offer the child or adolescent," says the expert. "Fathers and grandfathers bring a sense of the physical world by teaching their children and grandchildren about things they know about or activities they enjoyed which might be different to what the child's mother has experienced.

"That could be outdoor adventures, observing and talking about different kinds of work or sport or even engaging in the rough and tumble that body awareness professionals tell us is so important for development. Also while it is important for boys to learn about guy things from their Dads it is also important for girls to have the positive attributes of a caring male figure modelled for her too.

"So if a mother is concerned that her child has no access to his or her father she might give more attention to a positive grandfather figure."

With six children to take care of, Brad Pitt may find it difficult to give each one his undivided attention, but Maxwell says that simply being involved with your children and ensuring they know you care, will help them to become well-rounded adults.

"Children with involved, caring fathers are predicted to have better educational outcomes," he says. "A number of studies suggest that fathers who are involved, nurturing, and playful with their infants have children with higher IQs, as well as better language and thinking capacities. Toddlers with involved fathers go on to start primary school with higher levels of academic readiness. They are more patient and can handle the stresses and frustrations associated with schooling more readily than children with less involved fathers.

"So there's something special that happens when a loving, caring and involved father spends time with his children and it does not, in any way, take from the importance of a mother; it simply indicates that men have their own unique contribution to make to their children's lives."


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