Justin Harreman and his two kids - Austin, 1 and Mackenzie, 2. Picture: Andrew Tauber
Justin Harreman and his two kids - Austin, 1 and Mackenzie, 2. Picture: Andrew Tauber

New dads’ get honest on fatherhood

BECOMING a father brings untold joy, from examining that scrunched up face to feeling the warmth of that precious little bundle against your chest.

But what about that crying, the never-ending nappies, the chaotic routine and those sleepless nights when you have to go to work the next day?

It's little wonder men experience stress, anxiety and postnatal depression as well as women.

Beyondblue says the mental health of dads is important, not only for themselves, but because it impacts on their partner and babies' wellbeing.

SCROLL DOWN FOR THESE DADS' BRUTALLY HONEST TAKE ON FATHERHOOD

The non-profit organisation has launched Australia's first campaign to support the mental health of new dads, called Dadvice.org.au, where new dads can watch episodes of web series Dadvice, complete a quiz to check how they're coping, and access further support.Dadvice.org.au is funded by the Movember Foundation and stems from research showing while 89 per cent of men view becoming a dad as a time of great joy and happiness, many feel overwhelmed by the responsibilities of their new role.

The research included 1531 new and experienced fathers across Australia in 2015, with 79 per cent of those surveyed feeling the need to be "the rock" and provide a stable, unemotional support base for their family and 47 per cent reporting it caused them stress and anxiety.

Beyondblue chairman Jeff Kennett says becoming a dad can be a risky time for mental health.

"Like new mums, new dads have a lot to deal with," Kennett says.

"Dadvice is about intervening early. It's about giving new dads the strategies to manage their stress as a new dad before things escalate to a crisis point.

"Dadvice shows the reality of fatherhood and it's not always a glossy picture. Dadvice provides practical, real life guidance to men trying to find their feet as a dad."

Today Weekend shares some of the thoughts and feelings of four of the 12 dads involved in the Dadvice.org.au campaign, as revealed in video diaries.

blanche.clark@news.com.au

Justin Harreman and his two kids, Austin, 1 and Mackenzie, 2. Picture: Andrew Tauber
Justin Harreman and his two kids, Austin, 1 and Mackenzie, 2. Picture: Andrew Tauber

JUSTIN HARREMAN

Port Melbourne, dad to Mackenzie, 2, and Austin, 14 months

THE STRESS OF BEING A NEW DAD

Comically, I know pretty much all the Wiggles songs, I participate in Dora the Explorer interaction.

Other things, I guess on a more serious note, is that my wife and I, we're not really intimate very much any more. We try, we really try and one of them either wakes up or one of them may be sleeping in the room with us, so we can't do anything.

It's one of those things where we're both exhausted as well. My wife stays at home with the kids and I'm at work. I get home and it's action stations again, you know? You've got to help out, you've got to help feed, bath time, put them to bed. And so it's a battle and when you finally get the kids to bed and you go to bed yourself, you're out for the count.

You don't really have much free time any more. I didn't value free time so much as I do now. It's sort of like, "Wow, I can't believe I wasted so much downtime." Now my time is precious, that's the feeling I get now. Hanging out with mates, talking to mates it's a no-go. It's pretty much work and family ... You might be able to dabble a little bit of social time here and there. You might try to go to barbecues where you know friends that have kids and you're constantly making sure they don't touch this, they don't grab that. It's a battle, it's a struggle but I wouldn't change it for the world either.

Matt Currie and his daughter Alexis, 18 months. Picture: Rebecca Michael
Matt Currie and his daughter Alexis, 18 months. Picture: Rebecca Michael

MATT CURRIE

Richmond, dad to Alexis, 18 months

BALANCING WORK AND BEING A DAD

Work allows me to do three days a week, because that's when I have my daughter in childcare. And I'm on an hourly rate with work, so I can leave early to pick her up if I need to, or if I'm running late I can go and drop her off late or early, so it's sort of flexible around her, which is great.

WORK

Work sort of becomes like a good break from looking after her. But then at the same time when you're at work it's a "grass is always greener" situation. When you're at work you just can't wait to get home and pick her up and hang out and then when you've got her, you're like, "Ah, she's crying all day and I just want to go to work".

MATES AND SOCIAL LIFE

(It's) pretty much non-existent. My wife and I bought a house in the inner city pre-child and we bought that purely for social-life reasons and work reasons because we both work in the city. You know, going out all the time, you can just taxi, tram, walk to pubs, clubs, bars, and all of my immediate sort of friends live in the same area in the city, so it's easy to see them. Since having kids it's all out the window. You don't get out as much, you just can't get out. If you want to go out, you've got to prepare for the next day. Especially if you have a few beers - hung-over with a kid is the worst thing in the world. She still gets up at five in the morning and doesn't care what time you've got home or how you're feeling the next day.

What's tough, I guess, is my mates in the city they don't have children. They still go out every weekend, last minute, go to the pub, go see a movie or go see a band or whatever. I'm just like, "I can't guys, I haven't organised a babysitter," or "the wife is already out at work, so I just can't make it."

HOW FRIENDS HAVE RESPONDED

They understand it as much as they can with not having children, and I was the same, I didn't get it. I was always to my mates who had kids before I did, "Oh, come on, just get your wife to look after them or get a babysitter," or "come and have one night out." Now I'm in that spot I get it ... They have just sort of in a way stopped inviting me to things ... I say no more than I say yes, so it makes it easier for them to almost forget about me in a way.

THE STAGE HE'S AT

On a massive learning curve. Literally every day is different. You think you've got it down-pat, you've got a good groove, but then everything changes again and she goes from being really great and interactive to the next day or next week, it's like she doesn't want to know you; is very clingy to mum. When mum has to go to work you have to take her off her, it's tears and crying. You think, "I had it down pat last week she was all into you and now she's not."

That's the other thing, I don't know where I am right now, I don't know where I'm going, I'm just trying to do the best I can each day. It's not till the end of each day that you reflect on it and you go, "I know why she did that," or "I know why I got stressed or anxious over that," or "I didn't enjoy that time at the park because she tried to run onto the road 20 times and you stopped her."

No one really told you how tough it was going to be, so you sort of think it's going to be pretty easy. Everything you see online is always their kids doing happy things and smiles and all that so you think that's what life is about, but that's such a small minority, just a snapshot of one moment in that day.

GOOD MOMENTS

Where she completely interacts with you and it's all smiles. She understands what you're saying so there's a bit of communication there. Even just when it goes to a day what you presume is a routine - she has a sleep for two hours and then goes back down later on that night for bed; she just eats her food and doesn't throw it on the ground. When you have good, one-on-one interaction moments with her, she's really connecting with you and you know she knows you're her dad.

SAUL DARBY

Fitzroy North, dad to Errol, 1

HOW HOBBIES HAVE CHANGED

I've always been a very social person. Both my wife and I prior to Errol being born were going out with mates, going to the pub. We live in the inner north and we used to spend a lot of time at various establishments there and see a lot of friends and that all dropped off fairly significantly, as it does.

I used to be quite into wine, and going to the local wine store and chatting to the guy there about it, spending money and, of course, going home and drinking it. That doesn't happen any more. I don't think I've gotten drunk in nearly a year.

HIS RELATIONSHIP

That's been smashed in a lot of ways, but not irretrievably so and I think ultimately not negatively so ... It's forced us to reassess a lot of things. It's still very tight.

We were married a year or two before Errol was born. We have been together about five years ... There's a lot of trust there but it changes. Her focus shifts and, of course, the inner five-year-old in me has a tantrum about that occasionally and that's not really appropriate because the baby is the focus, not me.

The first couple of months there was also a lot of trouble getting breastfeeding going and that really hammered her and it really hammered me as well.

During that time, I was obviously trying to be as supportive as possible. When it finally clicked in, it was almost like - you know when you're trying really hard to get a deadline in and then someone calls and says, "Oh, OK the pressure's off," and you just stop working as hard as you were. You just can't generate that energy again. And that's sort of like what happened after the breastfeeding. I just couldn't for a month or so get my support energy back up.

MATES

I see it as a difficult place in that I've either got mates who on the one hand don't have any kids ... or I've got other mates who are already a couple in, two or three in. And the guys who are two or three in have mostly been fantastic.

Except they don't remember how intense it was, so they're very like, "What are you talking about? Just get over it and get on with it," while they're juggling two toddlers and a baby and just going, "Yeah, it's a breeze."

And you're standing there with a baby going, "I'm going out of my mind here."

It's great to have them, but what I don't have and what I yearn for is some mates who are going through it at the same time. We had a lunch with my wife's mother's group the other day and I met some of the other fathers, which was great.

Roland Lewis with his 8-month-old son, Henry. Picture: Ellen Smith
Roland Lewis with his 8-month-old son, Henry. Picture: Ellen Smith

ROLAND LEWIS

Kew East, dad to Henry, eight months

BEING A NEW DAD

It's a challenge, especially the first few months, when you are really tired. I was lucky my first month as a dad, because I'm a school teacher, I was on school holidays, so I got to spend that first month with him and my wife, which was really good. But then coming back and just managing - my whole timetable and my life all shifted so much. I used to sleep in a lot and sleep was really important to me and that's changed heaps.

As far as how it's affected my work, I find it's just managing the tiredness throughout the day. It's actually really nice, I get messages from my wife with pictures of what he's doing. I miss that ... being there.

And then trying to find time to get some of my work done at home is also a bit of a challenge because I've got to help out with changing him, bathing him, feeding him, all of those sorts of things. The biggest thing for me has just been timetabling my whole life again. I think of it like a boomerang. You have got this thing you want to do and then you're up and you have to look after your kid for a bit, settle him or put him to sleep, and then you're back to what you were doing, then something happens and you're up again. You don't get to finish anything in one go any more.

HIS RELATIONSHIP

I play third fiddle now. It's been really interesting actually. In some ways it's made our relationship a lot stronger because we've got to be so united on things and I think that strength has come through a fair bit of angst and understanding that things really have changed because it gets pretty strained at times, especially when it's around what I think he needs or what she thinks he needs, and she's around him a lot more so she has very strong opinions about that.

As a teacher, I really value the learning process and that the process is actually making mistakes and learning from those mistakes. Whereas she really wants me to do it her way. Well, this is what we've been negotiating, she has been wanting me to do it her way. But I feel like we're getting there.

FRIENDS

I've got two other really close friends who have had a child. One is 1½, and the other is one. This Saturday is her first birthday.

She's the daughter of my best mate. He was my best man at my wedding. He's been someone that I go to and I just say, for instance, "It's really cold and we want to put the blankets on Henry but he's rolling over now and what do we do and what did you do?" So just talking about that sort of stuff and what he's gone through has been quite helpful.

Then I have got a bunch of friends who are nowhere near close to having kids and my relationship with them has changed quite a lot because the time demands and my obligations have changed so much compared to their needs and the things they want to do.

HIMSELF

I do feel like I've changed but I don't have a problem with how I've changed. I'm really happy with what I want to do. I really want to spend time with Henry. I hardly ever go out any more, and when I do, I'm in bed by 10 or 11 o'clock at night, which was so not me, so not me, for the last 35 years. I'm really happy about how I've taken on the responsibility of being a parent. I was quite reluctant to become a parent. Like I'm 36, so it's taken me a while to get into the game but I wanted to wait until I was ready and I felt that I was ready.

I love being a dad and I really try to embrace change. I suppose that's something about myself professionally that's gone into my personal life - change is inevitable and if you don't embrace change I feel like you create problems for yourself.

Dadvice is a dedicated section on beyondblue's new Heathy Families website: healthyfamilies.beyondblue.org.au or directly at dadvice.org.au

Mental health professionals are available at the beyondblue support service 24/7 on 1300 22 4636, via beyondblue.org.au/get-support for online chat (3pm-midnight) or email responses within 24 hours.



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