Tom Daley and Matt Dawson on fatherhood, bonding, and perspective
Sleepless nights, spit-up on shirts, and extra-strong coffee in the morning—these beautiful little moments are all part of getting through the first few years of fatherhood.
But while exhaustion and frustration are all part of the process, fathers can often feel that they’re somehow missing the mark.
With rates of paternal perinatal depression (PPND) on the rise in the UK, the data seems to show that fathers are particularly feeling the stress during their first year of parenthood.
However, they’re not alone—and both former pro rugby player Matt Dawson and Olympic swimmer Tom Daley agree that fatherhood is a massive undertaking, but incredibly rewarding.
“That moment when you become a parent is a feeling only parents really understand,” said Daley. “It was so overwhelming to feel the joy, love and responsibility flood into your heart.”
Daley, who had his son Robert via surrogacy with husband Dustin Black, has embraced fatherhood with open arms.
“The best part of being a parent is it gives you perspective on what really matters in the world,” Daley said. “To come home and see my son smiling back at me with open arms, takes away all of my stresses and worries in that moment. It reorientated our whole life, he’s the most important thing to me in the whole world.”
As beautiful as those moments were, Daley explained that the first three weeks of fatherhood were difficult. Similarly, Dawson explained that the learning curve for new fathers is steep—but incredibly worthwhile.
“No one is ready for the sleep deprivation!” Dawson said. “But even when you are so tired you can barely think, seeing my boys sleep peacefully still makes my heart pound with pride.
“Then, to the extreme, if they are both running around catching frogs or riding bikes, I will never refuse an opportunity to play with them—no matter how long a day I have had at work.”
THE IMPORTANCE OF BONDING
To help avoid the symptoms of PPND, experts recommend establishing skin-to-skin contact during the first months of fatherhood.
“The moment we did skin to skin, the bonding was immediate,” said Daley. “I never felt so much love for something in my life. He was our little miracle.”
Additional steps that new dads can take to combat PPND include playing with, singing to, and carrying their baby. Even if things feel unnatural to start with, experts say that any effort is a good effort, and it gets easier with time.
Speaking on the bonding process between himself and his sons, Dawson said, “I always felt that my wife, Carolin, was their sole focus until they were three or four years old. Once the boys realised that I was the parent to scrap and play with, I became important. I love that.”
And while becoming a new father is a tremendous effort, Dawson advises new fathers not to panic with their new obligations.
“Dads should feel overwhelmed,” Dawson said. “It’s a massive undertaking, but with tremendous outcomes. Every day is a test and trying to second-guess things is impossible. However, the payback from children is something beyond comparison.”
Similarly, Daley noted that fatherhood is overwhelming, but it’s important to come to terms with that fact, and then continue to move forward.
“I can only imagine as Robbie gets older, new things will pop up, like starting school, exams, making friends,” Daley said. “But it’s important to remember parenting is a learning process for you too, and taking time now and then to reflect on those initial wishes you had, can help ease any overwhelming feelings.”
To help new fathers remember what’s important, Daley and Dawson have partnered with Fairy Non-Bio to support the #ToMyBaby campaign.
The campaign asks parents to share their first, fundamental wishes for their child in a letter, and share it using the #ToMyBaby hashtag. Each time a letter or the video below is shared, Fairy Non-Bio will donate £1 to Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity.