Gary Pope

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2.7.2020

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9 mins

Learning to be a Dad...

This is probably going to be quite a personal blog. Well, I know it is because I’ve had a think about it and know what I want to say. And why. Bear with me. The worst of times. The best of times. Been a bit weird, hasn’t it? Birdsong, clean air, political upheaval, unrest, fear. Anger. Death. Sorry. But there is also hope. From the Classics to the Space Operas, hope has enabled the hero of every story to put one foot in front of the other, to get up out of the dust, to face the pain, toil and challenges; to keep their journey going. As parents, we hope for a better future. Hope that our kids will have a brighter place to live than we do. Hope they will be OK. That’s gotten a bit tough of late.

I continue to be inspired by all those parents that have been working through this shitstorm and have managed their families too. A friend of mine has two under 5. How? How have they done it? They’ve worked around, they’ve been organised, they’ve dug deep and gotten on with it. We call it a “stiff upper lip” in the UK.

And they are not alone. Ask any parent why they’ve had their shoulder to the wheel these last three months and they’ll likely say “for the kids”. Some might even call it their purpose in life.

Through the discord and danger of 2020, I have grown as a parent. I, like many, and despite the seemingly endless riot of Zoom, Skype and Teams, have had real, 100% uncluttered, meaningful and just bloody gorgeous time with my family.

The net result is the dad that I was is not the dad that I am. You can check with my kids; I wasn’t shit before. But I am definitely a bit different now.

I don’t often talk about me or my relationships and I am a bit British in that way. But I’ve decided to change that. For now anyway. And I’ve decided to do this because I’ve learned a lot and have been inspired to have an idea that I am beyond excited about and would LOVE you, yes, you dear reader, to get involved in. So, if you’ll allow me, I will begin...

Laurence is 11. He’s got a sister called Daisy and a dog called Lucky. He’s not sporty but LOVES the trampoline, he reads voraciously and is addicted to video games. He challenges a lot and does his chores. Your own kids are always the best but I’d say we got lucky with Laurence (and Daisy, but that’s a whole other story/chapter/tome)..

I’ve got four Laurence in Lockdown Learnings to share with you...

ONE: MOHAWK WEEKEND.

On Easter Sunday Laurence said he wanted a buzz-cut. I am not the most follically rich of people and so am adept with the hair shears. Except I slipped. I cut my own, not other people’s. Anyway, the net result was that Laurence ended up with mohawk - in green. Just like a Clone Trooper, I think he looks like DeNiro in Taxi Driver. I’m hopeful that Laurence hasn’t been "reborn" as a cold-blooded killer like Travis Bickle, but when that hair was cut on Easter Sunday, a little piece of the young man he is becoming emerged.

And whilst tinged with a modicum of sadness at the loss of childhood, I also felt a sense of massive pride. He grew. I grew.

TWO: MENTAL HEALTH REALLY MATTERS.

We were driving back from another visit to my mum where we stood at her back window and chatted whilst holding our own flask of tea. Iain Dale (who is amazing) was doing his mental health show with the incredible counsellor Emma Kenney. Caller after caller rang in and they were in pieces. And this incredible lady gave such empathy and understanding, directed these callers with such respect, and never once did she encroach in their dignity. It was incredible to hear. I glanced in the rearview mirror and we looked at each other, amazed.

And in that moment I knew he understood the vulnerability of the human condition. And in that moment I loved my son even more. He grew. I grew.

THREE: THE BRIDGE OF DOOM.

We’ve got an old Xbox and a new Xbox. Laurence has his set up in his room and the old one in my office. Next, he created additional accounts, so that now we can co-op Rainbow Six. Whilst in different rooms we talk to each other through headphones as we blast and snipe our way through various hostage scenarios. A couple of weeks ago on Reddit, he clocked the 1993 version of Doom was out on Xbox. He spent his own money, downloaded it and asked me to play with him. He took the time to think of what might engage me. We played, much as we’ve always played, only this time it was more on my terms. Doom uses only four buttons on the controller. Rainbow Six uses 13.

He helped me and I helped him, we played as a team and we won. We connected through a game that was released 15 years before he was born and we both loved it. It was whilst playing this game that I understood that play is a dialogue - and we both understood that, however old we got, we’d be able to play together. I grew. He grew.

FOUR: THE HOMEMADE DARK KNIGHT.

I watched yesterday afternoon as he completed a project about his favourite movie (The Dark Knight) - he had to make a remake of his favourite film - whilst in lockdown, with no actors; not easy. Although there was the little cameo of his at the end where he became The Joker (that’s him in the picture), he did it. He was able to ask for help because I was here, at home, and I was able to give the time because I was here. We shared, we bonded, we dealt with the deletion of several .mov files, and we came through stronger together. During this process, our trust and understanding of each other became tighter. He grew. I grew.

There are countless other fleeting interactions, conversations, little projects and experiences that I could share, but I wouldn’t dare ask you to indulge me any more. These slices of time, these shards of emotional connection that build relationships, these makers of memory are what guides us. We have to be attuned to them so we recognise them when they come. Society can inhibit this and my personal experience, like so many others’ during this time, has been one of being given no choice but to slow.

My own dad passed away when I was ten. And I share this aspect of my life with colleagues that have lost parents at a young age too. I hope they don’t mind my saying, but for me it is an unseen but very well understood bond. The impact a father can have on your life, just like a mother, is incalculable. Parenthood is not a skill we are born with it is one we learn. And I used to think that I had missed out on learning what being a dad was.

In the last few months, I have come to realise that actually, the person best placed to help me understand fatherhood didn’t have to be my dad. As long as I carried a little of him in me and turned my ears to the people who needed me to be a dad and really listened, then actually I could get better at it. It’s a two-way street. It is a dialogue between you and your children, it is the observance of others, it is seeing how your partner deals with things, it’s watching your kids play, and understanding how they navigate what it means to be a child and learning about this great big beautiful, ugly, dangerous, inspiring, difficult and exciting world.

And so we get to the bit about you...

In the next week or so Kids Industries is going to share a thing we’re doing for dads and those that have to be a dad. Let’s be super clear: the role of dad is fulfilled by many different people and many of them find themselves in far more precarious positions than I did. It would be great if you could help me to help them. It’s a big idea and I’m a little bit scared,  but if you can help me then maybe we can all grow a little...  

Stay tuned and thank you.