Thursday, 3 January 2013

The real daddy day care

Neil Sinclair has served as a Royal Engineer Commando, a PE teacher, a security guard for the UN in New York and a PCSO in the Metropolitan Police Service. 

So what's the most difficult role he’s ever undertaken? Fatherhood, by a long stretch! According to Neil, bringing his first son home from the hospital for the first time was the scariest thing he had ever done.

Neil joined the army straight from school, serving for six years in total. The training was vigorous and the work itself – which included tours in Norway, Iraq and Belize – presented daily challenges.

When he joined the forces, Neil had hoped to become a Physical Training Instructor (PTI), but unfortunately about 50% of the recruits had the same idea and positions were limited. So when he left, he decided to do “the next best thing”; to teach physical exercise. “When I got into schools I really enjoyed it and had a good rapport with the kids,” recalls Neil.

And he obviously had a good rapport with his fellow teachers, too, because he met his wife, Tara, at his first teaching post. When Tara was offered an interview with Burson-Marsteller in New York, they were both excited. Neil was able to get a job as a security officer at the UN and the couple settled in New York and had their first two children – Samuel and Jude – across the pond. But fatherhood didn’t come as naturally to Neil as he had hoped; an experience shared by many new parents.

“I put my little boy down hoping my wife had visited the stork of knowledge,” he says. “I had no clue. We had two degrees between us but no idea about being parents. I could have delivered my own son, I knew so much about childbirth, but I hadn’t given much thought to actually having a child at home. If someone offered me £1 million to redo the first six weeks, I’d say no chance! It was a nightmare.”

Having returned to the UK before their daughter Liberty was born, Neil started training as a childminder. This enabled him to spend plenty of time with his own three but also to look after other people’s children. There was a financial benefit, but it was also great for his daughter to have children her age to play with.

Neil has been childminding for around 11 years now, and when he started out there was good deal of suspicion about guys that wanted to be stay-at-home dads, not to mention childminders. “It still goes on today,” he claims, “but there are far more stay-at-home dads now. I was an oddity when I started dropping the kids off at school. Also when I became a childminder. It’s still very rare to see a male in that environment.

It was while he was still childminding that Neil wrote his first book, Commando Dad: BasicTraining, the content of which is based on his own experience of fatherhood, particularly the first time around.  “The idea came out of fear and ignorance,” Neil explains.

“What underpins Commando Dad is being prepared,” Neil explains. “I’ve written the book I wish I’d had when I was a first-time dad.” The book deals with the ‘due to deploy’ period – six weeks prior to the birth, ‘base camp’ – the feeding station and a range of other critical issues such as bulky item storage, and what dads need to take to hospital when their wives or partners go into labour.

Unlike many other parenting books, which tell you what you should be doing at precisely 11am on the third day of the fifth week, Commando Dad isn’t prescriptive. It simply offers tips and advice on how to handle the issues that arise and how to prepare for them. The only section that specifically tells readers what they must do is the first aid segment. “All the rest is based on my experience as a stay-at-home dad and a childminder. There are no case studies or statistics.”

If you’re about to become a dad or know someone is, make sure you get hold of Commando Dad! Read the full story in the March-April issue of Sorted magazine - now available in WH Smith and Sainsbury's, as well as online.

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