Speak out in support of the mental and emotional wellbeing of expecting and new parents | 11 - 17 November.
For the past four months I’ve been a fly-in-fly-out (FIFO) Dad of a beautiful two-year old boy. I spend Mondays to Fridays in Adelaide and I’m home in Melbourne on the weekends. I miss him so much, to the point where my internal dialogue was not allowing me to be “present” and I could not cherish every moment I have with him.
Here’s my journey on how I recalibrated my thinking. None of what you are about to read is ground-breaking, but these are easy things to lose sight of – I did.
As it panned out, I didn’t become a Dad until I turned 40. It wasn’t planned that way, it was just that my wife and I had spent our twenties and thirties enjoying life. Since becoming a Dad and experiencing the joys of fatherhood, I regularly ponder about whether we should have done this earlier.
The one tangible positive in being the last of my friends to enjoy fatherhood is the benefit of listening to their reflections. I’m blessed to have great mates, even the most Alpha of Alpha males open up about their experiences, often with a tear in their eye when they reminisce. Unsurprisingly, their reflections and counsel have a very similar theme: time slips by quickly; be present; be grateful.
For me, the biggest battle was my own internal dialogue. I’m a FIFO Dad spending the working week away from home. I would wake up on a Saturday morning after arriving home late Friday night and think, “Geez, I only have 16 waking hours with my little boy this weekend”. With that awful thought I would start an internal count down to the Sunday 6:30pm bath-time, signalling the last chance I’d get to kiss and cuddle my little boy for another five days. All weekend, my mind would be full of anxiety, dreading the countdown and not enjoying the precious moments I have with my little treasure.
I am not sure exactly when or where the turning point came; however, like many attitude and behavioural changes, it was a process of Realisation, Reflection and Action.
The realisation came about through having the courage to verbalise how I was feeling and chat with those closest to me. As a bloke, that was not the easiest thing to do.
My wife, the yin to my yang, can take much kudos. Unashamedly, I have had many tearful conversations (my tears not hers) about how I feel when I leave every Monday morning, knowing that I will be missing out on my little boy’s new adventures, new words he learns, new sentences he forms and new skills he masters. To paraphrase many hours of conversations, my wife’s counsel was “enjoy each moment as life is about quality spent – you can’t enjoy each moment if you condition your mind to feel anxious and dread the 16 hour countdown.”
Part of the realisation process came through stories shared by my closest friends.
Mike has had an incredible career heading up a multi-billion dollar business. Mike is the older brother I never had. Amongst the wisdom he has kindly shared, he once reflected, with some regret, that his amazing career meant that he did not spend as much quality time as he would have liked with his (now adult) children. Mike, now with a new toddler, has a chance to do things differently – and he is.
Phil – my ex-US Navy Lieutenant, laugh-a-minute mate – has one of the most loving father-son relationships I’ve seen. Recently, he gave me a priceless gift, an hourglass. With a tear in his eye, he reflected on how his 20 year old son has recently found love. Naturally, his son is spending more time away from he and his wife. It was Phil’s way to remind me how precious time slips away.
Anil, a successful self-made entrepreneur, told me about a business journal he uses. Whilst we weren’t talking about kids per se, aside from business discipline, the journal reminds us to think of what we are grateful for each morning and each night. In a world of instant gratification, being grateful for what we have and not what we desire is a life-enriching skill.
The reflection part was probably the most difficult, as it required me to think with my head and not feel with my heart. It is easy to focus on the negatives and stay fixated on the proverbial “black dog”.
To calibrate my mind to think productively and not with despair was easier said than done. Looking back, there were two key reflection points. Firstly, I reflected on the alternate scenario. Is the alternative better or worse? Secondly, I reflected on the things I am grateful for.
A simple example to illustrate, but one that I reflect on constantly:
Alternative: I know I can spend more time with my son during the week. Heck, I can start right now, spend seven days a week with him and quit the amazing and well-paying job I have in Adelaide. But what would be the outcome? I would place financial stress on my family and put at risk our future plans. Is that fair? Is it smart? Is it logical? For me, in my circumstance, it is an empathic “no” to all three questions.
Gratefulness: Some of the questions I reflected on are:Am I grateful for the job I have? Am I grateful for a beautiful and healthy child? Am I grateful for how wonderful my wife is as a Mum? Absolutely!
Through these reflections I re-trained my brain to think differently. I acknowledged my feelings as completely legitimate, but also reaffirmed that the alternative could be far worse. I reminded myself of the things I am grateful for. Over a matter of weeks, my mind and my consciousness started to recalibrate themselves. But it’s an ongoing journey.
As a habit, before I leave every Monday morning and head towards the Melbourne Airport chaos, I stand still and turn Phil’s hourglass upside down. For the next 3 minutes, I close my eyes and reflect on the gratefulness I feel: a healthy little boy; a loving wife who’s an awesome Mum; and I have a great job, even though it is far away. I “meditate” on the thought that my wife and I will raise our little boy to be a contributing member of our society, in whatever field he chooses. For now, this is my role in his journey.
Similarly, whilst I am away and feeling down, sorely missing the kisses and cuddles, I would pause, reflect on the gratefulness I feel for the things that I have and the fact that life could be a lot worse.
For most weekends now, I have ceased to feel anxious and I rarely start that dreaded 16 hour countdown. I am now far better at being grateful, being present and living in the moment. Every weekend, I focus on making positive memories with my little boy and my wife. Sometimes I take pictures to capture those moments, other times I simply pause and let the moments etch themselves into my memory bank.
But this is an ongoing journey, there is no “off switch”. Every now and again the black dog does reappear. In these moments I have to stop and remind myself of the Dad I aspire to be and my consciousness then naturally shifts to focus on being present and being grateful.
I wanted to share this story with you, even if you are not a FIFO dad, because we all have the power to control the way we think.
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