How the next generation of men are learning to be good dads

Last week I found myself sitting in a park with a collection of new mums, eating sponge cake and talking about mastitis. I had gate-crashed my sister's mothers group – the wonderfully named 'Breast Friends' – to hang out with my niece, Zoe.

Conversation moved from blocked milk ducts to controlled crying, the various mums trading war stories. There was a long debate about whether or not the eye gunk on one baby was merely gunk or something more sinister, perhaps conjunctivitis? As a lifelong hypochondriac, this kind of chat appealed to me, and I'd never felt more at home. Between the cake and arguments about potential illnesses, I had found my people.

Eventually, one mother turned towards me (presumably curious about the bearded stranger deep throating a sponge cake) and asked an interesting question:

What type of father do you want to be?

It caught me off guard. I was expecting something more along the lines of:

Do you want kids? How many? What are you doing at the all-female Breast Friends meet up? Is that your third slice?

Father figures

While many men my age picture what it will be like to have kids, its rare to consider what version of fatherhood you'll latch onto once they're here. But that day in the park, amongst the Breast Friends and baked goods, I began to think about it.

At first, I figured fatherhood would be an evolution of what I'm doing now, crushing it as the Fun Uncle (FuncleTM). All the LOLS, none of the heavy lifting. As if reading my mind, my sister jumps in and shuts down my thought process.

"You know being a father isn't like being an uncle! There's no rolling in, hungover on a Sunday afternoon, sniffing the baby's head and hoping their innocence will cure you."


(Side note: This really works!).

The Breasties all nodded in agreement. Next, I turn to my own father and wonder if our unavoidable sameness will also apply to our style of parenting. Earlier this year, I wrote a column about how most men are terrified of turning into their fathers.

It's a fear that still cripples me.

Setting the scene

Every time I grill a foreign waiter about their country of origin – "So what are you, Portuguese?" – I feel the dark magic of genetics at work. Like father, like son, like seriously, where are you from?

But while we might step into their shoes, I don't believe we'll father in their footsteps. Too much has changed between them and us. I don't mean to tar all Baby Boomer dads with the same brush, but for the most part, they got off pretty easy.

My old man will be the first to admit that he was definitely a supporting actor in the film that was our family. My mum was the lead, starring in every single scene, while also directing and producing. Give that woman an Oscar.

Ultimately, when I think about the type of dad I'd like to be, I turn to close friends who have become fathers. Over the last few years, many of my mates have had children, and I'm now surrounded by stellar examples of what fathering should look like. They are kind, compassionate, and interested, which is precisely why I intend to cherry-pick their best bits and become a super dad.

Famous examples

If you don't have friends to turn to, you can always draw inspiration from all the famous fathers who seem to have it figured out. My mate James is an aspiring dad-to-be, and he's continually referencing Hamish Blake as his yardstick for paternal perfection.

James is so keen to have a baby that he recently told his girlfriend, Karina, that all he wanted for his 30th birthday was to become a father. Instead, she gave him a Le Creuset cast iron skillet instead. Happy Birthday, James.

A quick scroll through Hamish's Instagram feed and I can see where James is coming from. Hamish is the proud co-owner of two cute children, and he recently got back from a long holiday in Italy. When you can procreate but still squeeze in the annual pilgrimage to Positano, you're doing the Dad thing right.

And so, after much internal deliberation, I finally offer my answer up.

"I guess the type of father I want to be lies somewhere between Hamish Blake and the friends I hang out with. Basically ..."

But before I can continue my speech about modern-day dadding, my mum friends break into a fervour discussing their love for Zoe Foster Blake. Someone passes me another piece of sponge cake.

Breast Friends Forever.