Former soldier’s on a mission to help dads

Fun times: Neil Sinclair on a trip with his family.       Picture: PA Photo/Handout

Fun times: Neil Sinclair on a trip with his family. Picture: PA Photo/Handout

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Being a good dad is one of the hardest missions a man can be deployed on - and the lack of training can make it twice as tough.

As well as being full of love, the best dads need discipline, patience, planning skills and endurance - many of the qualities required by elite soldiers, in fact.

But our troops get thorough training to perform their rigorous duties, unlike dads, whose training is usually all on the job.

However, an ex-commando who has cleared minefields in Iraq and tracked drug traffickers in the jungles of Belize has crawled in on his belly to help other dads who feel as unprepared and daunted as he did when he brought his first son home from hospital.

Neil Sinclair, who spent six years in the army before taking on the untrained mission of fatherhood, has written Commando Dad: Basic Training, a guide to being an elite dad of babies and children under three.

The practical, how-to guide is a gentle reflection of the basic battle skills manual that Sinclair was issued on his first day in the army.

It gives dads clear, step-by-step instructions about looking after babies (BTs or Baby Troopers, as they’re called in the book) and children in the early years, under headings including Preparing Base Camp (preparing your home for the new baby), New Recruits: Surviving The First 24 Hours (including nappy changing and how “occasionally a BT will fire a howitzer into their nappy”), Dealing With Hostilities (tantrums and ‘battle fatigue’), and Morale: A Commando Dad’s Secret Weapon.

Sinclair, who since leaving the army has worked as a registered childminder and as a stay-at-home dad to his three children, Samuel, 10, Jude, aged nine, and five-year-old Liberty, explains: “When I was in Iraq I was trained to disarm mines, but when I became a dad I had no training.

“The first six weeks were horrendous. We had nobody to give us advice and I tried to find books to help but couldn’t. I really felt out of my depth.

“So I drew on my military experience and used military precision to get on with it.”

The discipline and organisational skills he’d learned in the army came in very handy for his new role as a dad, but it wasn’t until Sinclair’s wife Tara had their third child five years ago that the idea of writing a book was born.

“I realised all the books were the same as when we’d had our first baby five years before, and that no one had written a basic training manual for dads,” explains Sinclair.

“My wife just said, ‘You’ve been a stay-at-home dad and if anyone can write that manual, you can’. So I did.

“There’s nothing out there for dads, they feel sidelined. There’s a lot of dads who really want to know what to do - they don’t just want to pat their wife on the back and give her a bunch of flowers, although that’s important.

“They want to do more and hopefully my book’s going to give them the tools to be the dad they clearly want to be.”

All the information in the book has been approved by health, childcare and nutritional experts, but every bit of it comes from Sinclair’s experience as a commando, stay-at-home dad and childminder.

As well as practical advice on how to feed, bathe and hold babies, discipline toddlers (MTs or Mobile Troopers) and entertain and transport them, the book is full of top tips including: “A commando dad always has his kitbag squared away, ready for redeployment” (a kitbag being a changing bag on civvy street), and “As your MT gets older, have a trigger word that tells them you need them to be quiet straight away.”

While dads should gain confidence from following Sinclair’s hard-earned advice, they’ll do well to match his infectious enthusiasm for looking after kids. This is a dad who clearly loves children and the life he now leads, despite its huge contrast with his former life.

However, he admits: “It’s hard work.

“I’ve been a commando and done lots of stressful and physically demanding jobs as part of that, but I had no idea how relentless the work was when you’re a dad.

“It’s so tough, but ultimately so rewarding, and fun.

“I feel very privileged that I’ve been a stay-at-home dad - I’ve seen so much of my kids growing up.”

While most men aren’t quite such devoted childcarers as Sinclair himself, he points out that the idea is for dads to be able to dip into the book as and when they need it to get help with a particular childcare task.

“A commando dad is a hands-on dad,” he stresses.

“He gets involved and takes his responsibilities seriously.

“He spends time with his kids, caring for them and he gets the information he needs to do it.”

Sinclair adds: “It’s all about bringing military precision to parenting.

“Planning and preparation prevents poor parental performance.

“It’s so parents can get themselves in a position where they can enjoy being with their children because they don’t have to worry about the organisational side of things. That’s got to be a good thing.”

Commando Dad: How To Be An Elite Dad Or Carer is published by Summersdale, priced £9.99, available now. For more information and advice from Commando Dad, and a dads’ forum, visit www.commandodad.com

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