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An open letter to a working dad

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To all the working Dads 

I love Father’s Day in Australia. The glorious month of September, with its warmer weather, footy finals and my birthday, all begins on that first weekend with one of the two days in the year my family makes all about me! The attention always begins on the Friday morning with the traditional Father’s Day sausage sizzle at my sons’ school. Standing slightly awkwardly around the barbecue, chatting to the other proud dads, we all reassure each other our bosses won’t mind if we’re a ‘few minutes’ late into the office on this of all days. As my boys get older they no longer clutch my hand or introduce me to all their friends, but I think they still like knowing I’m showing up for that special event.
 
Being a working father brings me a mixture of purpose and pressure. No longer can you flit from job to job, testing the water like you could in your twenties. As a working dad you are constantly aware that three beings are dependent on you and your partner’s combined income. Without the regular paycheck, their lives might be very different. With this pressure, of course, comes a greater purpose. I strive to be the best I can be in my work, so I have the means to give them some of the things I missed out on when I was younger. Also, to set an example and teach them the important life lesson that whatever you do, you should do it to the best of your ability.

One of my kids recently told me I was so lucky I had a job I enjoyed, unlike most of the other dads. He said his dream was to be doing something he was good at and that he enjoyed - then it would never feel like ‘work’. 

I think the best part of being a working dad is that every experience is amplified when you feel like you have worked hard for them. Every holiday, mini-break or family restaurant trip is all the more pleasurable knowing that maybe some hectic days and a few late nights in the office have contributed to it. Now my boys are all teenagers, they all appreciate the hard work and sacrifices my wife and I have made for them. Up and out together with a sense of purpose.
 
The biggest challenge as a working dad was probably the early years of their lives. Especially those years from 2-5 when you feel like you are the centre of their universe. When an adorable three year old is grabbing your leg, tempting you to pull a sickie as you make for the door, there is no other place you would want to be than at home with him. Obviously, you have to tough out those times and stay on task. I was always lucky that I was able to make sure evenings and weekends I was always there for them. There was no feeling like coming home through the door on a no-rules Friday evening, knowing we all had a whole weekend to connect again.

I’m lucky to have a wife who makes sure the boys always step up and make Father’s Day special for me. It usually begins with one of them balancing the lovingly arranged breakfast just about on the tray as they deliver it to our bed. We’ve had a couple of mishaps over the years with some jam-side-down-toast-on-the-duvet disasters, but it’s all about the intent, right? Then it’s time for cards and gifts. Obviously the cards I really love are when they have taken time to make them themselves. Even though the drawing of me usually resembles a fat Willie Nelson kicking a football! 

When they were younger the school would encourage them to make gifts such as coloured-in paper ties and pipe-cleaner bracelets. As they got older the quality of the homemade gifts elevated to genuinely useful wooden tool boxes and bottle openers. With them now in their teens, I’m in the more thoughtless socks and pants territory. I’m hoping this is just a passing phase.

My relationship is all the stronger for being a working father, as my wife is a working mother. We can relate to the same issues. The struggles to get home at a reasonable time, the eternal balancing act of being a conscientious employee while still needing to get our kids to the multitude of doctor, dentist and school appointments. Neither of us is ever bored with our kids, and treasure every moment we get in our valuable spare time.

The best advice I could give is to never bring your work problems home. Once I leave the office all my attention switches to family matters. It is important to eat around the table as a family for dinner. They often don’t want to do this, but it’s a place where concerns are aired and we can focus on each other. We also stress the importance of commemorating big events. Whether it’s Christmas, Easter, a grand final, the Oscars or the Olympics, we make sure it’s an occasion, have special treats on hand and experience it together as a family.

My dad probably taught me more about being a father by what he didn’t do. He was from another era when fathers and sons did not hug or kiss or show too much affection. Thankfully, these days we have learnt to be much more relaxed around our sons. He would come in from a long day at work, eat his dinner and his duty to the family was done. However, he did always command my respect by his actions. Hard-working and meticulously law-abiding, he hardly ever raised his voice or his hand to us. We just knew not to mess with him and perhaps these days we are a little too chummy with our kids and lose that inbuilt respect.

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