Fatherhood can prove to be both a tricky and exciting time in a man’s life. What with all the new expenses and responsibilities, it can be daunting. But in the midst of all the challenges, there’s great reward that comes with being a dad, a reward that can be experienced only by those who’ve had the pleasure of bringing a person into the world.
We chat to two fathers about their experiences and challenges, and advice they have for fathers-to-be.
THE REALITIES AND CHANGES
Thobela Mdaka, former Springbok Sevens player and now businessman, is a father to two beautiful daughters. He says that while he didn’t come into fatherhood with any expectations, many people had told him what it would be like – yet it was nothing like he’d been told.
“I wasn’t expecting much, but I thought it would be much easier than what it turned out to be. Basically, it’s not as easy as what people make it out to be before you experience it yourself,” he says.
Fatherhood has changed him in many ways, and through the experience he’s found he’s become more patient, considerate and selfless.
“I need to think about my daughters in every single thing I do; everything revolves around them,” Thobela says. “If I need to go on a trip, I need to know how it’s going to affect them. I also can’t be away for longer than a week. If I’m away for more than a week, I need to find a way, during my trip, to come back and see them. This is just one example of how I’ve become selfless and considerate, no longer just thinking about only myself any longer.”
Tebogo Maponyane, a sub-editor and layout designer at one of South Africa’s most-read newspapers, is also the father to two children, a girl and a boy, and agrees with Thobela that fatherhood is a lot harder than what one would expect.
“Having kids is expensive and is a huge responsibility. I think before I knew of the realities, I had a very macho kind of feeling about fatherhood – it gave me some sort of bragging rights – and that it was going to be all hunky-dory, forgetting about the actual realities,” he says.
For Tebogo, the biggest change that came with fatherhood for him was his lifestyle.
“I don’t go out as much as I used to and most of my time is spent with my children. It’s put a strain on my finances, with all the expected and unexpected costs that come with having children, so I’ve also had to be quite financially savvy,” he says.
It’s not the big things that one appreciates and values the most – the magic is in the moment. Thobela says that for him, coming home and witnessing his daughters’ excitement at seeing him has been the most rewarding thing.
“There are times when you walk into the house and the kids just light up and run to you. I think more than anything that’s what I look forward to. That love – they say it goes away after a while and they stop caring about you. But at the moment, that’s what I’m loving. Sometimes I even get disappointed when they ignore me,” he says with a laugh.
Tebogo feels exactly the same way. He says that while it’s really tough, it’s also rewarding knowing that you have these two little human beings who look up to you and give you unconditional love – not because of what you have but because of who you are to them.
“The love my children give to me is so natural and organic. They don’t judge me and they love me for who I am. It’s a magical feeling I think one can experience only when you are a parent. I don’t about when they grow up. I’ve heard it all changes, but the love I get from them now is everything.”
ADVICE FOR NEW DADS
Thobela says that new dads shouldn’t listen to everything that everyone tells them. Each dad and each parent will always have different experiences, and following someone else’s “template” won’t do much for you.
“Everyone will always have something to say about how they think you should be raising your kid, but experiences are different,” he says. “Kids react differently to various things, so it’s a case of discovering your own child – and you will, at some point, find your feet and what works for you.”
Tebogo says that the biggest piece of advice he can give to fathers is to make sure they’re financially prepared for their kids. He says that besides everything else that comes with preparing for a child, saving should be at the top of your list.
“It’s important that there’s a certain stability you have in your life before you have children. It’s about being responsible and not being unfair to your child. It’s selfish to bring a child into this world when you know you won’t be able to give them basic stability – shelter, food and education.”
But more than anything else Tebogo says that the first and best thing you can do for your child is to love them wholeheartedly, to spend time with them and to put them first.