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Dads inspiring future Kiwis

Luke Tiller

Stay-at-home dad, former senior intelligence professional

If there is one thing I learned through this whole experience it is this…No matter how important you think your job is, being a father and a husband is the most important job you will have in this life and it’s really important to look after ourselves physically, mentally and spiritually.

In my previous life I was a senior advisor working in government service as part of our National Security workforce. I resigned to become a full-time ‘stay-at-home dad’ around the birth of my second daughter in 2017.

After a seven-year career journey into and out of intelligence work, I was pretty burned out and I decided that it was probably a good idea to rebalance, put family first and support my wife’s return to her career. So, I resigned to become a stay at home dad. It was going to be a good change. It was going to be awesome. I had no idea just how tough an assignment I had signed up for!

So yeah, my former colleagues and team mates were surprised, but at farewell drinks they were all like “Yeah, this is going to be awesome! Go stay-at-home dads! I’m so jealous! I wish I could leave and do that!” (I had a reputation for taking on the tough assignments!)

What I didn’t realise at the time, when my second daughter was born, I was already on a downward trajectory quickly becoming massively depressed after years of suppressing my emotions in my old job… and all of that was now catching up with me. I found it really hard to bond with my new baby girl and I was becoming this disengaged, oftentimes angry and frustrated dad who hated himself, having these random violent anger outbursts when I occasionally emerged from depression and emotional exhaustion.

Looking back instead of forward

Six months went by in a hazy blur. I struggled with my self-esteem and mental state. I constantly stumbled looking back instead of forward. Inevitably, I grieved for my previous work-life balance and rewarding career. Having left ‘such an important job’ so us spooks were constantly told, I now genuinely felt I had failed and given up achieving anything remotely equal in value in the eyes of a modern society that celebrated the ‘career dad who has it all’. My marriage and family life were under incredible strain and I felt the intense shame and guilt of my depression and random angry outbursts.

I believed I was letting my family down and I felt like I was failing at the one very important job I didn’t want to screw up: fatherhood. I wanted to quit everything because my family, my girls, even my in-laws were seeing me at my absolute worst. I thought I was screwing my daughters up. At my worst, I believed the lie that they would be better off without me… guilt and social isolation was the final straw.

Finally, I sought help. The community of specialists and counsellors were always there ready to pick me up. In my previous career, I took for granted the wrap-around support of experienced colleagues and counsellors to call on during times of incredible stress where we needed additional support for our thankless work in the shadows. Having left that close-knit community behind, I would now have to forge new networks of friends, other young families, and tap into local community support providers. I would need them now more than ever…

Battling the ‘man box’

Initially, to deal with my anger outbursts, I confided in a friend who was a family violence counsellor who quickly identified my battle with the ‘man box’ and the incredibly high expectations I had put on myself. Also noticing my obvious depression, he wisely referred me to mental health services, and I began a recovery process with a psychologist. Signing up to group therapy sessions with other men struggling with anger also really helped me gain understanding and a newfound perspective on my struggle with the false expectation that men shouldn’t cry, shouldn’t express emotion or admit to a season of weakness.

I realised that even though (before marriage and kids) I had been physically and mentally broken, now it seemed as a stay-at-home dad with two girls under five I was really just mentally exhausted and spiritually broken.

I realised I needed to start again, be rebuilt, made stronger and re-constructed with the true identity of ultimately who God says I am, and NOT what I was comparing myself to… (other working career dads who still ‘had it all’). I rediscovered my true spiritual identity: I am not the ashamed broken-down father, I’m called to care for my family all the while being very careful with my health and wellbeing so as to be strong for my family and community.

I started a local dads’ coffee group, Wai Dadz, and then organised a massive bonfire and BBQ in a paddock just for the dads without their kids. It was epic. Men sharing just as men. The older dads encouraging us younger dads. It was the space we needed to create. We all realised as fathers we can’t put our mental or physical health on the back-burner, we need to look after ourselves for our families and for the wellbeing of future generations.

If you’re going through a rough parenting season don’t give up! Keep going but do speak up, reach out and keep seeking help. As a father you hold incredible value, the work may be thankless and at times unrecognised, but know that you are an essential asset for your community and an inspiration for future generations of Kiwi world-changers. Your best years as a father are always ahead of you.

Father support websites and contact numbers

  • PADA
    www.pada.nz
  • Kidz need Dadz
    www.kidzneeddadz.org.nz
  • Depression.org.nz
  • Plunketline
    0800 9330922
  • Need to talk?
    0800 111 757 txt 4202

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