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Half term family fun

In my experience, the first half of term is always the most difficult because it’s when the troopers are most tired, as getting back into a school routine can be a huge shock to the system. But this year, we have the stresses of COVID-19 restrictions to take into consideration too.

Here are some ideas that are either free or great value that you can do near home.

Get out and about in a local wood

The local woods are a great place to go with your troopers with trees to climb, forts to build and games to play there is always plenty to do! You’re nearer to a wood than you might think. The woodland trust has a locator that can find your closest wood, just in case you’ve misplaced your OS maps: https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/visiting-woods/find-woods/  if you’re in need of some ideas for what to do while you’re out adventuring, Commando Dad: Mission Adventure will definitely come in handy.

Get creative!

There are many things your troopers can get up to in their household. Children, being naturally creative, can make fun out of most things so here are a few ideas for entertainment you can provide without even having to leave your home.

Mood boards can be fun for all ages, all you need is a piece of cardboard or paper, scissors, glue and a printer. Help your troopers with ideas, printing pictures of their favourite TV characters, animals, foods etc. and sticking them to the cardboard or paper. When they’re finished, they can put it in their room and add to it whenever they like. Alternatively, if you’d prefer to do an online version with the troops, google ‘online mood board creator’ for free templates.

Dress up is always a good one for younger troopers too. We’ve all got old clothes hidden in drawers or cupboards which to our troopers can seem like magical costumes, let them run wild and dress up! Clearly, it’s not an age-based activity as my teenaged troopers Sam and Jude still pinch my clothes now!

If your troopers are creative, you might want to make modelling dough – you only need oil, salt, flour, water and food colouring. It will need to be storied when you’ve finished to stop it drying out (plastic food storage containers do the job well).

Get stuck in down in the garden

There’s always plenty to get up to in the garden, no matter what age your troopers are. Activities such as leaf drawings and building bug hotels are ideal for younger troopers while tasks such as mowing the lawn and picking bulbs to plant for next spring are good for the older ones.

If you don’t have a garden worry not! Picking plants to grow in pots can be just as rewarding and there is a wide range for you to choose from. Hyacinth are a good choice because you’ll have wonderful smelling flowers for Christmas!

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International Father’s Mental Health Day

As a big advocate for the channels of communication always being open between dads and their families, friends and partners, I have been reading up on dads’ mental health. It has given me a new perspective on a subject that is certainly not talked about enough, especially when you consider the numbers involved. A survey by the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) in 2015 found that about one in three dads reported concern about their mental health. Yet there is no requirement for routine mental health screening for new fathers.

Postnatal depression can develop in parents after their baby is born and is a very common problem for new and experienced parents alike. For a very long-time postnatal depression in women went undiagnosed and unacknowledged. As a result, many women suffered through this challenge alone without any legitimate support from a doctor or support group, and perhaps not even feeling they could talk about it with their partner or friends. What a terrible situation. Let’s not continue to make the same mistake with dads.

The first thing we need to challenge is the assumption that dads can’t get postnatal depression because it is purely hormonal. It isn’t. It’s much more complex, based on an individual’s experience, psychology and history which come into play on top of the stresses of being a new parent.  There are multiple factors that can lead to it. For example, being a dad aged 25 or younger, having a partner that is suffering from it, having a history of depression and/or anxiety and not being in a relationship with the child’s mother are all potential factors – but this list is not exhaustive and you may have all of these factors and still not experience postnatal depression.

I believe that postnatal depression in dads needs to be recognised on a wider basis and every single dad needs to know that asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Everybody needs support.

And there is support out there.

Father’s Reaching Out is a website dedicated to dads and mental health, and the dad behind it, Mark Williams, has a powerful story, which you can watch here: https://youtu.be/vIUWWPIVyTM. His website is here: https://www.reachingoutpmh.co.uk/

The hashtag #howareyoudad is used to raise awareness and spark conversations about dad’s mental health in the period around childbirth.

The website From Dads to Dads offers informative articles and advice as well as forums and other support where dads can really have the opportunity to interact and talk to dads who’ve been through exactly the same problems. http://www.fromdadstodads.org.uk/

The NCT has a list of 10 things everyone should know about postnatal depression in dads:  https://www.nct.org.uk/life-parent/emotions/postnatal-depression-dads-10-things-you-should-know

Remember dads, we’re here to support each other. If you need help, ask for it. If you’re worried that another dad, or your partner, may be suffering from postnatal depression, reach out to them.  As parents, we’re in this together.

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D-Day: My Granddad Teddy’s Experience

76 years ago yesterday my granddad, Teddy Williams, took part in the D Day landings. A Guernsey man, he joined up in June 1940 with five of his colleagues from the Guernsey Press . They caught the Glen Tilt (it was ferrying men of fighting age to the mainland to sign up) to Weymouth , from where they were taken to Portland Barracks. My granddad joined the Cornwall Light Infantry, took the oath and received 3s and 6d.


By the time of the Normandy landing he had already seen action as a Desert Rat and the invasion of Sicily. In fact, he nearly never made it to Normandy at all as the American naval vessel that was carrying him from Folkestone to Juno Beach was accidentally rammed by a British destroyer, HMS Warspite. They lost one of the ramps in the incident, meaning my granddad and his fellow troops had to scramble ashore as best they could. In haste my granddad jumped in to what he thought was shallow water but it actually came over his head. He tried to swim up and couldn’t because of the weight of his kit. Then he felt a hand on his back and he was lifted up until he was able to find his footing and scramble up the beach. He never knew who helped him that day.
By this time, the troops in the first landing managed to fight their way up the beach and were penetrating inland. This gave my granddad and the other Pioneers the chance to establish petrol dumps ashore. The fuel was ferried by amphibious vehicles from vessels standing offshore.
Granddad and his unit landed on Juno Beach and were attached to Canadian troops who he followed through to Hamburg. Every night, Canadian trucks would travel to the front lines to recover the dead, and the bodies were brought to where the Pioneers had set up a moving base. The corpses were unloaded and the vehicles refuelled.
He later received a medal for being one of the thousands of troops engaged in the first 20 days of the invasion.


And how do I know such detailed information? Characteristically of those who served in the war, granddad never really spoke about it. In 2004 though, to mark the 60th Anniversary of D-Day, my granddad’s old employer, the Guernsey Press, wrote an article about him. He sent a copy to each of his daughters (my mum Ann and my auntie Barbara) and across the top he wrote “thought you might like to see this.” I am holding that paper in my hands now granddad and I just want to say a sincere thank you to you – and all of those involved on that day. You changed the world.

— Last Uploaded 6th June 2013 —

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Backup Support

Dads, we are living through challenging and unpredictable times; the coronavirus pandemic has completely changed what we consider normal. With social distancing and lockdowns, we find ourselves in uncharted waters both as parents and people.

At times such as these, it’s important to remember that backup support is absolutely vital. It can take many different forms but at the root of it backup support means looking out for each other. Whether your backup support is your friends, family or Commanding Officer – you need to be able to rely on those around you – and to be able to be relied upon.

It’s certainly true that a problem shared is a problem halved, and I think we dads should remember this advice, and pass it on to our troopers – however young or old they may be. It is hard when you’re going through problems that you don’t feel like you can share with anyone else. It’s isolating. It can even push those closest away from us, right at the time when we need them most.

 As a dad, it’s important to shield your troopers and, at times, put a brave face on. However you must keep the lines of communication open with your backup support and remember that you don’t have to put a brave face for them. Your backup is the people you can be completely honest with and who can be completely honest with you. That way, when problems arise – as they inevitably will – they can be tackled together.

It is critical that you continue to follow the government guidelines to maintain the health and wellbeing of your entire unit – and I am sure every Commando Dad is using his hour of exercise wisely, washing hands and only leaving Base Camp on essential sorties. However, don’t overlook your mental health, it is every bit as important as your physical health in order to be effective backup support for your Unit. If you do have concerns that you feel unable to share with your backup, there are support services out there that can help. I have included some of them below.

Being locked inside for weeks upon weeks can be incredibly mentally taxing for the troopers, so make sure they know that they can talk to you anytime day or night. An upbeat approach will do wonders for the Unit’s morale. If your troopers know they can come to you with any worries or concerns they’re having, it can really help make them more comfortable with their current situation.

Remember, we’re all in this together. You may be isolated but you’re not alone.

  • Hub of hope – Is a national mental health database where you can find the nearest help and support by entering your postcode. www.hubofhope.co.uk
  • Samaritans – Offer emotional support 24 hours a day, in full confidence. Call: 116 123. www.samaritans.org
  • Mind Infoline – Provides information on a range of mental health topics to support people in their own area from 9:00am to 6:00pm, Monday to Friday. Call: 0300 123 3393. info@mind.org.uk
  • Anxiety UK – Runs a helpline staffed by volunteers with personal experience of anxiety from 9:30-5:30, Monday to Friday. Call: 08444 775 774. www.anxietyuk.org.uk
  • MindEd – A free educational resource for children and young people’s mental health for all adults. www.minded.org.uk/
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Activities to keep the troops entertained during lockdown

A lot of things are quite difficult at the moment, since lockdown was announced on the 23rd March due to the coronavirus a lot of us have found ourselves at home with bored kids who are in dire need of entertainment. So, what can you do in these times to keep not just the troops but your whole unit entertained?

One of the upsides to being on lockdown is that you’re with your family in a very different situation to the norm. There are no school runs, no leaving for work but also no play dates or after school clubs which leaves a vacuum for entertainment as far as the troopers are concerned. One thing that we’ve been doing is several nights a week we will all sit down and watch a film together without any devices or other distractions which is a perfect way to spend a few hours between dinner and bedtime. If you have more than one trooper, alternate who gets to pick the film to prevent any arguing which we all know can come easy in times such as these!

As of writing this post www.gov.uk advises us all to “Stay local and use open spaces near to your home where possible” we have been following these guidelines loyally by leaving the house once a day for exercise purposes. We tend to keep each walk under an hour and a half so no one gets too tired or cold and keep it as close to home as we can, remember that it is vitally important to the safety of your entire unit to only leave the house with members of your household! If you come across other members of the public maintain a distance of at least 2m to ensure the continued health and wellbeing of your unit.

A good outdoor activity for younger troopers (and a personal favourite of mine) is going on a mini-beast safari! This is an ideal activity for our current situation as the only place needed is your garden or another small grassy area close to home. Brief your troopers on how to safely handle mini-beasts and make sure they know to ask permission before doing so as to ensure they don’t pick up anything that could bite or sting. Move carefully in the garden and adopt ‘David Attenborough’ tones in order to not startle any nearby wildlife, take this little adventure as an opportunity to educate your troopers about the world of mini-beasts and how every single one has its own job in the animal kingdom. Take photos and draw pictures to take back to base camp and talk about later, this will also come in handy for identifying certain mini-beasts in future safaris.

Depending on how old your troopers are they will have their own interests and hobbies whether it be gaming, reading, football etc. Now is a good time to have a trooper debrief, ask about what they’re up too and find out more about their world, if it’s a game then ask them to show you how they play it, a book? Ask questions about the characters or the plot. Really whatever comes to mind, I have had a very interesting few weeks finding out about what my kids get up to to entertain themselves during this time.

If you decide to embark on the mini-beast hunt, print off the handy help sheets below as well as the ‘Mission Accomplished’ one to go with your troopers photos and drawings!

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We're Back!

After a long period of radio silence, we have recruited one of our troopers to take the reins as our social media man, trooper Samuel Sinclair!

We’ve achieved a LOT since our last blog post: the release of: Commando Dad Basic Training (Pocket Edition), Commando Dad Raw Recruits, Commando Dad Mission Adventure and we’ve another on the way: Commando Dad Cookbook. We’ve been very busy!

With trooper Sam at the social media helm you can expect a lot more coming your way. Watch this space for regular blogposts from the Commando Dad HQ.

In the meantime, I can still be reached via my various social media pages: Instagram (commando_dad), Facebook (@MissionBrief) and Twitter (@CommandoDad)

The New CDHQ Social Media Man!
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D-Day: My Granddad Teddy's Experience

69 years ago yesterday my granddad, Teddy Williams, took part in the D Day landings. A Guernsey man, he joined up in June 1940 with five of his colleagues from the Guernsey Press . They caught the Glen Tilt (it was ferrying men of fighting age to the mainland to sign up) to Weymouth , from where they were taken to Portland Barracks. My granddad joined the Cornwall Light Infantry, took the oath and received 3s and 6d.
By the time of the Normandy landing he had already seen action as a Desert Rat and the invasion of Sicily. In fact, he nearly never made it to Normandy at all as the American naval vessel that was carrying him from Folkestone to Juno Beach was accidentally rammed by a British destroyer, HMS Warspite. They lost one of the ramps in the incident, meaning my granddad and his fellow troops had to scramble ashore as best they could. In haste my granddad jumped in to what he thought was shallow water but it actually came over his head. He tried to swim up and couldn’t because of the weight of his kit. Then he felt a hand on his back and he was lifted up until he was able to find his footing and scramble up the beach. He never knew who helped him that day.
By this time, the troops in the first landing managed to fight their way up the beach and were penetrating inland. This gave my granddad and the other Pioneers the chance to establish petrol dumps ashore. The fuel was ferried by amphibious vehicles from vessels standing offshore.
Granddad and his unit landed on Juno Beach and were attached to Canadian troops who he followed through to Hamburg. Every night, Canadian trucks would travel to the front lines to recover the dead, and the bodies were brought to where the Pioneers had set up a moving base. The corpses were unloaded and the vehicles refuelled.
He later received a medal for being one of the thousands of troops engaged in the first 20 days of the invasion.
And how do I know such detailed information? Characteristically of those who served in the war, granddad never really spoke about it. In 2004 though, to mark the 60th Anniversary of D-Day, my granddad’s old employer, the Guernsey Press, wrote an article about him. He sent a copy to each of his daughters (my mum Ann and my auntie Barbara) and across the top he wrote “thought you might like to see this.” I am holding that paper in my hands now granddad and I just want to say a sincere thank you to you – and all of those involved on that day. You changed the world.

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Men's Fitness

I know it’s not very British to talk about your achievements (and to all non-British people reading this: that really is true) but I am so OVER THE MOON to be featured in this month’s Men’s Fitness magazine that I have reproduced the entire 22 line article here.
It’s all about fitting training around family commitments. As a stay at home dad who has trained for marathons, triathlons and other endurance events, this is something I know a LOT about.
Hooray!

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Why won't my daughter smile in photos?

My daughter Liberty has a beautiful smile. She smiles and laughs a lot. And yet something strange happens when you point a camera at her and actually ask her to smile.
You get either Exhibit A: The Aardman Character (or “More tea Gromit?”)
Image
Exhibit B: The Hitman (or “I could smile but I may have to kill you”)

Or Exhibit C: The Bouncer (or “Your Name’s Not Down and You’re Not Coming In”)

Oh, I could go on.
Just to prove that she is actually a bobby dazzler, here’s the picture of her before I said ‘smile’. To see what happened when I did utter that word, see Exhibit A above.

Are there any keen photographers out there that can offer me some advice about how to get my little girl to smile at the camera?

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Memories of 9/11

Tuesday September 11 started much like any other day. It was my day off work and I walked my pregnant wife Tara 20 blocks to her office. It was a beautiful clear, sunny day. When I got back to our apartment I put the TV on (sound down) and started pottering around.
My wife called me around 9.30. She was very shaken and her first words were ‘don’t panic’. I immediately thought it was something to do with our baby. She asked me if I had the TV on and I replied that I had, and some film about the Twin Towers was on. Then she told me the terrible news – it wasn’t a film. It was real. She was watching it from her office window and saw the second plane go in (although she still thought it may be a bomb as she was watching from further up the island so didn’t see the plane, just the explosion). She told me that her bosses had said that they couldn’t guarantee any one’s safety and so she had been told that she must go to a place she felt safe. She wanted me to come and get her straight away.
I ran all the way. The subways were all running but I didn’t know how long that would last as everyone suspected a terrorist attack.
When I got to her, things had advanced. A plane had hit the Pentagon and news had reached us that there was another plane but we didn’t know where. Rumours spread round her office that it was coming back to New York. She didn’t want to go back to our apartment as it was right by the United Nations, which she thought might be a possible target. So we decided to go to her sister Sam’s apartment which was near her office.
As we walked there, we passed St Vincent’s hospital, the nearest hospital to the Twin Towers. Doctors and nurses were out in the street with gurnies, ready to receive the casualties that never came.
We all sat in Sam’s apartment round a television watching it unfold, Sam, Tara, me and Jennifer: a friend who lived in Brooklyn but who couldn’t get home as they closed all routes on and off Manhattan. After a while we felt we needed to get out – we all just felt we wanted to be with people.
We went to buy water as we had been told that the water supply to Manhattan may have been contaminated, and then to our local diner. It was absolutely packed, but very subdued. Everyone was just stunned and shocked. It is hard to articulate how unusual that was for New York. Much later when we walked home to our apartment, there wasn’t a single person in the streets. There are always people out on the street in Manhattan – the ‘city that never sleeps’ – but that night we didn’t see another soul, despite the fact all the commuters had to find places to stay, and some people estimate that figure to be 2 million people. And there wasn’t a single homeless person on the streets either.
The next morning posters had started to appear ‘Have you seen this person?’ with a picture and a name, and contact details. Thousands of them. Everywhere. People still thought then that there were survivors wondering around dazed, or perhaps in hospital with memory loss because of the trauma. We didn’t really know that there had been so few survivors – yet. Shrines with flowers and candles had sprung up overnight outside the many fire stations that had lost men. The FDNY funerals started very quickly after that. Many went along to pay respects to the brave men who had done their best to rescue people from what they must have known was an impossible situation.
Me, Tara and Sam volunteered to help – together with everyone we knew – the rescue crews that were down at the Twin Towers. But there were too many volunteers. We went to the Park Avenue Armoury and people were queuing around the block to register as volunteers. Great crowds of people started to gather alongside the West Side Highway to cheer the crews as they went back and forth. Over the following weeks and months the crowds dwindled, but never completely disappeared.
In the following days, people started to arrive from all over America to visit the site, to be in New York and show their support. But they were just as powerless to help – or to change anything – as we ourselves were.
I worked at the UK Mission to the UN at the time, and I was called in the next day. I took the calls from hotels all over New York who had British citizens staying that had not returned. The Mission had to coordinate collecting their belongings and contacting relatives to return them. I am not articulate enough to explain what that felt like.
By then the stories about the victims calling their loved ones on their mobile phones started to filter out too. It seemed at the time like tragedy was being heaped on tragedy. It hung heavy on all of us.
When people ask what it was like to be there, I can only say it was like being in a surreal film. It didn’t seem real – we just couldn’t believe what we were witnessing with our own eyes. It was too terrible. It was too big. I feel emotional writing about it 11 years later. It has taught me an important life lesson though – I never leave my wife or troopers without telling them how much I love them.