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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.

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The Book

Commando Dad to be deployed in Italy: Italian publisher Mondadori to release Commando Papà in 2013!

Mondadori logo
COMMANDO PAPà to hit the  Italian shops in 2013

Italian publishing giant Mondadori is going to publish an Italian language version of Commando Dad next year.
Wow. I just want to say a huge THANK YOU to all the dads (and mums!) in the UK, Australia and New Zealand who have bought the book and made it such a success. I put a lot of time and effort into making Commando Dad the basic training manual that every new dad needs. But if you hadn’t bought it, I wouldn’t be on this adventure. Right, that’s quite enough emotion there!
And to the Italian dads, I’d like to say, remember the first rule of being a Commando Dad: Un papà commando è una mano su papà. I really hope that means ‘A Commando Dad is a hands on Dad’.
Over and out.

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Olympians Must Begin at Home

After Team GBs fantastic showing at the Olympics, and as we gear up for the Paralympics, there has been a lot of talk about getting more sport on the curriculum. Hooray! I say – but with a caveat. I think we can’t only rely on the schools: Olympians must begin at home.
As a PE teacher (and now as a supply teacher) I see countless notes excusing pupils from PE. Now while some of these are genuine, I’ve been in situations where nearly half of the pupils in the class have been excused from my lesson. My personal low was a pupil that handed me a note explaining he couldn’t do PE as he had lost his trainers. He was wearing them. But without the rest of his kit, and without the jurisdiction to override a note from home, nothing could be done.
We need to address this issue now, or it really won’t matter how many more lessons in the curriculum are devoted to PE. Hopefully, pupils – and parents – will have been inspired by the Olympics and PE teachers up and down the land can get on with the business of teaching their subject and helping every pupil reach their potential in sport – not juggling a depleted class and non-participants.
And of course, participation in sport is not just about creating Olympians. Sport can give you so many benefits in both the short, and long, term. Not only will it make troopers physically fit, but also give them a sense of belonging, teach them how to work well in a group and individually and hopefully also be a lot of fun. And the lessons that sport teaches you can help you in whatever career you troopers decide upon. Ray Winstone, a former boxer, said in a recent article in Men’s Fitness: “Boxing helped me mentally. I’ve bought that discipline and determination to acting.”
With so many potential benefits, should we as parents be writing notes to excuse our troopers from PE for anything other than medical reasons? I, for one, don’t think so.

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Why the Sidelines are No Place for Dads

In 1970, on a warm summers evening in July, my dad dropped my mum, who was in labour with me and my twin brother, off at the hospital and asked her to call him when she felt ready to cope with visitors. There didn’t seem anything unusual in that to either mum or dad, that was just how things were done. When their wives were in labour, men went off to work, or sat in the waiting room with flowers like in a Carry On film. Oh how times have changed.
I couldn’t wait for the birth of my children. I read the books, attended the ante-natal classes and got to know the midwife. I was convinced that if my wife went into labour unexpectedly I would be able to deliver my son (tying off the placenta with a clean shoelace – I looked it up). Luckily, my emergency delivery plans never saw the light of day as we made it to the hospital in plenty of time.
I was right by my wife’s side throughout, offering what comfort and support I could. And words cannot explain the feeling of finally holding my brand new baby trooper in my arms. It is an amazing experience, as any dad will tell you.
But then something really strange happened after the birth. Without any warning, I disappeared. I became completely invisible to doctors, nurses and the midwife. I think my wife could see me, but I was finding it hard to get to the side of her bed to double check.
So perhaps I didn’t physically disappear (although that would make a good story) but it certainly felt like it. And that’s when I first realised that it’s very, very easy to become sidelined as a new dad. And not only in the delivery room, but beyond it too. The vast majority of advice, support and care is geared towards mum. Don’t get me wrong, parents need all the advice, support and care that it is possible to give them, but dads are parents too. And we have a crucial role to play, right from the minute we welcome our trooper into the world.
We need to provide physical support, such as taking on night feeds, keeping the house squared away, buying supplies, getting meals on the table, washing clothes and generally keeping on top of everything. But most importantly, we need to make sure that our partner has everything she physically needs, from time to take a bath to healthy food.
We also need to provide emotional support, essential to keeping morale high. Sometimes, our partners can feel as if life has become all about the baby trooper. Reassure her and let her know you’re in this together. Having a new baby is tiring for everyone, but your wife and trooper have been through labour too. Tempers can get frayed in the beginning when you’re both adjusting to a completely new lifestyle on limited sleep. Keep calm.
And our trooper needs us too. Don’t believe that we aren’t biologically programmed to be good carers. We may not have the ‘maternal instinct’ but I can assure you that the minute my troopers were born, my wife and I both had a huge instinct to love, protect and care for them. We got the ‘parental instinct’. And in terms of physically caring for a baby, we can do everything but breastfeed. It might not seem like it at the time (well it certainly didn’t for me) but with practical experience, you will easily master the basics.
But of course it doesn’t end there. Even after ten years as a stay at home dad, I still consider myself a Commando Dad in training. It is worth the effort. To a trooper, their dad has many roles, often falling somewhere between Hero, Role Model and Protector. When you become a dad you step into those shoes and you owe it to yourself – and your troopers – to be the best dad you can be. So don’t let yourself get sidelined, dads. You are simply too important.
I wrote this blog for The Baba Blog, a great blog full of practical advice and tips for new mums…..and hopefully some new dads too.

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The Book

Commando Dad won a silver LovedByParents award!

The category was ‘Best Gift for New Mum/Dad’.
Tina Summers from LovedByParents said:

“We are delighted that Neil has won a prestigious Silver Lovedbyparents Award and it is a testament to how hard he has worked on his wonderful book, Commando Dad. It will make a great gift for any new mum or dad.”
Cheers Tina! And of course HUGE THANKS to everyone who voted for Commando Dad!

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Videos

How to Make a Bottle of Formula Milk

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Videos

How to Clean and Sterilise a Baby Bottle

This is the second video to support ‘Surviving The First 24 Hours’ chapter in Commando Dad. I was a bit nervous and I think you can see my hand shaking at times (this was because of the camera, not because I am frightened of baby bottles). Please let me know what you think

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Blog On Family Album

The Spooky Tale of How I Named My Daughter, Liberty


Naming your baby trooper is a tough business. There’s the whole issue around any name needing to be a good fit with your surname, as well as avoiding acronyms and all the names you have negative associations with (the kid at school with unsavoury habits, annoying colleagues with unsavoury habits, any boss you ever had, unsavoury habits or not etc). But the naming of my own troopers is an increasingly unusual story.
First, Samuel Robert Sinclair. Named after my wife’s granddad Samuel Lucas (or more accurately, Ernest Edwin Samuel Lucas, but that’s another story) and her dad, Robert ‘Bob’ Lucas. Both great men and two great names. Job done.
Then Jude Bonaparte Sinclair. Yes, you read right. Jude was originally destined to be called Peter Edward (using my own dad and
granddad’s names) but my wife took a bad fall when she was pregnant and we thought that she may miscarry. Then one day soon after the drama was over, she said, “I think we should change the name of this baby you know. He’s a fighter.” So we looked up the patron saint of second chances and his name was Jude.
We got Bonaparte from my other granddad, Napoleon Bonaparte Sinclair. Yes, you read that one right too. When my granddad was born there was much ado about which family names he should be given. In the end his dad declared he would be named after someone he admired to end the argument. I should add at this point that the whole family is from Thurso, Scotland.
Finally, Liberty Maeve Sinclair. Now this is the kind of story I need to preface with ‘I have witnesses’.
Naming a girl is difficult, because not only are there millions more names to choose from but every noun can plausibly be a girl’s name (Willow was in the running for a long time, for example). We knew her middle name was to be Maeve as my wife’s nanny had been of Irish descent (Florence O’ Rourke from Cork) and her auntie is a Maeve and she is a Tara. But we went through every first name under the sun and couldn’t agree on a single one.
Then one night I had a dream (stay with me) that my wife handed me a baby and said: “This is your daughter and her name is Liberty.” Now, I should tell you that we were living in Hoboken at the time and I thought, well maybe I have just picked up the idea from the Statue of Liberty and didn’t give it much thought.
Then later that morning I heard my wife talking on the phone to her sister. She too had a dream. In a very brightly lit room our son Samuel had said to her “You have to call the baby Liberty mom. Two beings made of light told me.”

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Daddy Daycare….another wasted opportunity


What do men need to prepare them for and support them in fatherhood? Maybe books written specifically for dads (I can think of a brilliant book for new dads)? NCT classes for new dads like Hit the Ground Crawling? The support of their own family? To spend time with other new dads? Or perhaps a week long crash course in childcare at a local nursery?
I’m sorry… hold it there. A week long crash course in childcare at a local nursery? Who would think that would help them to be better dads?
Channel 4, that’s who. Daddy Daycare is their new programme, and the first in a 3-part series was broadcast last night. It took three dads that aren’t used to being in a childcare environment, put them in a really busy nursery and watched them struggle, while a not entirely supportive staff of single mums look on.
Apparently, however, its purpose is not to portray men as incompetent and feckless dads. Perish the thought! No, this limited, made for TV experiment is to “Help our nation’s mums and kids to rediscover what it means to have men in their lives.”
Excuse me?
Yes, you read that right. Apparently, modern British life has spawned a generation of dysfunctional dads that are being pushed away from their families. The voiceover tells us that the idea behind the show is to take nine “Lazy, disinterested, workaholic and absent fathers for a crash course in childcare to make them better fathers.” I really am quoting here.
Putting new dads (or men thinking about fatherhood like Stefan) in to that environment will not make them better dads, any more than a learner driver would be entrusted with an Express train full of passengers to make them more able to drive a car. For a start, it takes training, it takes time and it takes experience to master new skills. So in this scenario, if these dads had the benefit of all those things, they would become great childcarers. But being a good dad isn’t just about taking care of physical needs. It’s about stepping up and being a parent. I recently read a comment from a dad who was asked if he was ‘babysitting’ his own daughters. “No,” he said “I’m parenting them.” There is a difference and it’s not made clear in the show (and if it really is aiming to help the nation, I think that distinction needs to be a matter of public record).
But the real problem I had with the show was that it was such a wasted opportunity. I know a lot of new dads that tuned in last night to watch, expecting something ultimately educational and positive. No, unfortunately it stuck to the old stereotypes: men are idiots when it comes to parenting. Which is an unfortunate message to be broadcasting at a time when there are so many more stay at home dads than there used to be, and the number is on the rise.
I don’t think the women fared much better in the stereotypes either. We are told that 98% of the childcare workforce is women, and that women are more patient and understanding. Yet, we were shown no evidence of patience and understanding for “The Men” who were so obviously out of their depth. And are we really to believe that all single mums are eye-rolling, arm crossing, judgemental individuals who think that men are completely inept as dads, “have no instinct whatsoever” and think that “it’s a women’s world?” Apparently we are, yes. Another wasted opportunity: these women are extremely hardworking, professional childcarers that are also managing a household alone. They deserve medals not tired stereotypes.
There was one exception, when Garry went home with Vivien, one of the nursery staff. Vivien has a punishing schedule: she gets up at 4.30am, has 3 hours of commuting, a full time job and is single parent to two young children. She told Garry that this schedule makes her feel like a robot, and that if she had an entire day to herself, she would sleep. They were both alike in that they both want a better future for their kids, but Vivien is not in the position of having the choice to cut down her workload to spend more time with her family. I found the two minute interaction between Vivien and Garry by far the most insightful part of the show. I think Garry did too.
If there are any inexperienced dads reading this, I’ve been a stay-at-home dad for 10 years and I’m telling you that you don’t need to go to the local nursery for a crash course in childcare to be a better dad. You need to get to grips with the skills you need with your own children. Don’t believe that as men we’re not biologically programmed to parent. It doesn’t take biology to become a whizz at changing nappies, understanding cries and all the other baby admin, it takes practical experience. And when you have the admin sorted, you get time to really engage with your kids. It may not seem like it now, but you have a really short amount of time with them (just 2000 days between birth and age 5 when they start school). Start making that time count today.

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Baby it's Cold Outside…..

All this talk about cold weather got me thinking about my Arctic training in Norway…. Now THAT was cold. That was the kind of cold that would freeze your tears. Or take your fingertips off.
Take this picture for instance. I am in a snow hole, baking in a balmy 1 degree above freezing. I should point out it was -50 degrees (with the wind chill factor) outside the snow hole.

 
Here I am in Cam Whites, being inspected before taking part in the 20K patrol race. That’s me on the far right.
 

 
And finally, don’t tell my own troopers (who I have spent the last week telling not to throw snowballs) but here’s me getting ready to pelt my superiors.