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Raising a kid with military precision

by WILLIAM HAGEMAN Chicago Tribune on June 13, 2014 11:00 AM

Neil Sinclair was prepared for the birth of his first child. He read up, attended classes, did all the first-time dad stuff.

“In fact, if push came to shove, I probably could have had a good go at delivering my son myself,” he says. “But my expertise ended there. When we took my son home for the first time, I turned to my wife and asked, ‘What do we do now?’ to which she replied, ‘I have no idea.’”

Now father of three, Sinclair is helping other prospective dads with “Commando Dad: A Basic Training Manual for the First Three Years of Fatherhood” (Chronicle Books). Sinclair, who lives in London, is a former Royal Engineer Commando, security guard at the United Kingdom Mission to the United Nations and a licensed child care provider. His book presents the nuts and bolts with military precision; kids are BTs (baby troopers) or MTs (mobile troopers).

Extraneous touchy-feely fluff is omitted. As he explains, when you’re holding a screaming baby in the middle of the night, “700 pages of someone telling you about their emotions isn’t the answer.”

Following are edited responses to the Tribune’s questions.

Question: Why a book?

Answer: I wrote the basic training manual for dads — a stripped-down, basic guide to all the practical skills we need to learn — that I wished I had been issued. Bringing my first-born son home from the hospital was one of the most daunting experiences of my life. All the parenting books and classes had prepared me for the birth, not for the whole life beyond. I suddenly found myself at home with my baby. In charge. I fell back on what I knew best: my military training. I got us organized and I took care of “admin,” and that freed me up to spend quality time with my new unit. I hope that’s how this book helps other dads.

Question: For first-time parents, what is the one part of raising a kid that throws them the most?

Answer: The overwhelming sense of love and protection they feel for their newborn. Nothing can prepare you for it. Your BT is so precious that you get caught up in the idea that there is a right way and a wrong way. In reality, as long as your BT is fed, loved, cared for and safe, you’re doing a good job.

Physically, I think the combination of sleep deprivation and crying is really tough in those first few weeks and months. For the former, parents need to grab 40 winks when their BT naps.

As for the crying, it’s hard not to think of it as a review of your parenting skills. I’d tell any new dad to rest assured that within weeks he’ll be able to decode those cries and know what he needs to do to soothe his BT.

Question: What is the biggest surprise?

Answer: How soon the time goes. When you’ve got a new BT, you feel as if those days and weeks will last forever, but they really don’t. We have a saying in the U.K.: “When you’re a parent, the days are long, but the years are short.” Make the most of them while you can.

Question: What are the most common mistakes a new dad makes?

Answer: Buying lots and lots of (things) for every eventuality. I did it myself; I filled our home with things I thought I might need that ended up gathering dust. New babies need very little. Another common one is forgetting things on (outings) away from base camp. You get so tied up in trying to remember the million things you think you might need, it’s easy to forget the things you actually will need (such as diapers and milk, for example).

Question: Can you talk about the satisfaction factor?

Answer: In terms of a parenting job well done, I am still in the process of doing that job, and I hope I am doing it well. The thing about parenting is, no young child is ever going to turn around and comment on your excellent parenting skills, but you do get moments that make you so immensely proud. For example, last week we were in the park when a toddler fell over. All three of my children immediately ran over to see if the child was OK. That certainly gave me immense satisfaction.

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