MEET THIS WEEK’S SUPER DAD: DIRK HILDEBRANDT

How do I describe the crazy adventure of becoming a dad to two incredible little girls, Ella and Holly? I’m no writer, and am not sure I can do it justice. But here is my attempt…

I am known to put a lot of research into things, and preparing to become a parent was no different for me in the 9 months preceding my first daughter’s birth. I read books and articles, to help me make sense of what was coming my way, and to try and prepare myself as best I could.

Knowing we were expecting a girl, I started to experience the first protective feelings that come with being a dad to a daughter. These were further intensified by a comment from my mother-in-law (an amazing lady for whom I have the utmost respect – she raised her daughters on her own after losing her husband) who said: “Young man, a bit of advice if I may: with a boy you have to worry about one willy … with a girl you have to worry about every willy in the neighbourhood.”

Wow, now I was truly scared!

I do believe you can never be fully prepared for the incredible change and storm of fun, love, and life as a new parent – all you can do is inform yourself as best you can, back yourself and then: brace yourself for the ride.

I will never forget seeing each of my daughters for the very first time. Where my wife had had a full 9 months to adjust to the reality of becoming a parent (and then a parent again, second-time-around) with every little kick and movement felt inside, these new realities only fully hit me the moment my daughters arrived. Boom!

A very influential encounter occurred on the day we were leaving Sandton Clinic with our beautiful 3 day old Ella: the cashier, an elderly, wise-looking lady (she had grey-white hair, really she did!), looked at me and said that she could tell I had just become a father – I was glowing. We chatted a bit, and then she suddenly stopped and looked at me and said she was having a “moment”, and asked whether she could share something with me. She said: “A dad-daughter relationship can be very special. My father was very absent in my life, in essence I grew up without a dad. You have become a father, and you will always be a father, as long as you live. But being a dad is something much more. You have to earn the title DAD every single day with your daughter – will you promise to do that?” I looked at her, and promised her I would. This has stayed with me ever since.

I love being a hands-on dad, and want to build a close relationship with my girls. This does mean I know the words to most of the Frozen songs (I caught myself singing one of them whilst walking to my car the other day), I regularly dance around the lounge practising ballet or other moves with Ella, I have learnt how to do a plait, I once put my back out holding her arm while she tore down our road on her bike, I have played on many jungle gyms, I have spent many hours kicking balls in the garden and so on. And I wouldn’t change any of it for the world.

Our role as parents is to give our kids more love than we ever thought we had to give, unconditionally. Yet beyond this we also try to teach them what we know about the world, to nurture curiosity and creativity, to help them care for those around them, learn good manners, develop confidence, humility and respect for others. We address the millions of why, what and how questions. Alongside this we need to somehow allow room for them to form their own opinions (which Ella, now 4, does with stubborn determination on many occasions) and grow into their own little people. Furthermore, we also need to be open to learning from our kids too.

How do I see my particular role as a dad? Although my wife and I are a team for sure, and share all parenting tasks and activities, based on some reading I did (specifically for dads) which resonated with me, sometimes I focus on building Ella and Holly’s self-esteem, rough and tumble play, and learning how to deal with fear in a safe environment through monster chasing games etc.

I love it – I have learnt so much about the world, and myself, since this adventure started. I love running about madly in the garden, laughing and giggling, not taking myself so seriously. I love the fascinating conversations I have with Ella, either at dinner, or in the car when taking or fetching her from school, and the special moments lying next to each other after reading a bedtime story, chatting about the world as she slowly drifts off (and sometimes I do too…).

I love the fact that something like breakfast, which used to be inhaling some muesli as I ran out the door to work, now involves experiences like this past Monday – where I attempted to answer Ella’s question as to why it is now night time in Hawaii (where a friend of ours lives), using a torch and a globe. And she got it! She then explained it excitedly to her teacher at school. I was still beaming with pride when I got back to my car.

And now, since the arrival of our second daughter Holly just a few months ago, this adventure has become even more exciting. As well as doing my best to be a good husband, son, brother, godfather, friend and business owner, I will bank the title of father – but continue to try my best to earn the title of DAD to both my girls, every single day, whatever that takes.

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