Let’s just admit it: Being a dad isn’t exactly a walk in the park. But being a dad during a pandemic? That’s basically Mission: Impossible. In a pre-pandemic study, conducted in 2019 by men’s health charity Movember, they found that 50 per cent of Canadian dads feel there’s more pressure to be a good father than ever before. And while this isn’t exactly a surprising statistic, everyone’s experience with fatherhood is uniquely their own, and the pandemic has undoubtedly added a new layer of complexity to the challenges that come with parenthood.
In a world where it seems men are still constantly battling the perception that a dad should be the “provider,” it continues to be difficult for many fathers to open up and speak honestly about their experiences. That’s why we wanted to have a candid conversation about just that with someone who knows how it feels to juggle family with a busy work schedule.
Todd Talbot has been a mainstay on North American screens for years as the co-host of Love It or List It Vancouver, as well as many other on-screen credits. But, he is first and foremost a loving dad to two adorable kids, Ashlyn (11) and Kesler (9). Movember and ParentsCanada sat down with Todd to chat all things fatherhood. From his best advice to new dads to what surprised him most about himself when he became a father, Todd walks us through his personal journey from being a got-it-all-together television personality to the family man he’s become.
ParentsCanada: Did you always want to be a dad?
Todd Talbot: I always had this belief that I was going to have kids. It almost seemed like a default thing that was just going to happen in my life. I’m the oldest of five, so I always had this somewhat cocky attitude about my ability to take care of kids. As the oldest, you became the default babysitter for your younger siblings. And honestly, I was fairly confident that I would have an easy go at it because I had all this experience—or so I thought. But you know, being a parent is a completely different ballgame. Suddenly now you’re actually the one responsible for these little lives, and there’s a lot of pressure that comes with that.
PC: What surprised you most about yourself after you became a dad?
TT: A few things. When the kids were babies, I didn’t feel like I was super-connected to them, in comparison to Rebecca. And I understand why, but there’s this kind of fantasy around the level of bonding between a father and kids that you’re made to think just automatically happens. But it doesn’t just happen right off the bat. And I think becoming aware of that, the sort of ebb and flow, in a sense, of how you and your partner build individual relationships with your kids…that’s a bit of an eye-opener.
I’ve always thought I have high capacity for multitasking while not losing my temper. But after having kids, it’s like they push you to this place where you’re almost outside yourself and you have these reactions to them or to their behaviour that you might never have in the outside world. I’m learning things every day and, now that they’re older, I feel like what I’m learning now is way more challenging than when they were smaller. Suddenly, they’re in a phase where they’ve started to become little humans and you can’t influence them like you could when they were babies.
PC: What has been the hardest part about being a dad?
TT: I often think about the amount of time that I’m able to spend with them. Of course, right now, with COVID, we’re spending a lot of time together, and one of the silver linings to that is that I actually feel closer to my kids than I’ve ever been. But when I was working a lot, and out of the house, I would often think about the impact my absence would have on my kids.
I also worry all the time now. I sometimes wonder if I worry more than other people, you know? It’s very hard to gauge what is the appropriate level of concern. I just carry this anxiousness when it comes to my family. And I’m not sure that level of worry is rational, but it’s not something you can really escape as a parent.
PC: Who do you turn to for support? Do you find that you go online, or do you go to your friends?
TT: If it’s something serious, I’ll talk to my parents. Of course, I’ll talk to Rebecca. Sometimes when I talk to my friends, it’s more like we’re commiserating together, which is sometimes helpful in itself. It’s good to know that you’re not alone.
I think the biggest challenge for men is not knowing what other guys are going through, and having this sensation of either I’m winning or losing. It’s destructive. And of course, now social media plays a role in that too. It’s almost like I have this personal benchmark of what I will post about my family. But the problem is, this sets unrealistic expectations. I get messages all day long saying what “great parents” we are, and while I do think we’re pretty good, we are far from perfect. It’s like we’re on a rollercoaster ride every day. Navigating the dynamics with your children is one of the trickiest things, for anyone.
PC: If you could go back in time and give yourself a piece of advice, what would it be?
TT: Being a parent is messy. There are no simple answers. You always feel a little unsettled, almost like you’re always kind of tap dancing. You lose a sense of self when you expand to a family. You go from thinking you’ve got it all together, to trying to keep up with all these moving parts that are always evolving. And I think a lot of dads feel financial pressure. I know it’s old-school, but I think it’s partially ingrained in our society. And that pressure doesn’t allow me to just relax, cut loose and just be with my kids or my family. So, I think that that would be my biggest piece of advice, both to myself and to other people—soak it up, learn to relax. Oprah once said, “the best thing you can do with kids is light up when they walk in the room.” And I remember thinking, “That’s my strong suit. I can do that. So, I believe in just layering that on, non-stop.”