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Local dad pens guide to fatherhood and mental health

Restaurateur Graham Meckling's lessons from handling a busy bar helped him navigate the chaos of a new baby

Community
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Local dad pens guide to fatherhood and mental health

Restaurateur Graham Meckling's lessons from handling a busy bar helped him navigate the chaos of a new baby

The Meckling family. Photo submitted.
The Meckling family. Photo submitted.
Community
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Local dad pens guide to fatherhood and mental health

Restaurateur Graham Meckling's lessons from handling a busy bar helped him navigate the chaos of a new baby

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Local dad pens guide to fatherhood and mental health
The Meckling family. Photo submitted.

From an early age, Graham Meckling always wanted to be a dad.

But when the local restaurateur’s wife became pregnant, he realized he didn’t have any real idea what having a baby would entail. Yes, there would be playing catch and reading stories down the line, but having and caring for a baby was something different.

“Not knowing anything was frightening,” he said. “How could I get to this point?”

There were pre-parenthood guides out there, but he didn’t connect with their focus on the medical details. He’d never become a doctor in a few months, he figured, and he had real doctors he could talk to. What he says he needed, and what he believes new dads in general are lacking, is a guide to managing one’s own mental health, relationship, and perspective.

It’s those things that are a focus of his new book on fatherhood, Babies Don’t Talk. It builds off of his popular site and social media channels, TrueDad, and he's in talks to do a government pilot project sending the book to 20,000 new dads and setting them up with cohorts of fellow new fathers in online support groups. Next month he's also about to start a series of monthly seminars for new and expecting dads with their partners.

So what's this advice that Victoria's new fatherhood guru wants to pass on to other dads?

Last month Capital Daily and Tasting Victoria's Ryan Hook sat down with Meckling to find out. The local author and musician talked to us about the book, the state of modern fatherhood, and the parallels he’s seen between parenthood and the restaurant and bar industry.

Watch it here or right below, or continue reading for more excerpts.

His first and best tip, he says, is the one that inspired the book’s title.

“Your baby will not talk to you for two years,” he said, “Who do you think you'll be talking to every single day? Your partner. Keeping the relationship strong is the most critical piece of the baby-raising puzzle. What your baby needs is love, food, sleep, and to be kept clean.”

While birth books and courses often focus on bodily health of mothers, Meckling says that there should also be efforts to improve the mental health of fathers. Many, like he did, come in with little preparation for the changes and are overwhelmed. That, in turn, has an effect on their partner and child. 

Meckling isn’t alone in feeling that looking more at fathers will help flesh out the full picture of family wellbeing after a new child. UVic Nursing researcher Christine Ou has been leading an ongoing study of new parents’ sleep and is specifically encouraging dads to join it. 

“We always talk about moms and their sleep,” she said in the survey announcement in early June, but also measuring fathers is “integral to the whole picture” of family sleep. 

New parenthood is like working a constant lunch rush

That into-the-deep-end feeling is one that Meckling, a local food-and-drink industry veteran who owned the acclaimed wine bar Stage last decade, compares to being thrown into action at a busy restaurant.

For him, coming out of the hospital with a human being was “very much the same as like, ‘here's your restaurant section. Yeah, you'll figure out the menu as you go. You know, the drinks are all the same as most places.You got it? Good luck.’”

Meckling (left)'s book grew out of the advice he was giving to other dads online. Photos submitted

He says this overwhelming feeling can make parents panic, and later feel low on themselves for moments of wanting to escape the situation. 

“If someone just threw in a [restaurant] section and you weren't prepared for it, you just would want to get out of there, right? It's intense and stressful. It's not that you don't like the customers or the food or drink, but you're just overwhelmed by lack of knowledge and anxiety, right?

That’s why taking care of oneself and one’s partner is so important, he says–supporting each other with 30-second hugs and other steps that cut through exhaustion or resentment, and checking in on and adjusting your own mental state. He recalls holding his shrieking baby, getting more and more agitated—and then remembering he had earplugs. When he put them in, he calmed down, and soon the baby calmed down.

He calls it the Airplane Method, after the plane safety-demo advisory to put an oxygen mask first on yourself, then on your child. “If you are a pile of garbage and mess and stress, there's no way you’ll take care of the baby as well as if you're calm and relaxed and happy.”

“No one will ever blame you for being late.”

He tells people who are yet to become parents that this calmness has to become a way of life. But that has its own perks. 

“No one will ever blame you for being late if you have a baby,” he promises—but you’ll be late a lot. A 10-minutes prep to go out to a restaurant with friends can become an hour depending on the baby’s mood and needs, and you won’t make it out at all some nights.

“You've got it, you've made it out the door successfully on time, then the baby will have a crazy fit, poop their pants, and you got to turn around and go home,” he outlines. “You missed the whole night, right? So you have to be prepared to be flexible.”

But the joy of a child makes those other hobbies secondary anyway. 

“You won't be missing anything. You'll be like, have a good time at dinner. Yeah. [You all go] get the duck confit for me. I'm gonna go have some Cheerios.”

The article text has been updated with more material from the interview.

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