An ex-commando talks to Grace Hammond about the unique dads' guide he's written in the style of an army battle manual.
Being a good dad is one of the hardest missions a man can be deployed on – and the lack of training can make it twice as tough.
As well as being full of love, the best dads need discipline, patience, planning skills and endurance – many of the qualities required by elite soldiers, says dad and author Neil Sinclair. But, unlike dads, our troops get thorough training to perform their rigorous duties
Sinclair, an ex-commando who has cleared minefields in Iraq and tracked drug traffickers in the jungles of Belize, is harnessing his military skills to help other dads who feel as unprepared and daunted as he did when he brought his first son home from hospital.
After spending six years in the Army before taking on the untrained mission of fatherhood, he has now written Commando Dad: Basic Training, a guide to being an elite dad of babies and children under three.
He calls it a gentle reflection of the basic battle skills manual he was issued with as a new soldier.
It gives clear, step-by-step instructions about looking after babies (BTs or Baby Troopers) and children in the early years, under headings including Preparing Base Camp (your home), New Recruits: Surviving The First 24 Hours, Dealing With Hostilities (tantrums and 'battle fatigue'), and Morale: A Commando Dad's Secret Weapon.
Sinclair, who since leaving the Army has worked as a registered childminder and as a stay-at-home dad to his three children, Samuel, 10, Jude, nine, and five-year-old Liberty, explains: "When I was in Iraq I was trained to disarm mines, but when I became a dad I had no training.
“The first six weeks were horrendous. We had nobody to give us advice and I tried to find books to help but couldn't. So I drew on my military experience, and used military precision to get on with it."
The discipline and organisational skills he'd learned in the Army came in very handy for his new role, but it wasn't until Sinclair's wife, Tara, had their third child that the idea of a book was born.
"My wife just said, 'You've been a stay-at-home dad, and if anyone can write a manual, you can'.
“So I did.There are a lot of dads who really want to know what to do – they don't just want to pat their wife on the back and give her a bunch of flowers – although that's important. They want to do more, and hopefully my book's going to give them the tools."
All the information in the book has been approved by health, childcare and nutritional experts, but every bit of it sprang initially from Sinclair's experience as a commando, stay-at-home dad and childminder.
As well as advice on how to feed, bathe and hold babies, discipline toddlers and entertain and transport them, the book is full of top tips including: "A commando dad always has his kitbag squared away, ready for redeployment" (a kitbag being a changing bag on civvy street), and for toddlers "...have a trigger word that tells them you need them to be quiet straight away."
While dads should gain confidence from following Sinclair's hard-earned advice, they'll do well to match his infectious enthusiasm. This is a dad who clearly loves children and the life he now leads, despite its huge contrast with his former life.
However, he admits: "God it's hard work. I've been a commando and done lots of stressful and physically demanding jobs as part of that, but I had no idea how relentless the work was when you're a dad. It's so tough, but ultimately so rewarding, and fun. I feel very privileged that I've been a stay-at-home dad – I've seen so much of my kids growing up."
While most men aren't quite such devoted childcarers as Sinclair himself, he points out that the idea is for dads to be able to dip into the book as and when they need it to get help with a particular childcare task.
"A commando dad is a hands-on dad," he stresses.
Commando Dad: How To Be An Elite Dad Or Carer is published by Summersdale, £9.99. To order from the Yorkshire Post Bookshop call 0800 0153232 or go to www.yorkshirepostbookshop.co.uk. Postage costs £2.85. For more information and advice from Commando Dad, and a dads' forum, visit www.commandodad.com