Warren’s an award-winning creative director, now at Futerra. He's worked with big brands like Levi’s and Nike. By his own admission, his family life is complicated. He’s got four kids; three with his first wife - boys of 17 and 15, and a girl of 12 – and a 2-year old with his new partner. They all live within a mile of each other in North London.
This isn't news, but the perceived idea of a dad is to be the family’s constant, the steadfast one. When the shit hits the fan, you don’t lose your shit.
Other people think it’s the stereotypical rock - the disciplinarian, the dispenser of right and wrong. That’s important, but that’s not completely it. Without getting too smushy, it’s all about love. You can talk about being strong, not blubbery, being practical, a provider, the breadwinner, a mentor, a teacher, but really it’s about love. That’s the thing that makes it so complicated - unconditional love.
I'm not a personal believer that steadfastness, durability and dependability can’t crack. My kids have seen me cry - I think it’s really important to show yourself, to be real. My grandfather and father, they didn't show that shit. When I was 18 my family organised a surprise party. Everyone was there, all my mates and family, it was brilliant. At the end of the night everyone was on the dance floor, I remember looking around and seeing my dad just standing there. He was always there in my life but never really involved, more in the background. And I remember he gave me a wink. That’s all it was, but it was enough. That was him showing affection.
The trick to get right is both the hard and soft of being a dad. Being consistent, being a protector, being a shelter in the storm. Yes, yes, all of that, yes. But then how do you be that and be the daft one, the goofy one, the one that can just fuck about with the kids, run riot and be silly? That’s what’s great about being a dad.
If you can do all that with love and consistency, if you can consistently be silly and be OK with that, and consistently be strong and be OK with that, then for me that’s being a dad.
Thinking back to that delivery room, with my first 17 years ago, I've never felt so absolutely fucking useless. I set a world record for the phrase 'you're doing amazing'.
When your child is placed in your arms for the first time, there’s massive relief, I think it’s awe. You can’t get your head round it. Another human life, you’re filled with loads of different forms of love. Yes, I think that’s what awe is.
I definitely had a clear sense that everything had changed in that moment. This is a brave new world, the start of something epic. Not in fearful way, once you know partner and baby are OK, the fear went. I'm not someone who’s afraid of the unknown.
Today we’re so guilty of worrying about things that don’t fucking matter. Whether that’s stuff we've got or not got, what people think of you, all that stuff that overcomplicates life. When you first hold that little one, for me everything else just drops away, it all becomes very simple. You cut through all that bullshit and nonsense.
Of course, over time you just overcomplicate it all again, struggle with the balance, get things wrong, worry when you don’t need to worry and all that. But in the end, if you cut it all away, you’re going to do whatever it takes to make sure that you protect and love that child.
On the flip side, it’s also bloody complicated, but there’s no escaping this person who needs you. Over time it changes, now with my 17-year-old, you go from being their most important plaything to being possibly the most fucking stupid person they've ever met. But that doesn't matter. As far as you’re concerned, the bottom line is being there for them, as their dad. Obviously things get in the way. That can be ourselves, work commitments, health, but when anything gets in the way of them being the number one priority that’s when it gets difficult.
Being a dad is a fuck of a to-do list if you go there. It just becomes an itinerary. What gets lost is just being. Just being a dad and having time to hang out, relax and enjoy spending time.
It comes back to being a parent, period. Controlling kids is just a joke, instead it’s about making the conditions so no-one's in danger and letting it go. Whenever you try and control it, whenever you take the itinerary perspective, it goes tits up. Take the classic situation, you’re going away for the weekend, you've packed the car like a strategic spatially aware engineer, but then you can’t get everyone out the fucking house. If you’re in the itinerary space, you go nuts. You waste valuable energy and time, and pollute the day getting stressed about it. By the time you’re all ready to leave, you just want to go back in the house!
Funnily my ex-wife and current partner struggle with embracing chaos. They’re in the itinerary space - keeping the place clean, getting the laundry done and all that. You've got to get that stuff done, don’t get me wrong, but you’re going to get some chaos, and it's easier if you don’t try and fight it.
Every parent knows the distraction technique, is a great trick with kids. But being distracted happens with adults all the time. It’s hard for us to be in the moment, but kids, particularly young ones, are fully in it. It’s so easy to be alone with your child and so far away from them.
People ask what it’s like being a divorced dad. They think you miss out on the big stuff, the achievements, but you tend not to if you live close like I do. It’s the little things you miss, like being the one they come to if they’re sick in the night, being the one who comforts them, spoon feeds them Calpol, and carries them back to bed. For me missing the little things, because I'm not physically or mentally there, that’s what’s tough.
You notice when you’re getting it wrong, when it hurts them or it hurts you. Or when something amazing happens, which can be so simple - a little cuddle at the start of a movie, or a winning goal scored and you jump up and down on the touchline like an idiot, although you try not to.
But generally it's pain that wakes me up to things being out of line. It’s all about getting the balance right, to create the space for time and attention.
To see them happy, and I don’t mean with stuff, I mean in themselves - for them to be comfortable with who they are. I want to give them that security and bedrock in themselves, so they can try things in life and if it doesn't work out, that’s OK, who they are matters more.
I want them to be able to come to me no matter what happens, no matter the trouble they’re in or what the issue is. I want them to know they've always got me to help them, and to think that I've been a consistent and constant part of their life. Having that is really key to giving them strength, self-worth and confidence.
All that in a loving way obviously, that goes without saying - I've had my eldest son screaming at me and my response is ‘I love you’.
The thing that I do right is they all know I love them very much and I tell them all the time. If they ever need anything I'm certainly second, if not first, port of call.
There are some key things that I didn't do for a time as a dad. I'm fixing them now though. It’s been eight years since my ex and I broke up and I'm still dealing with the damage it caused to the kids. Divorced is horrible, it really fucks things up. It's all that stuff about being constant and together. I moved out, I went away. Even though I’ve only gone a few miles away, it’s still been a massive disruption, and it’s caused them heartache and pain.
The first job to do is fixing the damage, if it can be. I know there’ll always be something there. Definitely guilt on my part, but I'm through the worst of it. So long as there’s nothing left with them, that’s what matters. I've got to make it OK for them to be angry with me for having left, and keep it so they can talk about it, so we can have those conversations when they come up. My eldest, if I want to talk to him about his feelings, there’s every chance he will not say anything or will leave the room. But that’s OK. In fact, OK is really, really underrated as an idea. For things to be simple and people to be OK with who they are, it’s harder than people think.
The more time you can spend on that OK line - where everyone’s OK with themselves, who they are and each other - the better. It’s about creating the conditions for that. I've got plenty of work to do in that area. Some days it works and some days it doesn't.
I don’t always get the balance of my life right, I get into itinerary mode, and get frustrated with it. I find that as soon as you've got a plan in place, just forget it. It isn't going to happen. As a parent you spend time making plans, but remembering the outcome is beyond your control can be tough. It’s about setting the right conditions to allow everyone to just be. It's really tricky to get there. It’s not about the perfect Sunday lunch, or the perfect afternoon out full of iconic Instagram moments. I’d rather be in the here and now, in the moment, rather than obsessed with recording it.
One thing about being a dad is it’s never done, there’s always stuff to learn and to do. That’s one of the great things about it too though, ain't ever going to be boring.
My youngest daughter is two and she teaches me new things all of the time, but most of all she reminds me of how wonderful life is and how much I have to be truly grateful for.
Although a lie-in, just one would be really nice. Just one! It’s my own fucking fault really.
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