The single dad
Matt Trevett, 40, lives in Penarth and is dad to three-year-old Isobel. Matt and Isobel’s mum split up 18 months ago, and Matt has his daughter 50% of the time.
“I met Izzy’s mum a few years ago and quite early on in our relationship she became pregnant. It was the first child for both of us, and I was a blubbering mess when she was born. I always wanted to be a dad.
“Her mother and I split up in November 2011, when Izzy was about 18 months old. We went through mediation and agreed 50/50 custody, which I was chuffed with, but I was petrified. At that point, I had looked after her on my own for a couple of hours but I hadn’t done overnights. The first couple of times she stayed over I camped by the side of her bed.
“Over time, my confidence has grown and I now trust my instincts. I booked us into baby gymnastics, and I’ve taken her to mother and toddler mornings. I couldn’t give a monkey’s that I’m in the minority, I’m having fun with my little girl, that’s what matters. We’ve got a happy, healthy relationship, we’re like friends.
“Every morning she comes and gives me a massive cwtch. Every night, I tell her Mummy and Daddy love her. We agreed no matter what’s happening between us, nothing negative should be said in front of Izzy.
“The other day her mum took Izzy to the theatre and I picked her up. When we got into the car, she said, ‘I want you to live with Mummy, Daddy’. I didn’t know what to say. Izzy’s mum is a very good mum, we both put our daughter’s interests first.
“With running my own marketing business, I don’t have regular ‘office hours’, but I cancel everything when she’s around. People tell me she won’t remember, but I will.
“I’ve had a romantic relationship since, but my commitment to Izzy was a strain and it fizzled out. If it means I remain single until she’s independent, that’s the way it’ll be. Being a father means everything to me.
“I want Izzy to grow up and make her own decisions – her mother and I will guide her, but I want her to be a strong, confident person, surrounded by friends. I want her to be happy, to be her own person and have the confidence to chase her dreams, and her mother and I will do everything we can to help her do that.”
The Army dad
Andy Sheehan, 37, is dad to seven-year-old Emmy and Izzy, who is three. They currently live in Brecon, where Andy is a colour sergeant instructor at the Infantry Battle School with the 2nd Battalion The Royal Welsh.
“I joined the Army in 1995 as a single soldier. At the time I wasn’t thinking about family, I was only young. I met my wife Shelley when I moved to Catterick as a corporal in 2006.
“I’ve been on operational tours in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan, but we’re in Brecon now for another 12 months.
“I had to go away a day after Emmy was born, so it was four weeks before I could be with my family. I got back and was told that five days later I was going to Iraq. I had to go four months without seeing my family.
“Saying goodbye was tough, because you’ve got kids involved. With wives and girlfriends, they’re used to us going, but it’s different with children, especially going into conflicts and not knowing if you’ll come back.
“I always had the family in the back of my mind when I was in Basra. I had pictures of my family inside the tent, so when I came back from patrolling for 12 hours and was dusty and tired, it was nice to see them.
“When I went to Iraq, Emmy and Shelley gave me a little green stone – they called it a lucky stone, so I kept that in my pocket the whole time. It did bring me luck because I came home.
“Being an infantry soldier, you’re always on the front line. There were many times in Iraq and Afghanistan when I was under fire. My driver was shot in the head and killed and I had to try to retrieve him under fire. It’s a part of being in the Army.
“It never occurred to me to leave the Army when I became a dad. It’s a fantastic job, but you do miss your family. It’s hard when you go to cuddle them and they run to their mummy.
“Being a dad means the world. I would do anything for the girls, but if they grew up and wanted to join the Army, I don’t think I would let them. I might feel differently if they were boys.
“There are loads of things, especially when Emmy was younger, that I missed out on. When Shelley told me Emmy had taken her first step, it’s hard that I missed that because I was away.”
The second chance dad
Chris Todd, 31, from Swansea has three children with wife Gemma – Amylia, five, Alanya, four, and eight-month-old Theo. Chris was diagnosed with leukaemia at 26.
“I was 26 when I became a dad. When Gemma told me, it scared me to death, but I got my head round it. I’m man enough to say I cried my eyes out when Amylia was born.
“I’m a professional footballer (currently with Eastleigh FC in Hampshire) and when Amylia was born, I had a big match the next day against Stevenage – I was playing for Torquay. We needed to win and I remember getting home after the birth and trying to sleep at 3am because I had to get up at 9am, but I was on such a high, I was just thinking of getting back to my daughter.
“I was diagnosed with leukaemia six months after Amylia was born. I remember taking the call and looking at my daughter, thinking, ‘this can’t be happening’.
“My child was like a goal, I wanted to be better for Amylia. She was my rock, along with my wife, who was amazing.
“When I was diagnosed I was told I may never have kids again which devastated us because we wanted a big family.
“When we found out Gemma was pregnant again, I was overjoyed and overwhelmed. It was like something sent from God, she was a gift, a great hope.
“Health-wise at that time I had good scores on the leukaemia front but it was never guaranteed, I was still fighting it and that plays on your mind.
“Having the girls carried me through darker times. They don’t know I was ill. In years to come, my book More Than Football in the Blood will be perfect to give to them and say ‘this is what Daddy went through’.
“Having Alanya was very special, but having our third, my son, after being on treatment for nearly four years, I thought it would never be possible. When we were told it was a boy, let’s say it brought back the tears again.
“This completes it. We were so overjoyed and happy, we’ve got a perfect family. I thank God because it’s just such a special thing.
“It was always my ambition to have kids, I come from a big family. It gives you an ambition in life, bringing up kids and leading them in the right direction. I just want them to have health and happiness. If you’ve got those two things, the rest falls into place, you won’t go far wrong in life.
“I didn’t think I was going to be there for my first born let alone my third, and I still feel overjoyed.”
The foster dad
John McDonnell, 46, lives in Penarth with his wife Catherine. The couple have three children – Victoria, 25, Daniel, 21 and Curtis Lee, who is 15 – and have also been foster carers for 40 to 50 children over the past nine years.
“Catherine had two children when we met, and then we had Curtis Lee together. I wanted more, but we were advised not to try. Then we were watching Children in Need and saw a piece about fostering and thought we could do it.
“We were in the private sector for five years but weren’t getting many placements, so we switched to Vale of Glamorgan Council and have been full since. They’re crying out for foster carers.
“We’ve had about 40 to 50 foster children, about 12 of whom have stayed for a year or so and the others respite, all under the age of 10. I left full-time work to concentrate on fostering, so I’m a butcher part-time now.
“We have two at the moment and they’ve spent two-and-a-half years here. We’re honest with them, if they’re old enough to understand.
“The two we have now are from a sibling group of five or six that has been split up, but they know about their brothers. They don’t have contact, but one day, it’ll be up to them.
“We know a bit about them before they come to the house, we’ll set up the bedroom with something they like, Bob the Builder or whatever.
“When they come to us there’s no confidence, no self esteem – you do all the hard work and then they move on to something even better, you hope. We’ve had a couple of babies straight from hospital and we’ve moved them into adoptive families. We stay in contact with a couple. We had one who came to us at 10 weeks and left us at two years. He’s now five and thinks we’re his aunt and uncle. We couldn’t not be part of his life.
“We don’t treat the children any differently from ours. Every child that’s come into this house I’ve treated as if they’re my own.
“I went to sports day recently for the little girl who’s staying with us and she was with her friends, telling them, ‘there’s my daddy over there’. She knows I’m not her daddy, but she still felt she wanted to tell everyone I’m her daddy. When that happens, it’s worth everything. She knows she’s going to get a new family, but she still sees me and Catherine as her mum and dad.”
The gay dad
Craig Owen, 37, lives near Bridgend and is dad to three-and-a-half-year-old Osian* (*name has been changed). Craig came out as gay when he was 19 and chose to become a dad with a lesbian couple who he’s been friends with for more than 20 years.
“I always pictured myself being a dad. As my sexuality dawned on me and I came out halfway through my first year at Aberystwyth University, one of the most painful parts was the realisation I was sacrificing those dreams in actually being true to myself. There were very few positive role models of masculine gay people then, let alone of gay families.
“At university I became friends with two lesbians. We were involved in campaigning for lesbian, gay and bisexual equality. After university, I became a support worker with African charities based in Wales, and I’m also an outdoor pursuits leader, including camping, hostelling, mountaineering.
“At a reunion in Aberystwyth in 2007, I had a conversation with my lesbian friends about co-parenting. They were married in 2005 and had been fostering, and were talking about how they’d like to have a child together and if I might be interested in being a dad. We joked about it but realised it was something we could seriously do.
“Osian was born in January 2010 and it was one of the most magical days of all of our lives. Osian’s mums are the lead parents – he lives with them and they do what I call most of the hard work.
“Being a dad is incredible, but it felt a bit historic. We campaigned for equal rights and there we were years later pushing a pram down the promenade in Aberystwyth where we once waved placards.
“The most important ingredient is the friendship between me as his dad and my friends as his mums. We’re not in a traditional mother and father relationship, but to Osian, we’re Mummy, Mammy and Daddy. Anyone who thinks about doing this would need that strength of relationship to hold together for the rest of their lives. It’s not about saying, ‘I fancy a kid, I’ll find some lesbians’.
“Everyone comments on how happy Osian is, and how relaxed the family dynamic is. The selfish feeling is that it makes your life complete, but I’m so excited about seeing him grow up into his own person.
“We were really conscious from the outset there could be big challenges in terms of being an unusual family set up, but stuff it if people think it’s an unnatural family, there aren’t that many natural families anyway.”
The stay at home dad
Phil Lee, 44, from Gilwern near Abergavenny has an eight-year-old son, Alex, with his wife Jane. Phil runs his own internet marketing business from home so he has more time to spend with his son.
“When I was younger, my father would go out to work at seven in the morning and come back at six and only spend time with me at weekends.
“My parents came from a humble background and were driven to better themselves. My father spent a lot of time travelling to the US as well which, in the early ’70s, was quite a rarity. He’d be gone for two, three weeks at a time.
“I was always conscious that I wanted to see more of Alex than perhaps my father had seen of me. The chance to work flexibly from home came up and it was too good an opportunity to ignore. I work in internet marketing, which allows me to work pretty much anywhere I have an internet connection, and into the evenings if I need to.
“I’m able to do things like pick Alex up from school and take him for a swimming lesson. He wouldn’t be able to do that during the week if my wife and I were working full time in Cardiff. My wife works for the Welsh Local Government Association and she’s able to work two days a week from home.
“I’m working with (women’s economic development body) Chwarae Teg in telling sons about the importance of both men and women taking responsibility for parenting and looking after the household, but in truth, I don’t think Alex realises our set up is any different from anyone else’s. I like to think he might notice, and once in a while he’ll say thanks, but when I was eight I was more interested in cars and trains.
“When I was growing up I didn’t think about it, I just accepted my father worked long hours and went away, then came back and showered me with presents.
“I remember being determined that when my wife was up breastfeeding at two in the morning, I would get up and keep her company for however long it took. I think I managed that for about two days before the tiredness got to me.
“Unless someone tries to put the idea in Alex’s head that the woman’s place is in the home shackled to the sink, then I don’t think he’ll question the way we do things. If he has children, I hope he chooses to bring them up in the same way.”
The famous dad
Enzo Calzaghe MBE, 64, lives near Newbridge in South Wales. He’s a father of three, and his eldest son, Joe, is a retired professional boxer and a former world champion.
“I was brought up to treasure the family. My father would punish you for your wrongs, but you still ended up loving him.
“Last year I brought out my book, A Fighting Life. It’s about family life, not just boxing. It’s about my kids and what life should be all about – family is the most important thing there is. Without family it really doesn’t matter how rich you are or how poor you are.
“I was 21 when I first became a dad. Jackie, my wife, was only 17, so we started young. Our eldest, Joe, is 41 now.
“When I first became a dad, I was so excited. It was a treasured thing I’d always thought about. The same applies to Sonia, 39, and Melissa, 37, because I am a father of three.
“Boxing was something I was brought up with. I was two-and-a-half years old when we left Sardinia and moved to Bedford.
“Joe getting into boxing was a fluke. I wanted to bring him up as a good footballer, but he was feeling dejected not being picked to play, so I bought him a speedbag just to keep him busy.
“There was a gym 800 yards from our house in Newbridge, and the trainer there, Paul Williams, became Joe’s first trainer and I was second trainer. The first ever fight, Joe lost. He came in crying, ‘I can’t believe it’. But even when he lost, he kept on.
“I can’t really call it pride, it was more of a satisfaction for him. I am proud to have him as a son, but it would have been the same if he was a boxer, footballer, whatever. I was with him not only as a boxer, but as a father and a friend.
“Learning to be a coach, I learned how to take psychological knocks. If he got beaten or hurt, I coached myself to accept these things rather than panic, which helped Joe too. Working with Joe, he was able to develop the confidence to become the best he could, the confidence that he was a champion.
“For me, being a father is about the confidence of knowing I’ve got the love. I can be a hard taskmaster and they love it. I don’t always think I’m right. Joe tells me off more than I tell him off, and I accept it. You can argue with your kids, but they’re still your kids. Your mother and father never stop being your mother and father.”