Being a dad: don’t let fear hold you back

David Willans of BeingDads writes about risk. Kids need to learn about it, dads need to stop playing safe with work.


Extremes mean you see things more clearly. Last weekend we climbed the UK’s highest mountain outside of Scotland. Snowdon. It’s not a beast by mountain standards but is pretty tough if you stay away from the easy route. That’s what we did. Our kids have been wanting to do it for ages, we felt they were ready, and we like the idea of having challenging family adventures. They bring us closer together.

It was great fun. Really hard, properly tiring for our kids, who’s little legs meant a doubly hard day. Lots of people giving them kudos on the way up. A real sense of achievement at the top, many mini adventures and good conversation all the way through.

But a few days later, I realised my mind was focused more on keeping them safe, which overshadowed enjoying the moment and, in hindsight, held them back. 18 years of parenting distilled into eight hours. On a mountain it’s extreme. Kids leaping over narrow rocky paths with nothing but 100 metres of freefall on one side brings out a fierce urge to protect, to hold their hand tight, put yourself between them and the drop and constantly tell them to be careful. But looking from their perspective, it was a wonderful natural playground, with risks and challenges they hadn’t encountered before, a feeling of freedom and joy in their environment and in bodies.

I’m a thinker, especially when it comes to my relationship with my children. This made me think about where else in life I was playing it too safe, and inadvertently holding them back by protecting them with too much ferocity.

Free play

You don’t see kids on the streets, or in the woods or fields in gangs by themselves. Teenagers yes, but not kids. Yet I remember roaming all over the area on buses and bikes, ringing on mate’s doorbells to see if they could come out and play.

What happened?

Are we too afraid of traffic? Having had a boy we know die crossing a road, yes a bit. But Seth was one of the most playful kids I knew, preventing play isn’t honouring his memory or spirit.

Are we too afraid of other kids and gangs? But they have to learn to deal with other kids outside the playground at some point. And it doesn’t mean shoving them out to fend for themselves completely. It means careful coordinated calls to parents to say our son is coming over to yours, please let us know when he gets there. Of talking situations through, of taking gentle steps forward.

Working full time

It also made me think about where else I was not making the most of the time. One day isn’t a long time, one childhood isn’t either. We only notice how short it is when we realise we’re missing something that’s gone. The joyous rampage of a toddler imagining they’re a tiger. The feeling of being complete that comes with your baby falling asleep on you. They grow out of it all.

If you work full time and don’t see your children in the week, by my calculations, you’re there for 38% of their childhood. Not much that. Perhaps playing it too safe means going with the flow of work being five days a week? If you want more time with your children now, and more memories and a better relationship with them for the rest of your life, playing it safe with work isn’t going to get you there.

So a few changes to make, some thoughts to consider and definitely more mountains to climb. Scotland, secondary school, teenage years, here we come.


David has spent years on how to be a more patient and present parent, find out more at

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