During lockdown, life for dads up and down the country changed overnight as those who had the option to work from home found themselves with more time for family, partners and children.
Not only that, the year saw fitness playing a big role in many men’s lives, with cycling, running, wild swimming and Nordic walking all seeing a surge in activity levels, with online sports-gear purchases soaring.
However, with the increase in health and fitness activities across all age groups, there has been a rise in self-awareness and concerns around body image and mental health. Changing ideals of masculinity, often promoted through social media, TV and cinema, have fueled anxiety for many young men, and in 2019, a Mental Health Foundation Scotland survey reported that 28% of Scottish men said they had felt anxious because of their body image, with 12% saying they have experienced suicidal thoughts and feelings because of negative body image issues.
The situation has not improved over lockdown either, as millions of people dealt with isolation from friends and extended family. However, high-profile campaigns have sought to shine a light on the issue, such as ITV’s Britain Get Talking, which encourages people to share more and reap the benefits of opening up to others.
And so with that in mind – and with Father’s Day almost here – we decided it was high time we heard from some fathers on the matter. Taking the chance to celebrate all things dad, we spoke to some men about their role in the family, the importance of health and fitness and the need for a positive body image.
Callum Taylor, 30, and partner Rose welcomed daughter Lily into the world 11 months ago during lockdown. Despite some concerns over the future as the nation’s families struggled with furlough and employment worries, the operational excellence practitioner from Aberdeen admits those precious formative months with his new family were a gift many fathers don’t often get.
“I was self-employed going into lockdown and work really dried up, so I spent a lot of time being worried about that,” he said. “But in terms of the amount of time I could spend with Lily, I was working three days a week, I could be on call and she was there. It was fantastic and I spent every second with her for 10 months.”
Callum has always enjoyed fitness, kayaking, skiing, cycling and playing rugby over the years, to name but a few. Today he teaches Crossfit at the Aberdeen Crossfit gym but has worked hard to reach good physical condition.
He says: “When I was younger I was actually really overweight. I was really good at sports, I played a lot of rugby and basketball, but it was at about 16 that there was a real concerted effort to lose quite a bit of weight. I lost a couple of stone.
“So it’s always been something that’s been in the back of my mind about body image. I think that when I was playing rugby I was probably more concerned about it. You’d go to the gym and there would be mirrors all over the place.
“But going to Crossfit, there are no mirrors. The focus is on performance, on what you can actually do rather than what you look like. That definitely helped things.
“I think it’s a big problem and it’s something that’s not talked about for men nearly enough. And yes, I worry about men’s mental health in terms of body image.
“I really applaud people that do manage to talk about it and seek help, do the hard things and see a therapist. It’s an extremely hard thing to do as a man,” he adds.
Has being a father changed his views on his own fitness and health?
“It’s definitely changed my perspective,” says Callum. “I used to really be keen on being the fittest person I could possibly be and now, if I can cycle in and out to work, or go to one (Crossfit) class a day, that’s more than enough.”
As a father, Callum is aware of the need to set a positive example of health and wellbeing to Lily, and she is already becoming part of his fitness world.
“I’ve got one of these bikes with a trailer at the back, so that if Lily needs to go to sleep then I’ll put her in the back of that and go out for a cycle,” he says.
Callum believes that even with a small child, it’s important to make time for your own health and fitness.
“Never feel bad about looking after yourself. You have to do that for yourself, and then you’re – in turn – doing that for your child as well, because if you’re in a good place, they will be, too.”
Douglas, 43, and wife Kristin, who live in Aberdeenshire, became parents to Fearne three-and-a-half years ago. The director of commercial operations at EPIC, decided at that point that improving his health and fitness would be crucial to keeping up with the demands of a teenager.
Douglas says: “I’ve realised that being an older father, I want to be here for her, I want to look after myself. When I’m in my mid 50s, I’m going to have a 15-year-old daughter who’s going to want to go cycling and skiing.
“The focus for me is to maintain my fitness otherwise I’m going to miss out on all that fun,” he adds.
Douglas now cycles three times a week and swims five days a week, as well as walking at the weekend, and says lockdown has had a positive effect on his relationship with Fearne.
“It’s changed our relationship unbelievably,” he says. “Before, I didn’t see her in the morning. I was dad that came home for dinner just before six, she went to bed at seven, so I basically got a grumpy child who wanted to eat her food and go to bed.
“Now I get to see her at lunchtimes if she’s here, and we spend afternoons together because I’ve been working early in the morning. It’s changed our relationship for the better.”
Although Fearne is still only three-and-a-half years old, Douglas believes it’s important to set an example on the benefits of health, with regular walks and exercise, but the couple are also aware that social media can have a negative effect on wellbeing and body image for younger people. As parents, Douglas and Kristin are prepared for it.
“I think the pressure to conform these days is horrendous with social media, and it’s caused untold damage to people’s mental health – boys and girls,” says Douglas.
“Trying to go for the perfect body is, frankly unattainable for most of us, and in any event, takes huge sacrifices and a lot of work. You’ve got to have a level of contentment.
“And that’s my approach to life in general. I don’t strive constantly to attain the unachievable because I’m never going to be satisfied, and I try to instill that in my daughter as well, that you have to be realistic and also be content.”
Despite the pressures (present and future) of having a child, Douglas says he absolutely loves it.
“Previously you would think, goodness me, spend your family holidays at Disneyland? Now I want to do that. I want to give my daughter all the opportunities I was given, and give her the best I can. That is my entire focus now.”
Kevin Mackie, 44, from Aberdeen, is a refrigeration engineer with three grown children, Danielle, 26, Caitlin, 22, and Ben, 18. He has two step-daughters, Cameron, 21, and Jessica, 17, with a four-year-old granddaughter. He lives with his wife, Amy, and step-daughter Jessica.
Kevin became a father at the age of eighteen and, spending his entire adult life as a father, didn’t have to make the jump from free-living singleton to instant fatherhood. For Kevin, his 20s are beginning now as he starts to enjoy some grown-up freedom. And it’s been well earned.
With two families coming together – the oldest child being 12 at the time – for many years Kevin had to adapt to competing demands on his time from so many children. requiring a high level of adaptability and diplomacy to keep the peace in the busy household.
“It took a wee while for everything to settle down and for everyone to accept things the way they were,” he says. “I still feel guilty if I do something with one of the kids, I think I should be doing it with all of them. If one gets something, they should all get it.”
Fitness and health has been a big part of Kevin’s life and he has been a keen runner for many years. He is a member of the Metro Aberdeen Running Club, undertaking an ultra marathon in 2019 and cycling through lockdown.
He anticipates son Ben joining him in sports more often as the country comes out of lockdown, and although not having really worried about his own body image as a teenager, Kevin is aware that social media is driving changes in perceptions of body image. It is a challenge facing many younger men these days, including his son who – he knows – would like to bulk up a little.
Kevin says: “I wasn’t as tall as him when I was his age, but I was very skinny as well. I’m not really, now. I’ve probably got what’s termed as ‘the dad bod’,” he laughs.
“There’s been loads of programmes like Love Island and there’s all these guys that have got these ripped bodies, and a lot of the people who are watching these programmes thinking that is how we should look,” he says.
“The more you see it on social media, that’s seen as normal. I suppose that would be an issue for younger guys and guys in their 20s looking for the quick fix.”
For Kevin, however, fitness and health is a means to fulfill a genuine interest in competitive sport – but also to keep balance and a healthy outlook on life, having dealt with the impact of a knee injury that has lasted throughout lockdown. Losing the easy access to running, its convenience and accessibility, was tough to take for a while.
He said: “I’ll be honest, it did affect my mental health, so I’m trying to get back into it, and over the last month or so I joined a gym – although it took me five or six weeks to actually go since joining.
“If you really needed a bit of alone time or needed to think – or not think – ideally get up in the hills to get away from the city, traffic and noise. Get in the countryside. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve went running at Bennachie. It’s a brilliant place.”
Now firmly back in the saddle, Kevin is gearing up for a triathlon and is focused on that.
“I’ve actually entered the Bennachie Ultra in October,” says Kevin. “I needed something to target, something to focus on. It’s on the back of what I call ‘knee-hab’ – every run I go on feels hard because I’ve put on weight – but it’s something to train for and get my head back into it.”
As for other sporting dads, he says: “Dads need to have their own time as well. They will always feel guilty about it – I still feel guilty if I buy something for myself!
“But at the end of the day, if it’s going to make you a happier person then you’re going to be happier at home with your kids.”