Leo Murray is a professional climate campaigner, well known by the authorities. As Co-Founder of Plane Stupid he’s occupied Stanstead Airport’s runway and orchestrated the late Pete Postlethwaite’s ambush of the UK Climate Secretary, Ed Miliband. He’s also Founder of Monkey Do, a social enterprise that creates outdoor adventures for children.
He’s a dad of two, a 5-year old boy bursting with energy and a feisty girl of 2. Together with his partner, they live in West London. Follow him on twitter — @crisortunity
What does it mean to be a dad today?
The stereotype is the strong breadwinner who sets the standard for discipline in the household. But if you look around I’ve never seen someone who fits this picture, have you?
Perhaps I’m part of the vanguard, I don’t know, but I do the same, if not more, childcare than my partner and she’s the biggest breadwinner. I could pay the bills by working full time, but she earns more so it makes sense for me to work part-time and looking after the a bit kids more. Em also works part time, and with help from grandparents we’ve been very lucky to be able to keep all the childcare in the family so far. Even before we’d got together though, I’d always planned to share childcare equally. For me there was never a discussion to be had.
Where we live in West London, being a dad can be quite lonely. I hope it’s just the bubble we live in, but when I’m out with my kids I see more nannies than I do mums, and certainly no dads. If those guys think they’re putting in the time and being the best dads they can, they’re kidding themselves.
How’s it changed your outlook on life?
The birth itself certainly didn’t go to plan. Instead of the birth pool our son was delivered in theatre, with a lot of equipment. For the first few weeks, I remember feeling useless — the fifth wheel. My only job was to make sure they both had everything they needed. Then he started to react to me, to notice who was around him, and most especially, to smile. That’s when you start to build a relationship and that’s when you start getting something back. Up to that point it’s all quite one way!
“I was in a dark place. Our son came along at the perfect time.”
It was either run to the hills or burn out. I was an obsessive climate campaigner, working 12 hour days, six days a week. It was just after the disastrous Copenhagen Climate Summit, where world leaders gathered to try and agree to reduce emissions. Nothing of any substance got agreed, and any freedom of speech was shut down. My friends went over to campaign for action, not just talk. They came back having been pepper sprayed, beaten by police and thrown in a Danish prison before they’d even attempted any direct action.
Having our son gave me a new focus, one I desperately needed. He made me look at what I was doing and realise I couldn’t keep doing it. I used to throw endless amounts of time into campaigning, and take big risks, like climbing onto the roof of Parliament to protest about climate change. I can’t do that anymore, so I took a look at my work and found new ways to earn money in ways that are true to my values.
Basically, I went from caring for everyone and the world we live in, to caring for these new lives I’d brought into the world. It gave me focus and made everything very clear.
What do you want to look back on and be proud of?
I want my kids to be strong, independent people. They’ve got to be resilient, confident in their own skin. If you are, if you love yourself and are confident in yourself then you can take anything the world throws at you.
I also want them to be kind, I think kindness is really important. I want them to be kind to each other and other people. If they turn out really materialistic and take advantage of other people, I think I’ll be disappointed.
Are you on track with it?
I think we are. My partner and I are very different people. She’s really risk-averse whereas I’m a bit of a thrill-seeker, but we’re a team and we work together to raise our kids.
They’re learning to be people from us, and from how they’re doing now I think we’re doing OK. At the start of 2015 we’ve talked about what we want to achieve with them by the end of it. There’s a lot in there, but the very first thing is getting them to tidy up after themselves. I mean they must just think it happens by magic at the moment — me and my partner being the magicians!
What does it mean to be a great dad?
For me there are two things to being a great dad.
The first is time.
“If you think you’re a good dad, but you’re not doing any real childcare, you aren’t investing enough time. You’re just kidding yourself.”
When you become a dad it means you have no time for yourself, because you’ve got a child to look after. If it’s not your partner doing it, no-one else is going to, it has to be you. From what I’ve seen a lot of dads just don’t get this. Just because your wife has grown your child in her belly and she’s got boobs, doesn’t mean she takes all the responsibility. If you think you’re a good dad, but you’re not doing any real childcare, you aren’t investing enough time. You’re just kidding yourself.
It is a sacrifice, let’s not sugar coat it. I barely get the time to see friends and I just about manage to read a book every eight weeks. That’s because it’s not just time spent with them, it’s time spent thinking about them too. In the evenings, my partner and I are doing logistics and talking strategies for our family. It can feel relentless if you let it, but it’s worth it because of the second thing.
The second thing is love.
“You trade your time for love. I mean when is anyone that happy to see you? It doesn’t happen in real life.”
You trade your time for love. It’s a different kind of love to anything you’ve ever experienced before. I mean when has anyone ever been that happy to see you? It just doesn’t happen in real life. When you open the front door and they’re literally jumping up and down, arms out wide, big smiles, shouting ‘daddy, daddy!’, it’s an incredible feeling. Your life is filled with love.
Thinking back to my dad, I never remember him saying he was proud of me, or that he loved me. I don’t want that for me and my kids. My dad was absent for weeks. I was one of three boys, and dad was a University lecturer in the day then he’d go straight to a classical music concert to review it for the FT in the evening and file his copy when he got home at 1am. He was always out when we got home and in bed when we left for school in the morning. When he was there, he didn’t really know what to do. You can see it in him with our kids, he just can’t interact with them. Now, if I’m on my own with him it’s a bit sad because we don’t have anything to say to each other, the relationships just not there.
To be a great dad, there’s tons of stuff I can put in there, but it really boils down to time and love. You give up your time to fill it with love.
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This post was previously published on Being Dads and is republished here with permission from the author.
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Photo credit: David Willans