As a commando serving in Iraq, Neil Sinclair dodged sniper bullets and cleared minefields, but nothing prepared him for the day, 10 years ago, when he brought his first baby home from hospital. “I put the car seat containing a two-day-old Samuel down on the floor and said to my wife, ‘What do we do now?’ ” Sinclair recalls.
“I have been in a lot of dangerous situations, done a lot of crazy things, but when I put that baby down it was like: oh my God, for the first time in my life I have really not got anything to fall back on. I have a tiny baby and he is crying. What does he want; what does he need?
“I did not know. It was one of the most daunting days of my life.”
It was at that moment Sinclair, a former Royal Engineer commando, now 41, had his brainwave: “I found myself thinking how much easier life would be if I had been issued with a basic training manual for my little baby trooper, like the manual you get when you join the army. ”
Today sees the publication of Commando Dad: Basic Training, a set of instructions written by Sinclair that details with military precision and diagrams how new fathers should approach the first three years of their child’s life to become a “first-rate father”.
Chapters include Preparing Base Camp (the baby’s bedroom), Welcome to the Thunderbox (toilet training) and An Army Marches on its Stomach. Newborns are “baby troopers”, the kitchen is a “cookhouse”, a “howitzer” is a stinker of a nappy and “negligent discharge” captures a baby’s ability to pee at will. Babies are taken “on manoeuvres” and there’s a warning: “Bored troopers can change from lovely little allies into the disgruntled enemy very quickly.”
Speaking from the family home in Staffordshire, Mumsnet blogger Neil Sinclair, who spent six years in the army, is quick to dispel any misconception that Commando Dad is about discipline.
“What commando training is really about,” he says, “is summed up in the phrase ‘Preparation and planning prevent poor performance’.” He tweaked the original army phrase, he confesses, amending the word “pisspoor”.
“In the army you have a standard operating procedure [SOP], which is the most effective way of doing a manoeuvre,” he explains.
“I invented an SOP for changing a nappy so I always did it in a certain sequence which was quick and efficient. That’s easier for you as a dad and it is easier for the baby. They are clean, they are dry, they are happy. Or at least you hope they are. Until the next time they cry.”
I love this idea, and hope that Neil’s manual helps lots of new dads become “first-rate fathers” just like him! Commando Dad will be published by Summersdale on Tuesday at £9.99 (This is an edited version of an interview I did with Neil which appeared in The Sunday Times this week.)