“The thing I wish someone told us before my son was born was this: ‘You Are Not in Control. Make Your Peace with It’,” says the TV and radio presenter.
“My wife and I are used to having some control over our lives. When a small human comes along they reset everything. They don’t care that you’re tired and have to prep an interview or write a chapter, they do what their body tells them.”
In the time since Max was born, Fennell has maintained 4.5 jobs: a nightly, live TV show The Feed and cult movies for SBS; weekly radio program Download This Show for ABC RN; and he’s written a new book, The Planet According to Movies; and filed weekly movie reviews for Triple J.
“I basically try to pack it into Monday to Thursday so I can give Madeleine a proper break Friday to Saturday. Madeleine produces breakfast radio (hello, 4am starts!) and the other days she has a running, yelling, mandarin-obsessed one year old to contend with. So yeah, we’re both tired a lot.”
One thing Max has taught him is to stop multitasking. “Whether he’s waking up in the night or screaming for more pushes on the swings – I find my anxiety level drops if I leave everything that needs to get done to one side and focus on him. His presence forces me to do one thing at a time. Which is kinda good for me.
“Parenting a baby is such a stressful, disempowering time. Everyone has to find their own way and try not to judge people that do it differently. Except for people that put their kids in Baby Crocs. That shit is abuse if you ask me.”
Before his son was born, Pasan was likely to be carrying a graphic novel and noise-cancelling headphones; now those items are collecting dust and the Earl’s Juke Joint owner is packing baby wipes.
“It’s funny how used to bodily fluids I am now,” says Wijesena. “I think that’s the honorary badge around here with all the Inner West dads. Everyone’s got a Sophie [the giraffe] in their pocket and a packet of baby wipes in their bag.”
Another essential tool in the new-dad arsenal is a baby swing. “It’s invaluable. Like the ATT from Star Wars with a little cradle in the middle, it kind of rocks back and forth. He’s so little. You can’t put him down because you’re afraid he's going to fall or the cat's going to jump on him.”
When it comes to mixology, the bartender has his son’s tastes pegged: “He loves apples and dried banana, he’s really fruit driven.” But Pasan’s philosophical about him entering the family business. “He can do whatever he wants as long as he’s happy. That's how I ended up being a bartender. I quit a job that I hated to do this, and I just never stopped. I loved it too much.”
Ellis may be free to choose his own path professionally, but when it comes to his cultural tastes, it’s a different story. “I’m going to try and brainwash him with Star Wars and ’90s music. He’ll have a nice canon to draw on, like Dinosaur Jr. and Notorious B.I.G., and he'll probably end up hating it all.”
“I can’t even remember what life was like before Violet,” says Tony. The owner of Sterling Hairdressing Salon and Barber Shop became a dad for the second time just over a year ago – he has an older son called Jedd, 17 – and he says he’s more prepared for fatherhood this time around.
“Unfortunately I work way too many hours so I rely heavily on Lou. I like reading her books, we go for walks with the dog and we get to have breakfast together once a week. “She’s very quiet but she’s really cheeky as well. It’s funny, you try not to genderise them, but she’s already got a favourite doll and Jedd was always drawn to trucks – and not through anything we did. I find that quite fascinating.”
Violet is too young to hang out at the salons just yet, but the barber and stylist says he’d welcome her following in his footsteps. “It would be nice if she came into the industry – she does like brushing her hair. She’s obsessed with hats. She doesn’t like them on herself, but she walks around saying ‘hat’. She also loves that song ‘Papa Loves Mambo’. She’s surrounded by swing and rockabilly.”
She’s already rocking the vintage look – her chosen dress for the photo shoot was one that used to belong to her mother when she was younger.
“Being a dad is such an overwhelming, enormous thing,” says Hot Dub Time Machine DJ, Tom Lowndes. The 36-year-old says he wishes friends had been more honest about the birthing process – Lizzy’s birth was complicated, but Tom says the connection with his daughter was immediate. “It really was a rush of endorphins and I was very much in love with her at that moment.”
Everything since then is about sticking to a routine. When Tom started out as an entertainer he was working 9-to-5 as well as DJing, but he says, “She doesn’t care if I was up to 3am, she still needs to be fed and dressed.” Now he has more time to spend with Lizzy when he’s not touring. “I love what I do and I get to earn enough to support my family too.
“When my photo was in the paper for City2Surf she would look at that and go ‘dada’ and she calls Hot Dub Time Machine ‘dub dub’, so she knows the brand is me. I imagine, like most kids, she’ll think it’s incredibly cool for a little while and then she’ll think it’s incredibly daggy.”
Aside from a shared love of Weetbix, Tom and Lizzy both love hip hop. “Since she was a tiny baby, I would sit in my studio listening to Snoop Dog and bounce her. I’m not playing her the Wiggles; I’m playing hip hop and funk. But I’m sure it won’t be long before she starts asserting her independence.”
Standing in the kitchen at Continental, the soon-to-be-launched deli and bistro from Elvis Abrahanowicz and Joe Valore (of Porteño and Bodega fame), Elvis laughs and says, “It’s about learning patience. And it takes a long time.”
The father of 15-month-old Maybellene says running a business and caring for a child is challenging – “I couldn’t do it without Sarah”, but “I think it puts a lot of things into perspective, because it’s not about you. All those things that you used to think were important, they’re not. It’s all about her and what’s best for her.”
Maybellene, who’s dressed in a vintage cowboy outfit and perfect miniature cowboy boots, was named after a Chuck Berry song. “Sarah wanted to call her Mabel and we agreed on Maybellene,” says Elvis. “Everyone calls her ‘Maybe’.
“I think she’s a lot like Sarah. But Sarah says that every time she’s angry she looks like me. My parents notice it a lot more, they say things like ‘you used to do that.’”
Maybellene isn’t much of a meat eater at this age, but Abrahanowicz can imagine her working in one of the restaurants when she’s older. “I think about her growing up, running around and helping out, but probably not in the kitchen. I don’t know why. She loves the fridge though. Every time the door opens she’s in there, tearing things out and standing on them.”
Perhaps she’ll go a more musical route. “She likes pop, like Taylor Swift, which I don’t mind,” adds Elvis. “She’s got some pretty sick dance moves.”
Our favourite cool papa tells us being a father has taught him much more than how to juggle a busy schedule. After working on this feature, he tells us, “Being a dad has made me a lot more patient and able to relate to other dads. I used to think of kids as another species that I had no interest in. Now I actually enjoy their company.”
Babysit like a boss
Take the little ones for a babyccino and a cookie at the most kid-friendly cafés in Sydney.