Subscriber OnlyPeople

‘Has being a dad changed me? Yes’: Tom Dunne, Fiachna Ó Braonáin and Graham Knox on fatherhood

To celebrate Father’s Day, we talk to some well-known dads about becoming fathers and navigating parenthood

Graham Knox and his two children Ziggy and Juno

Being a father in Ireland has changed in recent decades. A stay-at-home dad, or one who did as much as mum, used to be much more of an anomaly. Involved fathers aren’t as rare any more, and that’s a good thing.

If you didn’t know it, the role of dads is important. Children who have a good relationship with their father are happier, feel less anxious and are more engaged in physical activity, research from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ERSI) shows.

A father being more involved in care was linked to greater bonding with infants, and this had a lasting effect on the quality of the relationship, measured when the child was aged five and nine years old, according to the study.

Parents enabled to work from home by the pandemic got a chance to redefine their roles. A global health crisis gave dads permission to be around more – bringing many benefits.


Dads can bring to children something that is different, psychologists say – more physical energy, a practical energy, as well as more rough and tumble and goal-directed play. They also increase gender equality at home and in the labour market.

With all these benefits, it’s hard to believe dads in Ireland didn’t have paternity benefit until eight years ago. The Swedes have had state-funded parental leave for couples to share since 1974.

Uptake of paid and unpaid leave by new fathers here remains sluggish. Less than 50 per cent of new fathers claimed paternity benefit in 2020, according to the Central Statistics Office. Unless their employer supplements things, it’s just too costly for some to spend time with their kids.

Indeed, working longer hours emerged as a barrier to fathers’ involvement with their children.

Fathers who had a more traditional view of their role, emphasising their financial responsibility as a male parent, tended to be less involved with their children and have less positive relationships with them, the ERSI study showed. There is more to do to support families of all types to spend time with their children.

To celebrate Father’s Day, we talk to some well-known dads – Tom Dunne, Fiachna Ó Braonáin and Graham Knox – about becoming fathers and how they are navigating parenting toddlers, tweens, teens and fully-fledged adults.

‘They will slip out of your life and that time with them is very precious’

Tom Dunne, radio broadcaster and frontman of Something Happens
Tom Dunne with his wife Audrey and their two daughters, Eva and Skye

I became a dad on July 12th, 2006. We were working hard to have children and it was the end of a long and tortuous route, so we were over the moon. To be honest, we were so nervous that we thought we would lose her. We didn’t really relax until the second one arrived two years later to tell the absolute truth. That was the first time we kind of both exhaled and went, “We did it”.

I remember the early days very clearly. It is such a change to your life, I don’t think anything can prepare you for it. The first one, Eva, had colic when she arrived. I didn’t really know what colic was, but I found out.

Audrey was in hospital and I was just breezing in and out really, so it all seemed very easy. I bought some DVDs in HMV – I thought, I’ll be watching loads of DVDs now over the coming months. About five months later, I was trying to calm the baby down and trying to work out ways to stop her crying and I saw the three DVDs, still in the bag. That world was gone. And that went on for six months, ‘twas grim.

My second daughter, Skye, from the moment she arrived, was a walk in the park. I think God tried to balance things out. Being a father to daughters? I can only say it’s brilliant. I’m completely outnumbered, there are those two, and my wife obviously. None of them have the least interest in football and that is jaw-dropping at times.

I think in the very early days, with the colic and when they weren’t sleeping, we were reading every [advice] book that was printed really. A big one was The Contented Baby. The girl who wrote that actually rang our house. She was world famous, but my wife annoyed her so much on her website that she actually called the house. I can’t believe we talked to her.

Being a parent is very demanding and you are learning as you go. It’s a lot of just looking at each other and talking to each other and working out, is this the right thing, are we going at this the right way, are we generally happy with how they are getting on?

As the years go by, you start to get more confident. Being open to them and being able to listen to them is huge.

Teenage girls now, 15 and 17, they have a lot to contend with, a lot of things we didn’t have. The phones are an absolute curse. We waited until they got to secondary [school]. It’s a game-changer when you put a phone into their hands. It just opens up this whole other world to them and it’s a world that all of their friends are in. I don’t see how you can avoid it because they are going to be bullied and get peer pressured if they don’t have it.

You have to take a lot of that on the chin and just roll with it. People will tell you horror stories and you just have to keep watching your kids. If they have been exposed to anything horrible, they don’t seem to be reacting to it.

They do go out, but they are very careful where they go. They are into music and I know a lot of people that work in the venues, so I am able to kind of keep an eye on them. Neither of them has touched alcohol, so they’ve been good.

Spending any time with them, in any way, shape or form is a joy. We do a little bit of swimming in the sea together when they let me. The dog, Murph, is huge common ground in our lives. Music is good because they are never able to second guess me too much there. When Eva had Covid and she was locked in her room, she had a record deck with her and it was like walking past my own teenage bedroom – it was Thin Lizzy, Phil Lynott and David Bowie.

I’ll definitely have this as the best two decades of my life, no matter how long I live

She’s gone on to Central Cee and the rappers of the day, although a lot of that stuff is so misogynistic you just wouldn’t know where to begin. The younger one, Skye, has her own taste, which is indie bands like The Cure, as well as people like Phoebe Bridgers who I adore.

There are times, to be honest, when you suddenly realise the things your parents were doing for you that you just didn’t get at the time

My dad, in the middle of the afternoon when I was studying for college, he would just lightly say, “Would you like a cup of tea?” And I’d just be a teenage grump saying, “I don’t need any tea, I’m studying”. Then I come down, half an hour later, and the toasted sausage sandwich would be there, under a napkin, made for me anyway. I’d eat it, and we’d finally talk.

I realise now what my dad was doing – “Oh God, would it have killed you to be nicer to him?”

The best thing is just being in their company. They are lovely individuals. Audrey’s dad used to say, “You only get a lend of them”, and I’m very aware of that. One of them is heading off to do the Camino now. They will slip out of your life and that time with them is very precious. I’ll definitely have this as the best two decades of my life, no matter how long I live.

‘I suddenly saw my parents in an entirely different light’

Fiachna Ó Braonáin, broadcaster and member of the Hothouse Flowers
Fiachna Ó Braonáin and his father Anraí

I became a father first when I was 24, to my twin girls Kasia and Liadain. That was in 1990, so they will be 34 soon.

I’m the eldest of five, so I remember being a 16-year-old with a newborn in the house and being very hands-on. I had a bit of experience with babies, so that part I didn’t find so daunting. At that age, what really changes is your freedom and your ability to go out and see your mates. I remember that being the biggest “struggle”, the fear of missing out.

From when they were about three-months-old, I was away on tour a lot and their mum was on her own with them quite a bit. At the same time, when you have kids young, the grandparents are so young as well, and friends are very happy to be on-board.

Looking back on it now, it was full of very joyful moments. The fact that they were twins was kind of special as well, there was a sense of an instant family.

Having an adult relationship with them now is fantastic. It’s just wonderful, you can talk about anything. Adult kids become like your friends in a way, but closer because they are family.

Their mum, myself and my wife Síona, we are all great pals and that is a happy thing.

I have another daughter in France who has just started college. Síona and I have two children, our son who is 12 and our daughter who is nearly 10.

Having a career with kids can be tricky at times. In my heart of hearts, the type of person I am is somebody who puts family first, but of course when you’re in a band, that’s like another family. I think as I’ve got older, I’ve probably learned to put family first the whole time, instead of some of the time.

My son is autistic and that remains a learning curve in terms of what you need to learn and unlearn to keep everybody nice and calm and moving forward, including ourselves. That can be challenging, but we are very lucky, he’s a great kid.

There are times when you have to live in the moment and savour it, whether it is difficult or easy

Parenting an autistic child has brought us to advocacy. We work with Adam Harris and AsIAm [Ireland’s autism charity] whenever we can. There are so many holes and gaps that need to be improved in our schooling system. It’s about educating neurotypical parents and kids too.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve seen the importance of being good to one another and the importance of patience and open-mindedness. It’s an incredible privilege to be a dad and it’s an incredible privilege to be a dad of five kids, all of whom are very different from one another. That has been a huge learning curve, just in terms of my experience of humanity.

When I became a parent for the very first time, I suddenly saw my parents in an entirely different light. I think the phrase that went through my head was, “You guys did this for me?” I think being a parent makes you a more empathetic person.

Parenting the African way: Fatherhood in Ireland is ‘most definitely different’Opens in new window ]

There are times when you have to live in the moment and savour it, whether it is difficult or easy, because being regretful about the past or worried about the future is kind of a waste of time. I think it’s important to stay healthy. I’m 58 now. I’m not the youngest dad on the block. I’ve got two kids who require a lot of energy. I try to keep fit.

We lost my father in November. He was 92 years old and I had a great relationship with him. He came to gigs with us from the early days, he was a great grandfather to all my kids.

He ended up seeing out his final days at home. All the kids came to see him on the day he died. We knew he was slipping away, but everyone was able to go in and give him a hug and feel a last squeeze from his hand.

We had the most beautiful send off. The emotions that I felt were not those that I expected. The over-riding emotion that I felt, and still feel, is one of gratitude. To have had a dad for that long is pretty good going.

‘There is nothing that can really prepare you for it’

Graham Knox, bassist with The Coronas
Graham Knox and his two children Juno and Ziggy

I’ve got two kids, Juno, who is five years old, and Ziggy who is three.

Becoming a dad, honestly, is an amazing experience. There is nothing that can really prepare you for it. When Juno came, it changed my whole outlook and my priorities. It’s hard to explain, but it kind of hits you overnight. You plan on having children, and there’s the lead-up to the birth, and then when they come along it’s just totally different from before. You can’t describe it really.

When a baby arrives, it’s like time stops a little bit. I was lucky that we could organise shows so that I didn’t just have the usual Irish dad “two weeks off and back to work”.

Looking back, that would have been crazy because we didn’t have a clue what we were doing. When I go on tour, it’s always hard to leave them. But when I’m at home, I have time off so I do the school drop-offs and pickups, take them to swimming lessons and do bath times. My wife works remotely for a company in London. When I’m at home, she can go over to London. It has just worked out.

I see some of my friends who do nine-to-five, which seems like a more normal life, but they come home from work and they are tired, they have their dinner and they spend like an hour with the kids before bedtime, but I’ve never had that, I’ve just always been around.

Obviously when I’m away, I’m away, but in this day and age, the kids have iPads so you can FaceTime – it’s hard to keep their concentration for long so we send videos back and forth just to keep in touch.

Fathers’ say: Here’s what I know about being a Dad...Opens in new window ]

The longest I have been away from them was after Covid. We were gone for two months to the UK, Europe, the United States, and Australia. It was definitely weird, you miss them a lot.

The kids didn’t really have much concept of time, but me and my wife felt it. My wife definitely felt it. She is very supportive. Since then, Conor [Egan, the Corona’s drummer] has had a baby as well and we are lucky enough now that we can pick and choose tours.

The gigs have been going great in the US, then we are back and gear up for Fairview Park, Limerick and Galway. After a few more weeks in the US in July, I’ll be at home probably until October.

When you are away you are away, but when I’m home, I’m a full-on, hands-on dad.

Graham Knox and his family

They are aware I am in a band. I’m not sure they quite get the concept yet, but they know the words to the songs and they know when we come on the radio.

They are developing their own personalities, so it’s really enjoyable looking at who they might be without trying to stifle them too much and letting them find their own path.

Has being a dad changed me? Yes. You are a lot less selfish, you calm down a lot and having kids helps you put perspective on things. Once you have kids it’s a wake-up call. You do this now, you can’t do that any more. You’re up at 6.30am every morning.

My wish for them is to be healthy and happy and to let them know that we will always be there for them and that we love them. After college, our parents said, look, you can go on with the band, we’ll support you if this is what you want to do. That was an amazing thing. I just want to be supportive, to support their dreams.

The Coronas play Fairview Park, Dublin, on June 16th; King John’s Castle, Limerick, on June 22nd and Galway Summer Sessions, Galway, on August 24th