Competitive dads

We speak to three Dubai dads obsessed with winning

Interview
Sam Corcoran
Sam Corcoran
Lee Rook
Lee Rook
Andrew Leech
Andrew Leech
Interview
1/5

My four-year-old son started Socatots at the weekend. We were all very excited. We’d counted sleeps, made sure he ate well in the morning so his energy levels were that of a footballer and admired his new kit. As he waved goodbye and drove away with daddy, his face was a picture of pride. On returning home I rushed to meet them, my son was smiling and flushed and I excitedly turned to his father and asked ‘how did it go?’ to which my husband replied: ‘Brilliant! I scored the winning goal against the dads!’

It was at this point I realised there are many levels to the competitive nature of a father and they differ greatly from a mum’s. Don’t get me wrong, I have it in me to be competitive too: I want my kids to do well at school, I need their costumes to be right on World Book Day, I make sure they’re always clean and well turned out and, of course, I shout loudly from the sidelines at the swimming gala. But my husband’s competition levels are out of the park. He will happily let both children go out without brushing their hair, allow mismatched clothes or on occasions – much to my horror – clothes that are too small or belong to each other (we have a boy and a girl.) But if there’s a sporting or competitive element, he’s there, dragging them over finishing lines, giving them pre-show pep talks and pouring expensive juice and sparkling water down the sink to build the ultimate turbo blaster from the containers.

But apparently, it’s not just him. My friend told me she literally holds her husband’s t-shirt so her four-year-old can occasionally win the ‘who can get up the stairs first’ contest, while another father-friend was clearly captured on video, punching the air and screaming ‘Waaaalkkooovverr!’ as his son – aged five – won the egg and spoon race. How very unsporting.

But competition doesn’t just mean wanting their child to win. It’s also about being ‘the best dad’ or basically, ‘the winner’. If there’s a dad’s race, they want to win it. If there’s a daddy line-up, check the swaggers and puffed out chests. And, in the case of my husband, if there’s a two-minute window where they’re allowed to play football at their son’s soccer class, then they simply must score the winning goal. It’s as crucial a part of parenting as matching pigtail hair bands is for mums. It’s a dad’s club and the mums just don’t get it. But the really funny thing is, the kids do. Want to see what we mean? We interview three Dubai dads about their slightly disturbing competitive natures…


Sam Corcoran

Father of Lola, aged 6, and Alby, 4.

What’s the most competitive thing you’ve ever done as a dad?
Dragging my son across the finishing line in last year’s parent and child race at the school sports day. Having been graced with more skill than speed, I found myself in a position of winning my first ever running race. With 10 metres to go, a mum and her daughter started to gain ground which brought out a gear I didn’t realise I had. The burst of speed took me and Alby racing victoriously over the finishing line – but disqualification followed shortly afterwards, then a deep sense of shame as I looked down to see my son covered from head to foot in mud crying ‘you hurt me daddy’. I’d clearly dragged him along for the last few seconds. The disapproving looks from the mums were pretty embarrassing too. I felt a bit sheepish although honestly, if put in the same situation again, nature would kick in and I would probably do exactly the same thing. I still haven’t won a running race…

Nature or nurture?
Nature, definitely. At eight years old, my parents were told at a parents’ evening that I was ‘overly’ competitive – nothing much has changed since. It’s definitely something you are born with. If people start beating me at anything, something innate kicks in. And this extends to my children. I want them to win, so everything is a competition: Going upstairs is a race, walking back from the pool is a race, getting dressed for school is a race, and don’t get me started on rocket building for school projects…

Good or bad?
I’m horribly competitive, but it’s not something I’m ashamed of. After all, mediocrity in life is pretty dull, and competition is not necessarily about being the best but is about competing. As long as there is a dose of humility along the way and some graciousness on the ‘odd’ occasion when you lose, there’s no harm in it. Life is competitive, so starting them young prepares them for the inevitable. All this non-competition in schools is crazy. Life is not warm and fluffy, and anyway, it’s better to teach kids to lose with good grace. They need to understand that winning takes hard work and is an achievement, otherwise it’s false. There’s nothing worse than watching children who are bad losers.

Kid’s verdict: ‘Daddy likes to win a lot. But I do sometimes beat him on the scooter. I like to win a lot too but daddy wins more. And it’s fun because my little brother doesn’t like it to be a race all the time and gets cross but daddy does, he loves it, so we always race each other.’ Lola


Lee Rook

Father of Charlie, aged 6-3/4 and two-year old Freddie.

What’s the most competitive thing you’ve ever done as a dad?
Entering Charlie into 3km Fun Run when he was five. Most of the parents ran at a pace set by the child but Charlie did it at my pace. Out of 35 children he came fourth. If he hadn’t been with me, if he’d done it on his own, he wouldn’t have come in the top 20. But that’s not because he’s not capable of doing it. He ran, I didn’t make him but on his own he wouldn’t have pushed himself like I did. Okay, he threw up afterwards [gasps of horror from Time Out Kids] but you have to bear in mind that it was really, really hot. As soon as he’d re-hydrated he was absolutely fine and then afterwards, he was so chuffed that he’d come fourth, especially against children that were six and seven years old. I definitely think it’s healthy for kids to be competitive – I don’t mean at all costs but just the act of competing and wanting to do your absolute best every single time is a good thing. But equally, doing something for someone else – like your parent – isn’t. There’s a balance. Charlie wanted to run, he wanted to train and so I pushed him.

Nature or nurture?
For me it was natural but you can definitely ‘learn’ competition. For example, one of Charlie’s friends when I first met him didn’t really care about winning, it wasn’t part of him but since he’s been hanging round with Charlie he is now as competitive as the rest of them [mums be warned: it’s contagious]. I don’t think it’s always a natural part of parenting though. I wasn’t pushed at all and actually I think if my father had pushed me more I would have gone further. My earliest memory is winning everything, whatever I entered. Once you start winning a lot you then know what that feels like and you get used to it, it becomes a habit. I always want to achieve that feeling – and I want Charlie to feel it too.

Good or bad?
I think competition in life pushes you. So even if you’re not the best at something, even if you don’t win, if you have competitive spirit you’ll probably go further. I sometimes let Fred, Charlie’s two-year-old brother, win at games – but not every time. If he’s in a happy mood I’ll tell him he’s lost but if he’s in a bad mood I’ll say whatever it takes to calm an angry toddler! But once they’re of an age where they understand, absolutely, it’s important to be honest.

Kid’s verdict: ‘Daddy is sooooooo competitive, he really is! We fight on the bed a lot, I do win sometimes but the best thing was at my rugby in a game against Abu Dhabi, it was the first time I scored a try and daddy was so excited he ran on to the pitch in the middle of the game and lifted me up and gave me a massive cuddle. You’re not supposed to but everyone laughed.’ Charlie


Andrew Leech

Father of Max, aged four.

What’s the most competitive thing you’ve ever done as a dad?
At Max’s sports day, one kid hurt his knee and had to bow out. The PE teacher asked if any of the parents wanted to get involved and my hand shot up without me even realising – it was a completely automatic response. I needed to get involved, and I couldn’t risk someone else joining in and letting the side down. Of course, we should’ve won, but we were let down (although maybe you shouldn’t put that or I’ll be in trouble with the other parents), but the thing is, one year on and I’m still bitter about it. I’m still talking about it, still ruminating over what we did wrong, passionately explaining the reason me and my boy didn’t win.

Nature or nurture?
Nature, definitely. It stems from caveman days. There’s competition everywhere – and even more so in Dubai. There’s so much one-upmanship here and there’s a certain type of person that comes to Dubai; people who are naturally competitive, they see each others cars, lifestyle, where they go out, what everyone has and they want it too. From a young age though, my dad would push me, play football with me, encourage me to go to all the clubs where you got badges… then I’d see other kids with more badges than me and immediately step up a gear to make sure I got more badges than them. It stems from an early age, the legacy gets passed down, and I see can it in Max already.

Good or bad?
Good. You have to be completely honest with children, so I don’t agree with all that ‘letting them win once in a while because they’re little’. That’s wrong, it’s not fair, and actually that would be a problem later on because there would be no sympathy for them then. I have to do it to Max, it’s important for him to understand losing. I have upset him on a few occasions because he wants to win too. He taunts me when we play Wii, so I lull him into a false sense of security, let him win three or four games and then I blast him. He even threw the controller the other day, there were pieces everywhere…

Kid’s verdict: ‘Sometimes when Daddy doesn’t win he gets grumpy and I told him “you don’t have to like my game daddy but you do have to try!” Then when daddy comes first he is happy. When we fight he’s a bit stronger, only a little, but he always wins, then smiles.’ Max


Beat that!

Are you giggling or gasping at these competitive tales? Have you got a story that will beat this one hands down? Share your ‘competitive dad’ yarns and you could find yourself a radio star on the Dubai92 breakfast show! (Now, how many dads can say that?) Our own Ana Schofield will be teaming up with Catboy on Father’s Day (Geordiebird is on holiday) and wants to hear all about your winning ways. Post your stories on our Facebook page and get ready to text in direct to the show (4009) on June 19th.

Catboy on Catdad

‘I think my dad gave up on me ever lifting the FA Cup for Sheffield United when I was pretty young. He never came to see my sports days at school due to work commitments (or, more likely, rather-have-his-finger-nails-pulled-out commitments) and he never concerned himself with the sports I later became rather good at. In his eyes, I suspect having a son who excelled at badminton was right up there with me coming home in a leotard, singing show tunes and professing that my friend Quentin’s risotto was to die for. Instead I think my Dad quietly placed all his eggs in my future professional career basket. Backed the wrong horse
there, old boy…’

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