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'It's probably the hardest moment I've as a parent': Will McMahon's harsh realisation about fatherhood

By Will McMahon|

Matthew McConaughey offered me advice which changed my relationship with my daughter and my father, but ultimately led to a break down.

When interviewing a person of such stature, I often choose to ignore the PR groomed guidelines and 'no-gos'. Truthfully, I didn't care about his new animation, so I chose to ask a question to which I had always wanted to know the answer: What brought about the 'McCon-aissance'?

For those not in the know, The McCon-aissance is a reference to the movies and television he made between 2010 and 2013 - Mud, The Lincoln Lawyer, True Detective and of course, Dallas Buyers Club. They transformed him from a rom-com star, to one of the most respected actors in Hollywood.

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Will McMahon and his baby daughter Max. (Supplied)

His response was as swift as it was surprising. "I had kids," he said. After becoming a father, he said, he had never been clearer about who he was and what he wanted to do.

He turned down tens of millions of dollars to do more rom-coms, because they no longer felt 'right'. In his words, when you have a child "you'll never get more clarity". It's a chance to "double down and triple down on your instincts." (Said in Texan accent.)

In the months after the birth of my daughter, these words rang in my head. They reverberated and filtered through everything I did. But ironically, my urge to fulfil their prophecy led to capitulation.

In a primal sense, instincts are responsible for things like sex drive and reflex. But McConaughey was using the word to describe gut feelings. Wordless urges which when nourished, make us whole.

When I became a father, the idea that new instincts would emerge, was not new to me. Unexpectedly however, in light of my new role, my old instincts didn't disappear.

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Will realises he can't always be with his daughter. (Supplied)

Rather, they fought for attention against the new instincts that came with being a Dad. I was confused.

But, with McConaughey's voice ringing in my ears, I chose to double and triple down on all of them. Sure, I wasn't turning down multi-million dollar roles with Kate Hudson, but I was anxious to furnish the things which felt 'right' - work, meditation, writing, time with friends, exercise and music. It was exhausting.

Until one day, tired after the show, but equally anxious about how long I'd been away, I powered home on my bike to satisfy my new role. And this is where it gets messy.

As planned, I got there just in time to read Max a story and put her down. But we barely made it through two pages, before she started screaming in my face.

I'd never heard her cry like that. It was guttural. She was scared. It became obvious that I was strangely unfamiliar to her.

This was hard enough, but the nail in the coffin was that as soon as my partner picked her up, she settled. It's probably the hardest moment I've had so far as a parent. I had failed. I don't think I have ever felt such acute sense of shame. I fell in a heap.

Something we can all relate to is a need to feel loved by our parents

My 'instincts', for want of a better word, weren't aligning. Worse, they were clashing. Later that night, I told my partner that there wasn't a place in life where I felt welcome, forgiven or safe. I told her about a potent need I had to feel held.

When I explained this to my psychologist, he told me that a lot of parents re-experience things they had forgotten since infancy. Memories which are only brought to the surface by your child experiencing those same things.

You see in them the pain you once felt and it strikes you with the same weight that it did all those years ago. Hence, my need to feel held.

Earlier this week, we interviewed the great Shannon Noll. He told me that after the birth of one of his children, he had to go on tour to New York.

After six weeks, he came home with presents for his son. The little boy discarded them, cried and then hugged his Mum. He said it took weeks to reforge their bond. Another good friend of mine Jack, who had a baby at the same time as me, has had to leave for three months as he runs a band tour through rural Australia called Up The Guts. Their plight is nothing but painful.

I think something we can all relate to, is a need to feel loved by our parents. This person who, when they're there, is amazing, but, particularly for parents who are working, are never there enough.

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Will says he will be forgiving his own father this Father's Day. (Supplied)

As a physician, my own father, worked his fingers to the bone to provide for a family of six. For so many of us (including yours truly), this parental absence from home can often lead to deep behavioural tropes such as fear of abandonment, a need for attention or fear of missing out.

The lot of a parent is to balance irreconcilable duties, each of them pointing towards caring for your child. Whether this is holding them, working to provide for them, or spending time on yourself so that you're not grumpy around them.

The sadness I felt when Max screamed at me, was that I would never be able to satisfy all of these instincts. In fact, in needing to fulfil my duty to provide for her, I wouldn't be there for her, couldn't be there for her.

And she couldn't understand that. In fact, it's only since becoming a father, that I understand why

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Dad was away. But rather than villainising him for it, I actually feel sorry for him.

At the end of the interview, Woody joked that I will go through a 'McMahon-aissance'. Kate Hudson is yet to call, but the French word renaissance translates to rebirth, which is apt given that such profound change is only brought about by birth.

I can only hope that one day my daughter will understand why I wasn't always there. But parents should lead by example, so this Father's Day, my message to Dad will not be how much I love him, or how grateful I am for him. Rather, that I forgive him.

You can tune into Will & Woody on KIIS 106.5 from 4 pm-6 pm on weekdays

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