Neil Sinclair - Commando Dad

Commando Unit

Neil Sinclair has been a Commando and a PE teacher as well as helping to guard the UK’s Mission to the UN but nothing prepared him for parenthood. Now he has written the ultimate dad’s guide and one that’s perfect for father’s day on June 17th.

Neil and his wife Tara agreed that when they had a family they would either share the childcare equally or one of them would work and the other take care of the children.  

Neil joined the Army at 17 and served for six years with 59 Independent Commando Squadron Royal Engineers. When the couple’s first child Samuel arrived he was a security officer at the UK Mission of the United Nations in New York and Tara was working for a leading PR company.

With Neil working four days on and four days off and Tara able to work flexible hours, they shared looking after their son. At the outset it was nothing short of terrifying.

“When we got home with Sam, our first baby, there was this two day old tiny person to care for and we had no experience whatsoever and, with relatives on the other side of the Atlantic, nobody to ask,” says Neil.

“It was really awful and after a few weeks I thought ‘I don’t have parenting skills so what do I have?’ I realised once a soldier, always a soldier and all I had to fall back on was my military training . It all started to get significantly easier when I started to apply military precision to my parenting: I got us organised and into a routine, and I started to create new SOPs – or standard operating procedures – for being a dad: standard ways to make a bottle, change a nappy etc. ”

The couple and their, by now, two tiny tots flew back to the UK broke and Tara set up her own PR agency Sam & Flo, named after her grandparents. Says Neil, “With Tara working 14 hour days, I was looking after one year old Sam and Jude, then a baby of six weeks. I can tell you it’s the toughest job I’ve ever had.” And that’s from a man who was on tour with the Commandos in Iraq!

In their London flat Neil put up a baby gate, so that Tara could work at one end of the flat while he looked after the kids at the other end. Then, unplanned but hugely welcome, Liberty joined the platoon[TS1] .

It was then, with their youngest son Jude aged four and Tara back working, that Neil tried to find a dad’s book on parenting. “It had been so long since Jude was born and I just wanted a book on the basics but I couldn’t find anything for a dad. Tara said, ‘Neil, just write it!’”

In ten years as a stay at home dad Neil has certainly discovered a lot. He trained as a home-based child minder and looked after other people’s kids as well as his own.

“I learned a lot from other child minders and also mums, who were very accepting of me and   told me they really welcomed having a male child minder.

Three years on and Neil and Tara decided to take the kids out of school to travel the world. They started in Malta, flew to America and covered five states before buying a 4 X 4 and travelling around New Zealand. With the children missing their grandparents, they made a whistle stop visit to Australia before returning to the UK, again pretty broke and with no jobs.

“We found a lovely little place in Alrewas, near Lichfield, with a great local junior school. I was at home again looking after the children. The book was still on the back burner and Tara and I talked about titles. Tara hit on Commando Dad and it was definitely right, a eureka moment! I bought a dictaphone and Tara typed up the manuscript.

“Friends were very supportive and one who’d had a book published, sent us the template for a book proposal. Just before we went on a holiday to Spain, I sent the proposal, a synopsis and three chapters to some possible publishers,” says Neil. “Three or four days into the holiday we had several emails in reply. Two were very interested. I had the manuscript on a memory stick and sent it to them.”

Neil and Tara had already set up the Commando Dad website and blog and the book was published by Summersdale on May 8th. They have already reprinted it thanks to instant interest and publicity has included radio and national newspaper interviews, Fern Britton on Channel 5 and even an article in the Times of India. “They’ve got a readership of four million,” says Neil.

The children love the whole thing. “Tara asked Libby how she felt about daddy writing a best-selling book and Libby sighed and said, ‘Mummy, the Bible is a best-selling book!’

“She wants to know if we are in the newspaper and takes cuttings into school. After we had all been on TV she stood up and gave a talk on what it’s like having a Commando Dad. The kids keep me very grounded, so there’s no chance of me getting too big for my Army boots,” Neil laughs.

Says Tara, “I always knew Neil could write this book. He’s a very compassionate and understanding dad and the quality we most admire as parents and as people is kindness. I met him after he had left the Army when I was teaching history and he was teaching PE.

“We have always shared everything. I feel we have been on one big adventure. We made a pact that one of us would always be there for the children and I honestly wouldn’t have minded if that one was me. We are a team and now with the book out Neil is the one needing to be away and I’m the stay at home parent.

“While everyone said it was women who bought childcare books, Neil knew that this was because there were no proper parenting books for dads. Now there is! Neil’s is very accessible for dads – the feedback he has already got from dads has been fantastic – and he has insisted on keeping it at an accessible price of £9.99p.”

And it’s a great blokes’ book, a simple, straightforward guide to all the skills dads need, not only to survive, but also to be a great parent. It is based on the army’s battle skills manual, and features military style terminology throughout (see examples below) No dad would mind being seen reading this parenting bible on the bus. As Neil said all he could find when he looked for a dad’s manual were novelty books or those too wordy to be of use “at 0-silly-hundred hours with a screaming BT in your arms”. With Commando Dad, there is now a real alternative.

Commando Dad Speak

BT – Baby Trooper, MT – Mobile Trooper, Unit – the family, Base Camp – home, Bomb Disposal – getting rid of dirty nappies, ‘Flash to bang’ time: The time it takes between stimulus (a trooper’s behaviour) and response,  Silent running: Continuing to operate normally, but in silence or near silence (as used on submarines). Used to describe the quietness needed in the early days of having a BT at base camp.

To listen to Neil's interview on Talk Radio Europe click here. 

Patricia McLoughlin


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