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Dermot Bannon: ‘All three kids were born during the Room to Improve time. Obviously, there’s sacrifices’

Parenting in My Shoes: The architect and TV presenter on juggling parenthood with his career and what he enjoys most about being a father

Architect, TV presenter and father of three Dermot Bannon is a control freak. It’s a trait that “doesn’t go well with parenthood at all”, he explains.

“I’ve always liked kids. I’ve always liked the messing and the fun and the craic and all of that . . . it looked like a lot of fun. And then it proves you wrong,” he says, laughing. “Through my career I can control everything and I had been pretty adept at controlling everything that was going on in my life, and this was the first thing ever [parenthood] really to happen to me that I had no control over. And that freaked me out. Absolutely.

“It’s nature and things happen, and things happen to people and you have no control over it. And that is parenting for me. Because I’m such a control freak, the anxiety it brings on when you’re not in control – and you realise from day one you are not in control of this.”

Although Bannon imagined becoming a father was a natural progression his life would take, having children wasn’t completely straightforward. “It took a while,” he explains. “We had difficult times and difficult months.”

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He’s conscious of others who had a far more difficult time trying to have children, but admits to feelings of upset as months passed and it didn’t happen. “I think when you make a decision to start a family, you want it to happen straight away and it generally doesn’t. And I think everyone goes through disappointment, but you don’t know how normal it is, or how many months, years you should wait.

“You don’t really talk to anybody about it. You don’t say anything to anybody until you’re pregnant, and then you don’t tell anybody really until at least 12 weeks pregnant.”

Finding out he was going to be a dad was “amazing”, Bannon says. “I remember the excitement and then it’s such a long time to wait – especially on number one. I think, for a lot of people, when you’re trying to get pregnant, it’s always the dream to get pregnant and then once you’re pregnant that’s it. I always found that with each pregnancy I just worried. I’m an awful worrier and I just worried that everything was going to be okay.”

In preparation for fatherhood, Bannon read parenting books and attended antenatal classes. “And then when they arrive you throw all that out the window,” he laughs.

It’s hard to juggle that because I just want to be present for them, because I really don’t mind talking to people and if the kids didn’t mind it, I’d probably go off and have a cup of coffee with the other person. But I do see the impact it has on them

He says, reflecting on his experience of fatherhood to date, there are some things he might change. “Looking back, there’s things that I did that I probably wouldn’t have done if I was doing it all over again, and that was part of my family background. I’ve always been really busy and a bit of a workaholic. All three kids were born during the Room to Improve time. You’re building a career, you’re building a practice and all of that. Obviously, there’s sacrifices that are made.

“That’s one of the things I look back and I think I would have taken more time with them, when they were younger. I would have been present a bit more. I do remember standing on the sideline of matches and sending texts and sending emails and bringing them to places and thinking that was enough. And it wasn’t.

“I grew up in a house where both my parents had a really good work ethic. I always just saw work as a big part of family life. They’d a great work ethic and if they weren’t working they were doing things for the community. Mum was doing Meals on Wheels and Dad was down cleaning the village and going to committees. And so I think I just fell into that role of thinking it was okay to be working all the time. And to be doing bigger things as I thought, sometimes.

“A lot of it is built up as opportunities. That word opportunity means you can’t say no and I think if I was to do it all over again, I might say no to some things and say, ‘no, the kids are more important’. But I think there were times when I said, ‘no, no, this is really important for work and everything else can wait’. And you realise, actually, time doesn’t wait. They do grow up and you have missed out on things and you haven’t been there. And even if you’re there, sometimes you haven’t been present.”

Bannon’s wife, Louise, “was always the sensible one when it came to the kids”, he says. She would remind him, “this is a job too Dermot and we’ve chosen this. We wanted this.”

He concedes: “I don’t know anybody who doesn’t have regrets or feel they’ve made mistakes. And I think that’s parenting as well.”

Bannon’s children have also called their dad out on his workaholic tendencies, he admits, which he’s found hard. “Dad just works. Or Dad’s just on his phone. Dad’s just sending a text. Dad’s just sending an email. ‘But you’re always in work’ – that is thrown back. Working to very tight deadlines and kids calling you out on it – it’s not easy.”

There are aspects to parenting very small children that Bannon found easier than parenting his children as they grew older. “You lose your grip on it more and more, the older they get until they’ve flown the nest. The slow release that happens and you can’t control things. You can’t control what people say to them in school. You can’t control whether they lose a match. You can’t control if they don’t get invited to a party. You can’t control if they get upset about something. You have to try and help them navigate through it and sometimes you don’t even know how to navigate through it.”

Parenting while in the public eye is the only experience of parenting Bannon has ever known, he explains, as his eldest what just one when Room to Improve began. “People took Room to Improve to their hearts and so people love talking to me and asking me questions about it. They are very engaged in it, which is all really, really nice, and I don’t mind any of that. But I think, sometimes, when you’re out with the kids they found that a bit hard. Because you’re at a playground and somebody will come up and chat to you.

“And sometimes people are so excited to meet you, they forget you’ve got this little person at your feet. They just want to know about, ‘do you remember that episode?’ and the kids are looking up at me too. They’re quite patient at the beginning and then they look and say, ‘Dad why do you talk to people so much, because you’re supposed to be with me’. I don’t know how to handle that,” he says.

“It’s hard to juggle that because I just want to be present for them, because I really don’t mind talking to people and if the kids didn’t mind it, I’d probably go off and have a cup of coffee with the other person. But I do see the impact it has on them [my children].”

I still can’t believe we have children, citizens of our country, who don’t have that security of just a home

Bannon’s work has influenced how he parents by virtue of perspectives. “I create homes that are nurturing for families. I’ve always been fascinated by how families use things, if they’re sporty families, if they’re not sporty families. If they read, if they play computer games – and one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned was to have things like the Xbox or the PlayStation in the room with you from a very young age, because people fight against it. And I said, look they’re going to play it. They’re going to play PlayStation. They’re going to play games. And that’s how a lot of kids connect now, they play Fifa, or whatever. And they have the headphones on. And if you can get those things integrated into family life, accept it, in the same way that the television became part of lives in the 60s.

“I think the things that kids do that we mightn’t understand, or are a little bit afraid of, on gaming and all that, bring it into the family space so you can see what they’re doing. And then, if something does happen, you’re the first to know.”

What really upsets him, though, he says, is his work with the Simon Community. He is an ambassador for their open door event (running from April 8th-15th). “There are so many things that are out of control in a child’s life, but when you take away the one fundamental that I have, and that most of us have, a secure place to call home . . . That’s like a backbone to your life. I still can’t believe we have children, citizens of our country, who don’t have that security of just a home.”

For Bannon, allowing his children to do things for the first time alone, such as cycling to school or attending concerts, is the most challenging aspect of childrearing, describing the worry as to whether or not they’ll be okay as “horrendous”.

While becoming “their own people”, “reaching milestones” and “the card that they might write for you” are the most rewarding aspects, he says. “I’m constantly in awe of them.”

“Everyone always says the same thing – ‘it goes really quick. It goes really quick.’ And I’ve been told that for years and you don’t really believe it until [it does]. So, one message that I’d get to people is it goes really quick. It does.”

Parenting in My Shoes