When my youngest daughter was small, Hey Duggee was our go to soother first thing in the morning. It kept her entertained, and it made pop culture references that went over her head, but got my brain going. Before long, we were watching it together.
Sports weren’t my thing – I focused on the creative side. I ended up working in an office like many others. But I still felt like I needed an outlet – there had to be a way of getting creative ideas out of my head, and for some reason, focused on Hey Duggee. I built a website called the Duggeepedia which contained a breakdown of all the episodes to that point, and the pop culture reference points. The Instagram account was created to go alongside the website, creating the persona of DuggeeDad. I took photos of my daughter’s toys with comments of my experiences of parenthood. It was not just a creative outlet but also to see if anyone could see bits of themselves in my posts. I wanted to make parents smile and realise that they’re not alone. Since then, DuggeeDad has taken on a life of his own.
The content I created resonated with parents across the world and it led me to being invited to the Design Museum for a Hey Duggee exhibition in 2019. There, I met the show’s creator. I felt really awkward when I introduced myself, but he knew who I was and told me that they sometimes use the Duggeepedia as a reference point. It felt like validation and that strangely, my work had meant something to someone.
Initially I was embarrassed because taking photos of toys felt like an odd thing for a 40+ year old man to be doing, but there are thousands of toy photographers out there. My stories relate more to parenthood and its challenges as opposed to just pretty pictures. It’s led to me being commissioned to take some photos for the BBC during lockdown. Plus, I’ve also created content for a toy company. I still don’t shout about what I do because I don’t know what their perception will be of me, whether they’ll think it’s odd, or just wonder why I’m doing it. But the reality so far is that nobody has said it’s weird (to my face anyway!). It’s just my self-doubt.
I am proud of what I have created so far. Nearly all of it is created just on my phone. I’ve learnt a lot from others about researching creative artistic concepts, making props and setting up good shots. I’m conscious that good content and being engaging takes time and it requires thought. I never want to be seen as a sell-out; working with people who have a similar mindset and ethos is important to me to keep my integrity. I need to keep true to myself. When this is over, I want to look back and be happy with what I achieved. And I want my girls to be proud of me.
Being DuggeeDad has opened me up to many different support networks for Dads. I’ve connected with dads across the globe. It’s the acknowledgment that the feelings I have are shared by others – the validation of experiencing similar parental highs and lows. I am part of Dad’s Facebook group of currently around 45,000 members (again, another cartoon dog brought us together!). It’s the most supportive group I’ve ever known. I am part of the admin group of which are scattered across various timezones. Some of the other admins are lawyers, teachers or therapists, who know exactly the right thing to say and provide support. I’m not sure yet what I add, but I know I need to recognise my value more than I currently do and be proud of what I bring to the table.
Throughout life, I’ve been described as a nice guy. If my kids were to describe how I make them feel, I hope that they would use the word ‘safe’. If I were to describe myself, I would say I hope I am a loving supportive husband, a good parent and a trust-worthy friend. I often question whether I achieve these goals – Self-confidence is a big challenge.
DuggeeDad is a persona. We share a lot of similar traits, but he gives me the opportunity to let the stupid out. He is my own creation. DuggeeDad gives me a platform to connect with people who I want to connect with, and I feel like I fit in.
I’ve often felt like I don’t fit in. In many walks of life it’s visually obvious that I don’t, and I recognised that I am unique early on. I stood out, but tried my best to blend in. The older I get the less I am concerned about fitting in, and more confident to challenge people’s views. I don’t want my kids to experience what I did. I want them to be able to celebrate their uniqueness. For them to do so means I must first celebrate my own uniqueness, and be proud of myself.
Things are improving, slowly. Still, some people say that they don’t see colour, but it does need to be recognised that we are all different to achieve inclusion.
If I could have a conversation with a 10-year-old me, I would say “Don’t sell your Star Wars toys!” but more importantly, “You’re going to be ok. You’re ok being you, and don’t worry what people say.