Mark Beretta always wanted to be a father. But nothing could have prepared the ever-affable Channel Seven presenter for the moment his first child, Ava, came into the world some 14 years ago.
‘I still have such vivid memories of the day Ava was born,’ he says. ‘To see a new life begin is just incredible.
‘I was very emotional. I just felt tremendous love for her and for my wife Rachel, and what she’d been through.’
Three years later, Rachel gave birth to the couple’s son Dan, now 11. Once again, of course, Mark was right by his wife’s side.
‘Dan and Ava’s births were the two best experiences of my life,’ he says. ‘That time you have with them when it’s just the three of you there together for the first time is really magic.
‘There are then so many milestones – getting through the first week, first month, six months, and year.
‘We had a big party for Ava and then Dan’s first birthdays, and it was more just to say: “My God, we’re still here! We survived,”’ he laughs. ‘You hear people with tremendous plans and how they’re going to manage it, and how becoming a parent is not going to change their life, but it changes your life. It certainly changed my life.’
Happily, fatherhood came at ‘exactly the right time’ for Mark, now 52.
‘I’d had a lot of time doing sport and things that I wanted to do, and Rach and I had some time just the two of us, pre-kids,’ he says.
‘I had such a great family experience growing up, and family has always meant such a lot to me. The opportunity to start my own family with Rachel was always on the radar and very important.
‘Today, the kids are like friends. They’re great – they’re fun to do things with. Nothing’s perfect. We still have our moments and but for the most part, we’ve had some beautiful times. Someone once said to me: “Every year with kids gets better,” and I think that’s true.’
So, what’s the greatest gift Mark believes a dad can give his children?
‘There’s no doubt in my mind that the best thing you can do for your kids is spend time with them,’ he says. ‘It’s always hard, because when you have kids you’re probably at that stage in your life when you’re trying to pay for it. You’re growing as a family, so you’re working a lot.
‘I think that’s the story for most dads and most parents – it’s a juggling act. But I still believe that the more time you give your kids, the more they’ll give back to you. Time is just golden.’
As for the toughest part of being a dad, Mark doesn’t hesitate either.
‘I think discipline and teaching what’s right and what’s wrong – dealing with the tantrums and then the arguments,’ he says. ‘I find that really hard. I love the happy moments, but there are complete contrasts to those, too.
‘There are great moments of meltdown, when you have to juggle firmness and love and all those things together,’ he says.
Over the years, Mark has always been extremely close to his own dad, David.
‘We just celebrated his 80th birthday,’ says Mark. ‘He’s been great. I think it’s only when you get older that you realise how important your dad and parents are in your life, and the sacrifices they made for you.’
And with Father’s Day just around the corner, Mark knows exactly how he’d love to spend it.
‘I like a very slow start and a good brekkie,’ he says. ‘Ava is a little whiz in the kitchen, so she’ll be in charge and there might be some pancakes, which is a bit of a favourite for Dad. Then generally we like to all go out and do something together – and I love a barbecue for lunch.’
Over the years, too, there have been some memorable Father’s Day gifts.
‘The cardboard coloured-in tie from school was always a highlight, as was the paper plate decorated with cotton wool and paint to hang up on the wall,’ chuckles Mark.
‘I’ve also got a nice little collection of hankies and socks, which are always great. But whatever the kids come up with is fantastic.
‘Father’s Day really does mean a heck of a lot to me. It’s just a really special day and a day I hope is always there.’
For the full story see this weeks issue of New Idea, on sale now.