Belfast personal trainer Neil McTeggart on documenting his daughter's life via social media
When Belfast personal trainer Neil McTeggart became a father to baby daughter Alex, little did he know his fun blogs about the challenges - and joys - of parenthood would make him a global online sensation
It's not easy being a dad - just ask 37-year-old Belfast man Neil McTeggart. The personal trainer turned parenthood blogger has been documenting his experiences as a first-time father on the incredibly successful Team DILF Facebook page - here meaning Daddy Interpreting Little Female.
Neil says part of the motivation behind the blog was the overwhelming feeling of being a dad - "it's very surreal to essentially own a human".
Trawling through Amazon's book lists in search of answers proved time-consuming and unproductive for him. There are countless 'how to' guides, he points out, covering everything from the basics of bottle-feeding to the minutiae of stool composition. Too often, however, such guides prove prosaic, patronising and, worse still, boring.
"The blog is the best source of information if you think that humour should take priority over facts and beneficial information," he says. "I always try to keep my posts light-hearted. As the Facebook page evolves, I may put up more serious things but for now I want to focus on the fun elements of being a dad."
The blog is where Neil considers the everyday concerns affecting fathers, such as buying the wrong thing at the shop and changing nappies at inopportune moments.
All of this is filtered through the gurning, cackling, vomiting, too cute prism of his baby daughter Alex, born May 29, 2016, at the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald.
"The day my wife Jennifer went into labour, we were actually at a friend's outdoor retreat in Lisburn firing bows and arrows," Neil recalls with a grin.
"We left the Wildfoot centre and called to the hospital on the way home just to see what was happening.
"It turned out that Jen was actually in proper labour and they kept her in. Alex was born close to four weeks premature, but thankfully all was great and, although she stayed in for a few days, we soon had a healthy little girl.
"At that stage, we were suddenly faced with the notion that this little person was totally reliant on us and we didn't have a manual to cope with it. Driving away from the hospital at 15mph, we just didn't know what to think or do. You soon learn to adapt, though. Babies grow and change almost daily."
A huge gym buff, he previously worked as online fitness editor for Men's Health - "I did well at a physique competition and they offered it to me" - and wrote work out tips and health content for other platforms. With the birth of his daughter, however, his priorities changed.
"Over time I got quite bored of writing fitness-related stuff. It wasn't fun anymore and with so many PTs appearing on the scene, I felt that I'd like to do something different. Being a dad was all new to me, and the faces my daughter pulled seemed to make for great status updates, so I started the blog," he says.
"The early updates were simple conversations I made up and people seemed to enjoy them. Looking back at earlier posts, I can see a huge difference in Alex. The page documents her growing and I simply love watching it happen - it's so easy to blink and miss it. With mobile phones, it's very easy to take pictures and delete them down the line to free up memory, but having the Facebook page I have this great record of our best moments together and captions to make them even better."
And Neil's hilarious posts have gone down a storm with audiences at home and abroad.
His most recent post, dealing with the trials and tribulations of taking a one-year-old on holiday to Portugal, racked up an astounding 3,500 shares and reached over 2.2 million people worldwide in just 24 hours. That's not bad for a Facebook page that has just 7,000 likes. He spends precisely zilch boosting posts - his reach is purely organic - and is as surprised as anyone at his page's remarkable success to date.
"Some posts seem to just snowball when people start sharing them," he adds. "Other posts that I think are hilarious grab no traction at all. It can be hard to know what will get spread online but that's secondary to me having fun with it.
"Reading some of the comments, you can tell people just relate to the content and find it funny. With so much negative stuff on the likes of Facebook these days, I think it's great if I can put something out there that people enjoy and share with their mates."
Naturally, the greatest response has come from fellow fathers, but Neil reveals that his audience is eclectic and becoming more so, with grandmothers joining in the conversation on occasion.
"Dads are great," he says. 'I get lots of banter from fellow parents and I have had people recognise me out and about and tell me that they love the page. That is always cool. A lot of the comments are from dads, but mums do participate and often tag their partners saying stuff like, 'This is defo you!'
"I recently had a lady named Yvonne, who is 71 years old, comment on a post saying that reading my stuff often makes her day and that my photos of Alex remind her of when her own children were young. That's fantastic."
What does his wife Jennifer - an accountant by trade and fellow fitness buff - make of his online exploits? The pair met while socialising in Belfast, were engaged a year later and married the year after that. "She often rolls her eyes at some of my ideas," Neil admits. "But all in all she is really supportive of anytime I spend having fun with our daughter."
Sadly, his parents, Margaret and Owen, passed away before Alex was born. "Mum battled with lung cancer and died a few days before Christmas in 2012, and dad had a heart attack six months later," he says. "We married a few months after we lost dad."
Neil was raised in Belfast along with his elder brother Gary and younger brother Ralph. The challenge of raising a girl - having had no sisters to learn from over the years - is reflected in the blog. One post, for example, shows baby Alex wearing a Babygro emblazoned with the slogan 'I'm Not Allowed To Date Ever'.
"My younger brother Ralph just had a daughter too," says Neil. "So he might make a guest appearance on the page at some stage, but for now he's happy to sit back with my other brother and just laugh at the content.
"Unfortunately my parents never got to attend our wedding or meet our daughter. Mum would have loved a little girl in the family, as I have two brothers and a nephew and it does sadden me that my parents aren't around to enjoy so many epic moments with Alex.
"If something serious does come up on the page, I deal with it like my dad would have and just inject a bit of humour.
"One of the reasons I spend so much time training and staying fit is to be able to have time with my kids and hopefully their kids too in the future."
Health and fitness is a priority for the McTeggarts in all walks of life. Neil currently offers coaching from a small studio in his native Bangor, and trains his clients mainly in calisthenics, free weights and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
"I started BJJ because I wanted to learn a skill and throw myself into something physical. I also wanted to be able to help my daughter learn a martial art. I'm conscious of things like bullying and I felt that it would be great to have some skills I could hopefully pass on.
"Jen has an Instagram account showing her journey through fitness. She has quite the fan club now and girls will always comment to me about how well she has done, especially since having a baby just a year ago.
"As soon as Alex can walk, I imagine us out and about hiking, camping, surfing.
"For now, though, we do water babies every Sunday. I've had a few scary moments in water over the years and strongly believe that teaching a young child how to swim is a must. Afterwards we would have lunch in Belfast or Bangor and just recently purchased some season tickets for the national parks.
"Family life is simple for us with nothing expensive or flashy, just quality time watching some TV or walking at the beach or in the parks."
Followers of Neil's page will naturally feel a connection with Neil and baby Alex in particular, who remains the primary focus of all posts and routinely leaves viewers in stitches with her food drunk faces and imagined conversations with dad, expertly written by Neil.
Asked to describe his daughter as she enters the second year of her young life, he does so with a comedian's flair for imagery.
"She has flowing locks that the other babies at the pool on a Sunday would die for. But her main attributes are her comical faces. We are very lucky to have such an animated little person in our lives," he adds.
To find Neil's blog go to www.facebook.com/TeamDILF/