Losing a child is one of the most traumatic experiences imaginable for any parent, but when Liam Preston and Matt Dearsley both went through it, they found that there was a lack of resources aimed at helping fathers through the experience. Their desire to provide that support for other fathers in the same situation led them to create Dad Still Standing - a podcast aimed at helping fathers navigate the dark and distressing world of losing a child, and emerge on the other side.
Fresh from winning Best Parenting Podcast at this year’s British Podcast Awards, PodPod spoke to Preston and Dearsley about their experiences growing the show, how their audience has evolved, and what the support of the community they’ve grown means to them.
How would you describe your podcast?
Matt: It's a guide for dads who are navigating the baby loss journey. It's a positive guide; our whole aim is to reach them when they're in that dark place, and to bring them out of it using our experiences, helping them navigate the hurdles that come following baby loss. And it's the support that we needed when we went through it, that we didn't have. We wanted to provide that for other people. And we just thought the best medium to do that was via a podcast.
Liam: There isn't a ‘Baby Loss for Dummies’-type book, but this is like an audio version of everything you're going to go through after losing a child, and a toolkit to try and navigate each one of those difficult hurdles.
What advice do you wish you'd been given when you first started?
Matt: I think probably know your equipment. So the first episode, we recorded part of it, and then my laptop went into sleep mode, and it stopped recording. And then the next time, I think I'd press record and I sort of double pressed - it was recording and then it stopped recording.
Liam: We felt our way through this, but the reward from our listeners and the feedback we get - we wouldn't have had that if we hadn't just persevered in a space where people don't talk about this. And I think that is something I would say to people; don't be afraid to make mistakes. Don't be afraid to try stuff out. You're not going to get it right all the time. And I don't think we get it right all the time now, but just experiment, try new things. Don't worry about it.
How many people does it take to create an episode of your show?
Liam: It’s Matt and I, but Ben [Firth] tidies it up and has that creative eye about what you need to remove - in essence, it's three. But the reality is, it's our kids that went through it. It's our wives that went through it. It's the listeners that we now bring into it. So the core is just the three of us, but it's the experiences that we've had through our loss journeys that shape every episode.
Do you monetise your podcast?
Liam: No. It’s almost like, with our cause, you don't want to monetise it, but the reality is, it's a lot of work. It's really difficult. Factory do this because they recognise the cause behind it, and why it's really important. But that's time and effort and energy away from other stuff. We both work full-time in different jobs, so it would be nice to be able to recognise that in some way. And also, how do you funnel that into doing different things? So can you use that money to do training for bereavement, loss and stuff like that? So I think the ultimate goal for us is, if we did monetise it, how do we then use that money to support more dads and more parents through different avenues?
Matt: We said this from the start, we're not in it for the money, we're not in it to make a profit and to earn a living out of it. Even if we just helped one dad, we considered it a success. So we're in it to help as many dads as possible, and if monetising it helps us to do that, then we're all for it, whatever we can do to reach more dads and more families that need what we're saying and need our podcasts. I don't think we ever realised between us how much it was needed.
How do you promote your podcast?
Liam: Well, I mean, to be honest, we don’t really, it's so organic. There's no money behind it, we've never really put any money into it. Instagram is where the loss community tends to speak to each other. And so we just started a social media account and were like, right, let's populate it with our content, we do all that ourselves. It's all word of mouth. So every listener that we've got is from somebody talking about it to someone else. And that creates a really nice community that listens to you. But it's just word of mouth.
Who listens to your podcast?
Liam: So I think when we set it out, it was how do we just reach dads? Because there was nothing for us when we lost our kids. And then gradually as you start to look at it, you think actually, there are a number of people who follow us on Instagram who are women. And what struck us was the amount of mums or partners who listen to the podcast to understand how their partner is feeling. I mean, it's huge. But at no point did we go, how do we cater for that audience? So it's interesting for us now to reflect and go, do you move towards where your audience is? Or do you lean into the fact that we've grown this audience because they liked the way we're talking about it? And that's an interesting conversation.
Matt: Yeah, I think that's what makes it so organic is it's so natural, and the way we talk to each other, and the way we engage with each other, it's almost as though we're two dads sitting down in the pub, and you're sitting on the table next to us listening to us talk about a certain topic. And I think sometimes that appeals to the mums as well, and the partners as well, in that they're getting an insight into what their partner is going through and how their partner is feeling. And it helps them navigate their grief journey as well as help them help their partner navigate that grief journey as well.
What have you learned about yourself since starting your podcast?
Matt: I’ve learned that I’m perhaps too blunt sometimes. I'm very straight to the point, and sometimes I have to take time on the podcast to have a statement, and then explain what I mean, because it can be taken the wrong way. It's helped me, to be honest, because on top of the three losses I had before starting the podcast, I’ve since gone on to lose two babies whilst we've been recording, and it's helped me navigate those losses as well. So I think I've probably learned a lot about how I deal with grief. And I probably deal with grief differently now, because of the podcast.
Liam: I'm really precious about the quality of it. And I think that was one of the challenges we had at the beginning, because I wouldn't want to put something out there that I didn't want to listen to. I think what we say is amazing, but I didn't want to put people off by putting an inferior product out there. I think the difference with our podcast is, because it's a toolkit to help people, I don't want anybody to be put off because it doesn't sound right. I didn't think I had that in me to be that obsessive about it. But now Ben has taken all that away from me. I also didn’t realise how much I had to say on the topic; that I didn't know about myself. And it's given me a voice to talk on an issue that is so important to so many people. I didn't know I had that in me to do that until we started doing the podcast.
What was the last podcast you listened to?
Matt: So the last podcast I listened to was a podcast about magic. It's The Magicians’ Podcast, and it's got a magician called Richard Young and he's basically interviewing magicians. That's probably the last podcast I listened to, and I think it's just restarted again, so I'm going to start listening to that again. And probably The Therapy Crouch as well.
Liam: I am a big fan of That Peter Crouch Podcast. So I like stuff that I can laugh along with, and that takes me out of a place, that can keep me laughing. So I really enjoy that.