This dad is rockin’ and rollin’
Growing up as an expat kid, Matt Snelgrove has called Hong Kong his home for 30 years now. Having a penchant for good ol’ rock ‘n roll and expressing himself through shredding his guitar, he brings his love for music to young people all over the 852. Several years ago he opened The Living Room – a space for young people to hang out in Sai Kung with their peers and to create music together. Every year he hosts Rock Schools (a la Jack Black styles!) and gets to mentor and teach teens how to work together as a band and give them an outlet to express themselves through their music. As a dad to three kids, he’s no stranger to the #dadlife and dishes on all the lessons he’s learned through the years. He’s all about embracing the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to parenting. It was refreshing to meet with Matt and to hear more about his take on what life is all about.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and what it was like growing up in Hong Kong.
My family and I moved to Hong Kong in 1987 and it has been our home ever since. Funnily enough, we’ve all stuck around, with my folks, my brother and us living here. Upon arriving, I can still remember being carted off to a school interview to meet the principal and asked tricky spelling words just after getting off of a plane. It was a bit of a shock! Having said that, we lived a very fortunate life in Hong Kong, My father was offered a great expat deal to move out here and we settled in a beautiful apartment just 5 minutes from the beach. I thought this was the standard way of life as I was not really aware of anything other than the suburban bubble that we were caught in.
Growing up, our parents gave us amazing amount of freedom as Hong Kong was known as a safe place. But with the gift of hindsight there wasn’t/isn’t many youth programs that we were aware of and ended up creating our own fun, cubbies, beach parties and house parties when the parents left the country… This was a lethal concoction to say the least. Back then as a teen, I realised quite quickly $100 could pay for a cinema ticket and a McDonald’s or everything weird and wonderful from 7Eleven. Just like in most countries, if you are caught up with the cool edgy kids, temptations are easily on offer too.
How old were you when you first picked up a guitar? What inspired you to create music?
I was always around music growing up as my dad fancied himself as a bit of a 70’s rocker. My brother and I were exposed to music greats during most of our car journeys around town. My brother who is 5 years older than me started to grow his hair and possess a number of guitars. His tastes were slightly heavier and also a lot louder. When it came to playing, I remember my brother showing me the importance of sticking within a pattern and picking a root note… At the age of 11, I woke up to Metallica’s Black album and that got me hooked on hard rock, over the next few years I progressed more into punk, grunge bands and had a go at starting my own bands.
What was the name of your first band? Any regrets?
The name of my first band was Euphonis Din that consisted of playing Metallica, Stone Temple Pilots and Hendrix covers. We then developed the band further and called ourselves Smudge, where we wrote our own original punk scenes and played a few gigs. I think if we sticked at it, we could’ve become a semi-pro band! Some of the creativity and musicianship was incredible. I have to say I was a bit of a loose cannon though… Other bands at a later stage: Death by Chocolate, Blue Angels and Perfect Day to Start A Fire.
If you could give your 16-year-old self some advice, what would it be?
Choices you make now will determine your future, I wasn’t an academic kid at school but rather into more of the social aspect. My mindset was definitely, school was there to line-up-the-parties-on-the-weekend kind of guy. The advice I’d give myself is to work with the system instead, get a good foundation and then choose what you want to be after that. I would also tell my younger self to add some solid people into my life because you can’t just rely on friends (aka blind leading the blind).
When it comes to learning about romance, there is no rush to grow up, hang out with your mates, go skating and when that cute girl comes along, spend time getting to know her. Know how to get past the surface and marry your best friend (which is what I did in the end!). To be honest, I made lot of mistakes when I was younger and there were definitely some battle scars. Time helps healing past hurts and broken hearts, but I do wish I didn’t get involved at such a young age.
Tell us about what you do at The Living Room and your Rock School?
The heart behind The Living Room is to set up a safe place for kids to come as they are and create music together. We want young people (whether you’re a beginner or expert) to come, give music a go while we will help equip and teach the kids.
We run weekly classes for band, ukulele and other individual instruments. Over the holidays, we run three day long Rock Schools (think Jack Black’s “School of Rock”) where we place kids in bands where they need to learn, create and perform at the end. There has been some magical moments where kids write songs about wanting to spend more time with their folks but the phone keeps getting in their way to meaningless relationships that are on the internet. The song was called, “Social Mediblah”. At the end of the day, if the kids are having fun, get an outlet to express themselves and they’re learning a skill or two then we are satisfied.
Read more: Summer Camps in Hong Kong 2017
How have you seen the young people you interact with change through their involvement with music and song writing?
We had an asylum seeker who came to us with a ton of musical experience. He is now in a hip hop band expressing himself and finding his path out here. We also had a very shy girl who was having a hard time at school with her peers which affected her confidence. During the first summer camp, she didn’t even perform on the last day, but she came back the following time and performed. I think we had a part to play in building her confidence. And lastly, there was one super bubbly girl, but was going through an identity crisis with gender confusion issues and was starting to transition into becoming a boy. She came to a number of rock schools and we wrote some great songs together. For this young person, it was all about having a place to be comfortable and enjoy life with a mix of people outside her normal environment. It’s always amazing to me that the teens can come to The Living Room, express their feelings as a group and write songs about their struggles.
Tell us a memorable moment you’ve had with your student bands.
I’ve been doing youth work for quite some time now and to see some of my young guys from 10 years ago becoming trainers and helping to run our camps is incredible. During the school year, they drop in every now and then and it’s great to be part of so many young people lives. Seeing the guys grow up from hardly being able to play a chord, to forming a band and then performing on a live stage and opening for overseas artists, has to be something I could of never planned.
What was your reaction to the news of your wife’s pregnancy?
It came as no surprise as we hit that two year point in our marriage and felt the time was totally right for us. Some of the boys at work tried to freak me out about how gruesome the delivery was going to be, but I found the whole experience was quite amazing and beautiful. Definitely not the dodgy biology videos they used to show us back at school!
How did you choose your children’s names?
We wanted them to have unique names that we hope would reflect their personalities. Funnily enough, we picked the same name for our first child that one of my colleagues had choose for their daughter but three months ahead of us! But then we came across another name, Nadia which means hope which in hindsight, is definitely more appropriate for her.
For our second child, I liked the name Emily, but the name means to battle with your siblings so that was definitely a no-go! Instead, we went for Millie which means gentle strength and she really reflects this attribute.
Finally, our youngest. We named him Angus which means exceptional strength, so needless to say he will be ready for rugby in a few years for sure!
How hands-on were you during all three births?
I was there for each of them. Our first two were delivered at Queen Mary Hospital, and the third was at United Christian Hospital. I have to say the public system rocks. All 3 kids were delivered for under $1000 total. They allowed me to be in the delivery room for all of the births, but my main role during the delivery was passing over the gas and offering a few words of encouragement. However, when it came to the umbilical chord, a wise friend of mine told me to let the doctors do what they know how to do and you focus on your wife. Wise words, very wise!
Where were you when you knew your wife was going into labour? What was going through your mind?
Not in the taxi! Thankfully, the babies never came too fast. My wife is the calm one, she didn’t yell or anything… she just pushed like hell! Actually, I think I was subconsciously pushing alongside her, as my stomach was sore and knackered after the whole ordeal. Respect to all mums!
What was your experience like changing the first diaper?
I definitely didn’t change them as much as my wife but, I’d say 1 out of 5 times (if I’m being generous!). It’s funny how having a baby makes poo not as hideous as you once thought it was. But when until they start eating real food, that’s when the real stink comes in..
What’s the funniest parenting story you can share?
Starting with 3 kids at the shopping counter, then going down in the lift and realising there are only 2 with you… Thankfully, child number 3 was just in the trolley back at the counter! It wasn’t funny at the time, but in hindsight, we can laugh at it now.
What’s the hardest part of being a dad?
At this stage it is quite smooth sailing. I am the king of the fam and they love me to bits! I’m not looking forward to when that starts to fade and they go on their self-discovery later on. One thing I struggle with now is trying to juggle between work and play. Having my own company makes me have control of my schedule but even with that, I think of my son at home while I’m at work and wish I was there with him. The next challenge is to push the work mindset out of my mind and enjoy the moment with my kids when I’m with them. That’s why I think its so important to go on short family trips away from the busy life as possible.
What’s your favourite part about being a dad?
Seeing these little bumps, learn, grow and love… what a privilege it is to be a parent, what a gift, what a responsibility! I love spoiling the kids rotten, taking them down to the toy shop, buying ice cream or throwing them around the swimming pool. I also love picking them up taking them to one side and speaking words of life and appreciating their uniqueness. There is so much negativity our kids receive and as a father I’m responsible to build a strong foundation within them.
Who plays good cop and bad cop between you and your wife?
I am definitely the good cop! My wife, Megan dishes out the consistent discipline and structure for the kids and I’m usually the one who sets fire to it! On the most serious of occasions, I will bring the serious father face to the game, but in general our kids are very well behaved and that is a reflection of their exceptional mum.
Who do your kids look like, you or your wife?
I would say Nadia resembles my side of the family, Millie is a mix of Megan’s side and Angus a good mix.
If there was one trait your children could take from you and your wife, what would it be?
From my wife: Wisdom in real life situations, she is mostly calm and collected and really knows what to say at the right time. She also has a great sense of humour, which is needed when putting up with me!
Me: Perseverance and passion for life. I’m the opposite to my wife, emotionally up and down like a yoyo, but when I get an idea in my bones it takes over, I will not stop until I accomplish it.
What’s your favourite characteristic of your children?
Nadia: Her desire to be part of everything! It can be annoying but it’s that desire to learn to grow that is amazing.
Millie: Her kindness and thoughtfulness towards others. She has an ability of putting other people first which is amazing at such a young age!
Angus: His playfulness. He loves to play hide-and-seek, building caves with pillows then cuddling up and telling me he loves me.
Favourite kid friendly places and activities in Hong Kong?
We live in Sai Kung, so it’s all about the square. Sitting at Cena for a bacon butty or a beer and allowing the kids to run freely around the place is the best. Also the public pool with all its slides is incredible, not to forget Trio Beach for a BBQ and owning the beach in the colder months.
Read more: Best Outdoor Playgrounds and Parks
How do you keep the romance alive after having children?
Good question! In the last year we have taken on a helper so Meg can teach again. This allows us to book in a weekly catch-up date night which helps us to connect. My wife’s love language is acts of service, which for a spoilt expat boy comes very hard. But, if I make the effort to wash the dishes, do the shopping and pick up some flowers – this works a treat. A while ago we went on a few marriage seminars. The info was not the most important but taking the time to spend on something that will be around for while makes a lot of sense.
Favourite date night spots with just your wife?
Either around Sai Kung or a drive to a shopping mall for my wife to shop by herself without our 3 cheeky monkeys on her shoulder really helps.
How do you avoid the dad-bod?
I can’t say I have avoided it, actually I try to embrace it! Nah, I’m a big shoulder dude, rugby and all that used to keep me balanced. Nowadays, I don’t have time for rugby so I’ve taken up jogging. I just need to cut back on those extra beers and finishing my kids’ dinners for them.
What do you know now that you wish you knew before becoming a dad? Biggest lesson learned?
Having kids has given my a lot of respect for my parents. They have given so much and cared for me to no end. They’ve stuck with us through the thick and thin and this speaks volumes. Having kids is an opportunity to not be so egocentric. Having kids you realise the world doesn’t revolve around you and the sun doesn’t shine out your backside. We are definitely not perfect, but I know I would do anything for my kids and that passion for them to do well helps shift the focus off of me.
Top 3 tips for new dads?
Cherish the time, they grow up way too fast even though it may not feel like it at first. My eldest is almost 8 and that means she will be 16 in the same amount of time! Make yourself available to go to concerts, trips, take them on hang outs and dates… My parents were always there for rugby matches, concerts and pick ups and I want my kids to know I was always there on the sideline cheering them on.
Read more: Why You Need to Go On a Father Son Trip Now
Chin Up Charlie: Once the baby pops out, your world will turn upside down. Don’t ignore it or say it’s different for you, embrace it. After about a month or so you will start find some kind of routine and you will be able to socialise, run to the shops and go on holidays. It comes down to perspective – if you realise how important this little life is and that your family comes first, then you’ll work it out in no time.
Read more: Tips for New Dads from a New Dad
A mum and a dad’s roles are very different – finding out what works for you guys is the most important. The both of you may have different styles in parenting. Don’t give your wife a hard time for not being you and don’t feel guilty that you are not doing what your wife is doing. We all have different styles. At the end of the day make traditions, enjoy life, comfort during struggles and live life to the full.
Ed note: If you know a great Dad who’d be perfect for our next That Papa feature, please email us at: [email protected] for more information.