Sunday, June 21, 2009

Behave, or I'll smack you until you're happy!

This is what it isn’t: Best Father’s Day, Successful Father’s Day, Perfect Father’s Day, Faultless Father’s Day, Caring Father’s Day, Present Father’s Day, Employed Father’s Day, Non-depressed Father’s Day, Healthy Father’s Day, Emotive Father’s Day, Sporty Father’s Day, Incredibly Strong Father’s Day, Married Father’s Day…

In fact, the only real qualification for being a father is that his sperm successfully connected with an egg.

Maybe not. Plenty of stepfathers and non-biological dads are enjoying being spoiled, phoned, loved, cared for by their children today.

I went shopping yesterday. Almost every shop was following the pavlovian retail theme of a Father’s Day display. I’ve never seen such a large collection of things unrelated to being a father. At least, in my life. Golf-themed trinkets, multi-tools, ties, coffee mugs in every possible shade of brown or dark blue, sports gear and drinking paraphernalia. I can remember buying my own father things like tobacco pipes and beer for Father's Day. None of these things could possibly be used to successfully raise a child to adulthood. I did make certain that Neen knew not to buy me wine for today on their behalf- as much as I enjoy it, I don’t want them to see drinking as disproportionately special.

You may have been raised in a traditional nuclear family, or raised by one parent or another family member. You may have been adopted. This may be day when you feel strong feelings of love for a father figure, or possibly, a day which brings back deep-seated fears, nightmares even. It may be the day that you are powerfully aware that you are unable to have your own biological children.

My children are great. They have been thinking of me all day, and that is as much as I could ever ask from them. I’m not the best dad, but I am the only one they have. I’m not the super-hero of life insurance commercials, or the rugged man sweating it out in some competitive sport. A lot of the time I am here at the computer, or watching TV, or just living with my children around me. They don’t mind. They appreciate it when I sit down and build things with them, but not so much when I cook for them, or tidy up after them. They don’t like it if I argue with mom, and they don’t like it when I’m cross with them.

Families are supposed to be messy, ad hoc affairs. There is no norm. There is no manual. There is no standard. What you get is pot luck- a collection of personalities and varying social conditions attempting to find purpose and meaning out of life in the midst of keeping a house or apartment going, earning enough to pay the bills.

I really feel for those of you for whom today leaves a sour taste, a bitter taste, or a rising up of unwelcome resentments, anger and fear. Men have so much to answer for, not least the paralyzing passivity of most of us. Allowing mothers to grind away their personalities on the millstones of family life, while we allow the word ‘father’ to be draped over us as we do whatever we want to do.

I’m not a traditional Dad in the marketing sense. I don’t sit making fishing flies in my workshop after a day at the bank, I don’t have any interest in sport. I feel like a kid sometimes myself- feel surprised that the decisions and momentum sometimes lie with me. That I’m responsible for these three children. But I wouldn’t change that.

Somewhere in the rough and tumbles, the lego dinosaurs, the funny-voiced bedtime stories, the kidding and joking and dancing and hugs and tickling, fatherhood takes place. God help me from ever messing up their lives- that isn’t my intention, but should I ever be remembered as a good father, it’s because they are great kids, and Neen is a great wife. Otherwise, I’d just be some guy, living an unremarkable life.

The only thing that makes me a remarkable father is them.


  1. My dad got hankies and socks for Father's Day every year for like 15. Then we got older and realised he was an actual person, with real interests, a job, a life, hobbies. Now he gets wine and biltong, and if he is lucky, a home cooked lunch. [And this year, woohoo, a dressing gown, could just tell how excited he was by that one ...] I wouldn't trade him for anything in the world. Anyone can be a father, as you so rightly point out. It takes someone special to be a dad. Nice post xx

  2. @SMP: Nothing wrong with hankies. Anyway, this is one occasion where it really is the thought that counts- it's more about the relationship than the gifts.

  3. Dude, there's EVERYTHING wrong with hankies, we are so not having this conversation again ... !

  4. @SMP: Tissues as a gift have neither the tenacity nor charm of hankies. Hankieshankieshankies. *does hand in front of nose waggle*

  5. That was excellently written. I wish I'd thought of it first. Your kids (and Neen) are lucky to have you around.

  6. i like your style, m'boy. nice post. so glad my dad requests no gifts, just a solid hang-out session. i guess he figures why taint a great day with a Tiger Woods lint-remover?

  7. Father's day always left me feeling a little guilty... It got easier as the knucklehead got older- but there was always a little bit of "what if..."

  8. @blaine fridley: Oooh, can I bottle some of that Tiger Woods lint and sell it?
    @angel: It's a screwed up day- so full of ghuilt and regret for most people. Don't feel bad..


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