What’s that? A little late, you say? Well, maybe. The thing is, there were a whole bunch of neat blogs about Father’s Day that meant a lot to the authors and touched a chord with others. That’s a good thing, and I didn’t want to be the sour grape.
My Dad does not believe in Father’s Day. And, in a way, he’s right. Mother’s Day has grown from Mothering Sunday, a church festival, but Father’s Day is an evil plot to sell greetings cards. And power tools. In the house where I grew up, Father’s Day was ignored.
That’s not to say we didn’t appreciate Dad. He’s been a brilliant father, playing football and cricket, giving driving lessons, wise advice, financial help, and turning up with the car when I got stuck or ran out of petrol. But he didn’t expect a card to show he was doing a good job.
I’ve been thinking about fathers a lot recently, as a friend’s father died suddenly, and another friend became a father for the first time. Eldest Weasel graduated from elementary school this week, making me the father of a high school kid. It seems too much of a cliche to say this has come around quickly. Like most other parents in the world, I’m still waiting to feel like I know what I’m doing. Does anyone else out there get a sinking feeling when their partner turns to them and asks “What should we do about this?”
I haven’t shared a secret for a while, but here’s a big one:
I NEVER know what to do.*
There used to be a comic I read when I was small. Among the many stories inside was one called the Numskulls, where tiny men operated a human being from inside his head. At moments of crisis, when Mrs Dim is asking me for an important decision, I can see the tiny men running around inside my skull, some screaming, some crying and some whistling innocently and looking out of the window. At this point in my life, I rather hoped the little men in my head would be sitting in leather armchairs, smoking pipes and engaging in learned discourse, but it seems they’re still riding skateboards, practicing the yo-yo and forgetting to tie their shoelaces.
So here we are. Probably sat in the kitchen, across from Mrs Dim. She’s just asked me a big question about one of the kids. It ends with “What do you think we should do?” How do I answer? As a father, where do my responses come from? Well, the first few can be discounted automatically: Drink beer, go back to bed, play video games. It’s so rare that one of these is the right answer, it’s not even worth considering them.
The funny thing is, the response system seems a lot like writing. I know some people plan their writing, they plot scenes (whether for a novel or a play) and they know in advance how things are going to go. I’ve tried that, but it never works for me. I know what I want to happen, but the words don’t always come out that way. Sometimes characters respond to a prompt in an unexpected fashion, and the story can twist away from my expectation. Don’t look at me like that, I know I’m not the only one this happens to. Anyway, that’s the way it often goes with fatherly wisdom too. I open my mouth and wait to hear what I’m going to say. Luckily for me, it has always made sense to date and Mrs Dim has been happy. Sometimes I think it’s more the calm tone of voice than the reasoning itself. Other times it’s just the fact that I’m contributing, being part of the parenting process. And sometimes, yes, I’ve had a good idea. Or someone has, and I just vocalized it.
It’s been a hard lesson to learn, that there is no “Big Book Of Being Dad” that you get given on your way out of the Maternity Ward. You learn to be a father the same way you learn everything else in life, and that’s probably the significant detail. Because some people do learning well, studying and revising and working at it, no matter if it’s their school subjects, a foreign language or the mystic ways of the opposite sex. And some people bumble along, picking up habits both good and bad, and waiting for the numskulls in their head to tell them what to do.
My parents have never been pushy. I knew, for example, that Dad wanted me to go to university, as he had. But they saw that I wasn’t inclined that way, preferring to fail to have an ambition, blunder aimlessly through my late teens and early twenties and fall into married life the way stuntmen fall off buildings into those giant airbags. The thing is, Dad never expressed any disappointment with my choices. At my wedding he made a point of telling me he and Mum were proud of me. That was a wonderful thing to hear. I hope someday to say something as affecting and meaningful to my daughters.
Then again, it’s easy to say something encouraging. It’s harder to stop yourself saying something critical. I wonder how hard it was for Dad to watch me NOT go on to university and sail off into the world of work and (subsequently) unemployment? He never chided me for not listening, or for wasting an opportunity, and I’m grateful.
So this post is really for Mike, who’s now had time to come to terms with being a father….although actually, he’s probably just had long enough to realize you NEVER come to terms with being a father. And maybe it’s for Robert too (although unless he’s a terrific prodigy, he’ll have to get someone to read it to him) so that he can appreciate the tremendous responsibility attached to being a Dad, and how little guidance you get once you’re in the job.
*Ok, well clearly that’s not true. Sometimes I do know. Pinch it till it stops bleeding, turn off the current before pulling the child’s fingers from the power outlet…But “NEVER” sounded more pleasingly dramatic.