It’s Father’s Day in the uk today. I have been trying to treat myself to some new pyjamas recently but in every shop I went in there was a barage of naffness as the gift industry cranks into overdrive to punt mass produced crap to tell many of the male parents in the uk that they are the best, the world’s best dad.
I’ve never been a father myself and while I guess my testicular tadpoles are still swimming well enough for me to be one at forty five, I wouldn’t want to inflict being an old parent on a child. It certainly didn’t turn out that well for my parents. They were parents at a distance, too tired, too out of touch, too culturally detached. However much I would like to think that I’m “down with the kids” I’m really not.
So Father’s Day is a double source of sadness, not being a father and no longer having one for the past twenty years. Twenty years and it may as well be yesterday. The day he died is congealed in aspic in my brain, clear and raw and stored in high definition with surround sound. As is the funeral, the buying of the coffin and every unkind thing my brother came out with on that day and many since. He called my dad a wanker on the day he died. His crime? To be kind, to be generous and to have empathy for others, to have not been ruthless enough to con, fiddle, bribe and bully his way into having a business empire to leave to his son.
He gave my brother something far more precious, to my mind, and what happened to that still haunts me to this day. But I will come back to that.
When we are children we regard our parents as the infallible answer to everything, or should do. Thackerey wrote “mother is the name for God on the lips and hearts of little children” I guess that can be extended to fathers as well without much of a stretch. It isn’t until we ourselves or our contemporaries become parents that it dawns on us that our own parents must also have been muddling through in just as must of an inept and precarious fashion. I think I realised a lot earlier though, I would hazard a guess that I was aware of the degree of my parents many failings by the age of eleven when they left me stranded with my sister with learning difficulties to work many hundreds of miles away for weeks at a time. Followed by years of squalor, debt and poor decision making of every variety. I did love my parents dearly and I know that they loved me but I am and always was aware of their fallibility.
I really had three fathers. First there was the witty, hard working northern family man with a fiery temper but a heart of gold. Sadly the heart turned out to be less golden and more flesh and blood and prone to failure as the arteries narrowed and furred and gave out to leave me with father number two, a bitter and fragile man who was deeply conscious of his limitations and all that he had lost. Thirdly, when one stroke too many left a man child in an old man’s body, highly emotional and full of joy for the simplest of things, I had my final father, who left the world in 1996 with the phrase “I’ve got a tiger in my tank!” as his final words.
Both my mother and my father take / took my love for them for granted but with my dad then and my mother now they claw(ed) for every scrap of attention from my emotionally stunted elder brother. After my dad had suffered one particularly debilitating stroke he had to undergo many months of rehabilitation to get even a semblance of normality back into his body. He never really regained more than the most basic of motor functions back in his left side but regardless he attended a local day centre where, amongst other things, he struggled and toiled one handed to make a wooden bird box. It took many months, every week he did a bit more until it was finally complete. It wasn’t the most amazing bit of woodwork ever but it was clear how much time, effort and love went into it. Then, when it was complete, he presented it to my brother… My brother sneered at the last thing my dad ever made and chucked it on a shelf in his garage, where it was eventually crushed to matchwood under a pile of other assorted detritus that got dumped there over the years.
My brother has similar contempt for me, exacerbated by his jealousy of my closeness to one of my nephews, never understanding that being a good father is not about who can throw the most stuff at a child but who can give the most love time and stability. The simple act of reading a story says more that any pile of mass produced crap.
So on a cardless Sunday in June I’ll remember my dad or rather dad’s 1.0 to 1.2 and if you are a dad… Try not to fuck it up mate. 😉