It’s almost Fathers’ Day (at least it is in the UK) and I don’t know about you but I like to use Fathers’ Day to do a bit of a stock-take and look at how I’m doing as a father. Being a dad is the most important thing in the world to me and I’m constantly over-analysing how I’m doing. Am I too strict? Not strict enough? Do I make them too materialistic? Do I treat them equally? Was it okay to let them have Pepsi and M&Ms for breakfast? That and several thousand other minor concerns peck away at my subconscious on a regular basis but I think the main question I ask myself is this…
‘Am I a good role model?’
I want my kids to be able to use me as a good template for how to be a decent human being. Am I living up to that? The answer changes depending on my mood but in many ways it’s not the answer that is important. I think the important thing is that I’m always mindful of it. Sometimes I might let them get away with some obtuse behaviour or a bit too much cheekiness in the face of authority. Up pops the voice “Are you helping them make good choices? Are you being a good role model? Sometimes, when my patience is thin and I send one or more of them loudly to their rooms, that little voice comes back again. “Are you being fair? Was that an appropriate way to deal with the situation? Are you being a good role model?
A lot of people say they want their kids to grow up happy and of course I do too. But more importantly I want them to be decent, solid people. Obviously I want them to be contented and enjoy life but I also want them to function properly around others and to treat people with respect. I want them to like me, but I also need them to respect me.
Now a lot of people, when choosing to self-over-analyse to this degree, would look to their own parents and use their own father as a basis for their own fathering. This is not something I’ve ever been able to do with my own father. Thanks to a rather convoluted set of circumstances we have now been estranged for approximately 3-4 years so chats have become, shall we say, infrequent?
As a child my dad worked a lot and my memories of father-son moments are patchy at best. I do however remember the following.
- When I was very young a drunk driver hit our car. I couldn’t speak or move for some reason and remember my dad having strong words with the guy before realising his son was still sat in the backseat freaking out and in the first stages of shock.
- When I was older, but still about 8 or 9, I remember being dragged around Southsea whilst my dad hit on guys on the beach. Later, he went to the bar in a leisure centre and left me in the pool. When the wave machine came on I nearly drowned.
- I remember going to France with him but I have begun to suspect that may have been a sort-of kidnapping . I’d certainly never gone on holiday without Mum before and I seem to remember them getting divorced not long after. It was a fun trip though!
None of these scenarios are really much help when trying to parent my own kids except for to tell me “Don’t do any of this stuff. It was scary as shit and you didn’t enjoy any of it (except France). Do nice stuff instead.” So, in a way, his poor example is at least a warning if not particularly inspirational. In his defence, I think he really does love me. He’s just not very good at being a Dad. People have had worse.
Luckily, despite the core role model being a bit wobbly, I have managed to find alternatives that have done rather well.
1. The Father-In-Law
Although our personalities and parenting styles are generations apart, I’ve been able to use my father-in-law as a good example of what a decent dad is like. He’s stuck by my wife and her siblings (well 2 out of 3, it’s complicated) and he’s a good yard stick for good family management. He used to be something of a yeller but as his kids have grown he’s become quite relaxed about the whole thing. It gives me hope that one day I can stop yelling at my kids not to skip into the road because THAT’S WHERE THE CARS ARE or STOP PULLING YOUR BROTHER’S COLLAR, etc, etc.
2. Dad Friends
As the wife and I slowly morphed from two happy adults into two tired caretakers, my friends have also changed. Some drifted off, uninterested in my stories of sick and poo. Some got their own kids. Others appeared thanks to my enduring presence in the pre-school playground or Junior Swimmercise. Generally though, my friend ‘base’ has begun to swell with other dads. Through them I can generally get a good feel for if something I’m doing is doomed to failure or likely to get one of the offspring to actually pick up their coat once in a while.
3. TV Dads
I’m referring here to dads on the telly, not transvestite dads. Although I hear they are a very under-represented group. I grew up in the 80s when most bit-part dads on TV were hidden behind newspapers in armchairs. This was echoed in my own life by my dad who was also hidden behind a newspaper. But there were some great examples of awesome dads on TV. I have a lot of memories of Cliff Huxtable being the quintessential ‘fun dad’ on The Cosby Show. Obviously, given the insight we now have into Bill Cosby’s personal and professional misdemeanours, those memories are somewhat tainted.
The other tv dad I remember most from my own childhood is Tim ‘The Tool Man’ Taylor from Home Improvement. Despite not having an obsession for DIY, I can see where he has influenced my own parenting. Tim’s fatherly approach always seemed to be somewhere between adult and child; part authoritarian, part mischief maker. I see a lot of value in that.
So, despite not having a relationship with my own dad, I’m lucky to have more than enough role models to guide me through the tricky bits. As always, the proof of the pudding is if my kids still talk to me 10 years from now. I check in with them now and again to see if my dadding’s going okay. They assure me that I’m doing okay but that buying an Xbox One would improve my performance considerably.
Happy Father’s Day!