Lots of us are slightly confused by fathers’ day (fathers included). On mothers’ day it was always clear that you were meant to get something nice for your mum, give her a rest and maybe make an inedible meal. On fathers’ day, is it the same protocol? Is it a day to give dads a break from fatherly duties, or rather for them to spend time with their kids (as in some 1950s parallel universe where children are wheeled out to meet their fathers once a year, dressed in white, while daddy smokes his pipe and pats them on the head)?
A friend of mine once spent a sunny day drinking in a pub, went home at 6.30, read the kids a bedtime story and was back in the pub by 8. He was warmly applauded for the attention to his family. And the praising went on for at least two rounds. (If it had been a mother doing the same, I fear we would have focussed more on her alcoholism/neglect and perhaps her ‘poor husband’ would have been applauded for looking after the children while she drank.)
It’s common to patronisingly praise a man for looking after his children, or listening to them, or changing their clothes or feeding them: as though there is something inherently unusual about being a good dad. Our collective internal picture of fatherhood has some serious issues.
There is too often a distance, or even a bitterness in a lot of people’s relationships with their fathers – and (in my new circles) also with the fathers of their children. Having hung out with enough lone-mums to last a lifetime, I know the abandoners, the adulterers, the liars, the thieves and the abusers all too well. And all of those stories have taken the shine off the occasion.
Mini didn’t see her dad today. She barely knows the days of the week, let alone special celebrations, so she was happily unaware, and it gave me time to think about what fathers’ day now means to me – with my own great dad happily cycling round the hilliest bits of the world, and the father of the person I love most in the world, absent.
Maybe fathers’ day should be about redemption – about making something good out of some imperfect relationships. And for all those who have been deserted or hurt or neglected, that today should be about transforming that damage into something good.
This post is dedicated to Kate T and her brilliant poetry finds. (And, surely, to my own lovely dad too…)
Last night while I was sleeping
I dreamed — blessed illusion! —
I had a beehive
inside my heart,
and from my old bitterness
the gold bees
were contriving white crumbs
and sweet honey.