Well, I can almost hear the scoff through the digital domain at the title of this blog, “Only ten years? Pathetic!” Well okay, but it feels like a landmark for me. Trust me, I am as surprised as anybody that I am a living, breathing father and that I have even made it to this age without saying bon voyage to this big blue planet!
As I ponder my journey as a father, it would be amiss of me if I didn’t say something about my beautiful friends, who on this father’s day are lamenting that they can’t have children. This dismays me, as more often than not those people who can’t have children would make the best parents ever. Unfortunately on this father’s day, many men and women will feel pangs of this pain. I wrote about unconventional fathers on an older blog which may be helpful for you who identify with this – [The Fathers Day Paradox]
Being a father was one of my most dreaded scenarios when I was younger. To me, it meant being tied down and cramped. I had this mental image of me in overalls and covered in grease, trying to fix the car to save what little money I had after spending it on toys that break in five minutes. Then my wife would be leaning against the doorframe smoking a limp cigarette screaming, “the washing machine is bloody-well broken, so what are you going to do about it?”
It’s obvious to those who know me or who have read my [memoir] why I would be adverse to children, marriage and the appendage of debt. My relationship with my father was terribly strained, so the word ‘freedom’ to me meant no responsibility to anybody. Most times, my childhood was a crusade of survival deflecting emotional and physical barbs intended to inflict permanent pain. Yet miraculously here I am, the father of twin girls who have triumphantly paraded over the finish line for ten year olds and are already preparing for the next race towards their twenties. How the hell did they end up here unscathed? I must be a genius!
If someone asks me how I have managed to be a father with virtually no example or guidance, I would say that I have tried to do everything as opposite to my father as possible – and so far it has served me well. But I know that little bag of tricks won’t work forever and soon enough, a more sophisticated approach is going to be needed.
I have to be truthful; belonging to a household of three women is sometimes overwhelming, especially when they all gravitate towards the same opinion on any given subject. Oh yes… that look of, “seriously?” gets thrown my way like a handkerchief full of snot. It is bothersome, because I try to respond in my most manly voice even I know that my tenor range has virtually no authoritative resonance. Bugger…
So now that I am over my utopian dreams of living in a solitary man cave where all my belongings are in easy reach of my lounge chair (motorbike, four-wheel drive, drum-kit, fridge and complete collection of M.A.S.H DVDs), what do I think about being a dad ten years on? Well, apart from being told to put the toilet seat down in a never ending chorus of indecipherable ‘grrrr’s‘, I can’t imagine my life any different. In fact, without my girls, life would finish as sadly as the last episode of M.A.S.H. – leaving me with the perplexing question, “what do I do with my life now?”
I have learned so much from being a father. One thing that wasn’t evident to me in my footloose days was that the apparent sacrifices I made would be met with the opportunity to mature in equal measure. Life isn’t better because I have freedom; it is better because love connects me in ways that don’t even make sense, ambushing me like a surprise birthday party every day. Don’t get me wrong, I can’t begin to tell you how my children confuse the hell out of me – my girls seem to revel in sending meandering cryptic messages like a trail of crumbs that lead to the gates of hell.
The times I feel most fulfilled are when I am thrust into a problem solving situation with my daughters – this is my sweet spot. At least for now, my daughters care about my opinion. That will probably change in the next few years and hopefully I’ll be important again after they turn 21! When my children are confronted with challenges, I have the opportunity to engage in a way that is uniquely geared towards my skill set. I feel deeply satisfied when I have been able to help a perplexed daughter work through a relationship issue at her school or deal with technology amongst a myriad of other things. The latest gadget is no comparison to the appreciative eyes of my ten year old girls (except, possibly, for the latest FJR1300 motorbike).
Despite the bravado, I do second-guess myself when it comes to parenting. At the risk of sounding sexist, I do think it comes more intuitively to women but only because we have been conditioned that way. When the stereotypes are dismissed and a man decides to become an involved parent, something remarkable happens. A child sees the benefit of two different perspectives. When two parents show children that it is okay to respectfully disagree and question assumptions in a safe environment, they are better for it.
I grew up with a very black and white perspective, because I didn’t see my parents negotiate through problems. My father’s dictatorial candour suffocated any chance my mother had to bring balance. It was never an option for me to ask each parent for his or her opinion and then be equally trusted to come to my own conclusion. Everything was a battle of wills, which I inadvertently brought into my early marriage. I was set up to fail as a father – and maybe in my heart I knew that. In retrospect, my fear wasn’t fuelled by an aversion to children; it was probably more a case of not wanting to fail.
Today, we still live with stereotypical views of parenting that could easily let me off the hook from being emotionally intelligent. It would be easy for me to shirk my responsibilities by only half-engaging, but it wouldn’t just be my children that miss out – I would too.
There is an inferred pressure in this world to ‘man up’ (whatever the hell that means) by defaulting to a male predisposition of assertiveness. Honestly, I think the male testosterone persona is crap. It is the easy way out and takes no effort. Having a laboured conversation with your preteen daughter who is trying to understand relationships is more precarious and significantly more risky than a weekend excursion with Bear Grylls. In fact, I’d like an award system for when I ask the question of my children, “how are you feeling about that?” A Nando’s Chicken voucher would suffice (hidden message for my wife!).
If I were to say anything to the women out there about us men who want to parent well, I would say three things:
- Respect our intuition as much as you respect your own. The paternal tinder will be there, it just needs a match to get it going and someone to fan the flames.
- When it comes to parenting, expect a male to start from a completely different perspective to yours, rather than assuming we are wired the same.
- Expect a male to have just as much to offer as you – just give it time.
It might be clumsy at the beginning and it might take some patience, but it will be well worth the effort. It is only a cultural detour that has pigeonholed males into the apparent burly breadwinners and emotional bandits. If given the opportunity men can offer a unique frame of reference, especially when balanced alongside another well-reasoned perspective.
Father’s day is filled with many emotions for me; sadness and loss because my father never ‘manned up’ in the good kind of way, yet also the feeling of awe as I tread the steps of fatherhood – continually building my potential for love. This love isn’t the soppy kind, but the kind that takes skin off your back from sacrificing over and over again.
Amongst the war of parental sacrifice, I have discovered what freedom really looks like. Freedom is my choice to engage as a parent and teach my children to have independent minds. Some people are scared to bring children into this world because they think it is spiralling out of control. But I’d encourage you to think that is exactly what you should do, bring children into this world to help it get back on track.
Happy Father’s Day.