I had a nice day today. Cathy cooked a nice meal and Eleanor gave me a card and a kiss. Around lunch time we went to Granny’s house and Eleanor played in the garden. I took some photos. Like all Dads looking at photos of their daughters I thought: “Here is the most beautiful girl in the world.”
Because my father died when I was young, Fathers’ Day has never really featured in my life until quite recently when I became a father. This is my second Fathers’ Day as a Dad. The first one caught me by surprise. This time around I was a little more aware of it although I think this was mainly due to the events leading up to the weekend rather than the dreadful advertising on TV. Whereas in the past I have either not noticed Fathers’ Day or have derided it as a commercial exercise having no meaning, I have now come to realise the value of these days.
As a Dean other teachers expect you to help them with their problem students. I do what I can. This usually involves calling the student’s home and talking to a parent. Having done the job for three terms now it slowly dawned on me this week that when I call home I invariably end up talking to a Mum. When I passed on this observation to a more experienced Dean she nodded and said: “Most of our ‘interesting’ students don’t have Dads around.” I found this somewhat sobering and somewhat depressing.
By far the most interesting parent meeting I had last week involved a less than supportive Mum. The student in question was having their third stand down meeting for the year, and Mum was not impressed. When we asked the student how he thought his mother had been affected by his actions she left us all in no doubt: “I’m f**king sick of it. He’s going to get a f**king puch in the mouth when he gets home.” Further down the track in the meeting the mother turned on one of the teachers in the room – “I really don’t like you,” she spat, before launching into a tirade about how it wasn’t up to her to sort her son out it was up to us, and how schools had lost their power because they couldn’t cane kids anymore. It was an upsetting, and unsettling meeting. By far the most reasonable of the two in this family was the 13 year old son who is a bright, funny boy with a lot of potential. Looking at his Mum I had to guess he got a lot of his personality from his Dad. “Where was Dad?” I idly inquired of another teacher in the staffroom afterwards. Prison, they informed me casually.
And he’s not the first troubled boy I’ve come across at school with a Dad in prison or in a gang. At least these kids know where Dad is, many of the rest haven’t seen Dad for years.
While I was reflecting on the absence of fathers I noticed the ads on TV promoting Fathers’ Day gifts. Most of these were to do with hardware, cars, bbqs, TVs or gaming systems. Not being the kind of Dad who would thank you for the gift of a power drill these ads always grate a little, but what grated a lot last week was all the TV males who are portrayed as morons. Man has been turned into a joke in most sitcoms. He is a buffoon, he thinks about sex but he is sexually incompetent, he wants food, he wants beer, he has grandiose delusions but even his children laugh at him behind his back. Homer Simpson started out as satire but I think he has become the norm in the world of televison men. Being a man I find this inutterably depressing.
Somehow I have managed to enter middle-age with the belief that man can be heroic intact. My heroes, men like T.E. Lawrence, or Martin Luther King, or Robert Kennedy, or Marlon Brando, may be failures in all kinds of ways, but they were none of them buffoons who needed constant patronising. They were men. They represented something. Hell, one of them was even a good Dad (Lawrence is definitely out on this count).
Well, it was Fathers’ Day today and I thought two things. Firstly, being a Dad is important. It is not the decisive factor in a person’s life whether their Dad was around or not, but it can be, and we should be careful to celebrate Dads who have lasted the distance and been around for their kids just as much as we celebrate the Mums. Secondly, Dads don’t need to be turned into figures of fun, Dads can be worthwhile human beings who are deserving of love and respect, and might even earn a certain dogged wisdom and quiet heroism over a life time.
Being a man is ok.
Not only that, but if we want to have good men in our society we had better stop mocking all of them, and start giving the decent ones a pat on the back every now and then.