22 April 2021

Fatherhood

When my son Ian came home recently, he gave me a "Toblerone" chocolate bar with the words "Best Dad" on one face of the famous triangular packaging. It made me smile and then think.

Am I really the "Best Dad"? Being a father is not something they teach you in school. No exam authorities offer qualifications in fatherhood. How you operate as a father comes from deep within, usually informed by your experience of your own father and observations of other male role models.

A lot of it is about gut instincts. It's not as if you work out a plan. Mostly you just go with the flow.

Nobody is perfect and I know that I made some mistakes along the way but the fact that my grown up children now love and respect me proves that I must have got most of it right.

Above everything else, I wanted them to be happy, well-rounded people  with minds of their own. I wanted them to  be respectful of others - no matter what their station in life might be and I wanted them to feel equal to all other people too. Now that they are both in their thirties, I am delighted to observe that these aspirations have been met.

I know of at least three people who regularly read this blog whose relationships with their own fathers were difficult to say the least. They look back with understandable bitterness, drawing a veil over times that are best forgotten. It is so sad and I feel for those readers, I really do. How wonderful it would be if we could all have happy, secure childhoods overseen by loving parents who treat us kindly and point us in the right direction.

My own father was like that and I thank him for showing me how to be a good father. I trusted  him, loved him and respected him. Perhaps he learnt the rudiments of fatherhood from his own father. And so it goes on through the generations. Thinking of cruel, fearsome or abusive fathers - perhaps they also inherited their loathsome habits from previous generations. That is not to forgive them, just to offer a partial explanation. 

Being a father should not be onerous. There should be much joy and laughter along the way. Fatherhood should enrich your life and not curtail it or weigh heavily upon you. I can say in all honesty that being Ian and Frances's father is the best thing that ever happened to me.

September 1988

33 comments:

  1. Part of me wants to say “Good post!” and “Great photo!” but part of me wants me to tell you one, no, two of my mother’s famous sayings: “Don’t break your arm patting yourself on the back” and (from the Bible) “Pride goeth before a fall.”

    I am conflicted. It’s probably my father’s fault.

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    1. I just told it like it is Bob. That's all.

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  2. And if that isn't the sweetest picture ever, I don't know what is. I just love it! And I'm not speaking of the Toblerone, although they too are mighty sweet.
    Some of us did not have good parenting and will struggle our entire lives in various ways because of that. I think I've been a decent mother but I've never felt certain about that because I had nothing, really, to base that belief on because of how I was raised. I look at my husband though and see what a good man and absolutely loving father and grandfather he is and I know that he does not suffer those doubts because his parents gave him the sort of parenting that every child deserves.
    It's a lottery, every time a baby is born.

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    1. In finding Glen, you came upon a harbour in which your boat would be safe.

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  3. I think that seeing your children as miracles is at the heart of good parenting.

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    1. Miracles. Yes. That's a good way of putting it Debby. It adds to the joy.

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  4. My dad did not find it easy to show his feelings, possibly because of his relationship with his own father, however, we knew that he loved us in his own quiet way. He certainly didn't take any exams in Fatherhood, but he muddled along and did his best, which is all any of us should wish for.

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    1. You have mentioned him before JayCee. It sounds as though he was a pretty special man who gave his all with much love for his two daughters.

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  5. After you posted excerpts of your father's Himalayan adventure as a young man, when he was years away from becoming your father, this post adds another angle to your tribute to him as you acknowledge his role in how you have been faring in your role as a father.
    Like you say, how wonderful it would be if we all had happy childhoods and loving parents who helped make decent people of us.
    And of course violent or otherwise bad fathers have most likely learned it from their fathers - but at some stage as adults, we should be able to recognise this and try to be different instead of following the bad example.

    When a few years ago friends of mine told me they were expecting their first child, the father-to-be said: "I'm going to be a Dad! Best job I've ever had!" Now, a bit more than 5 years later, his daughter can play him like a fiddle, and he still loves the "job".

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    1. I wonder what tune she plays - a happy one I am sure. I suspect that you and your sister played the very same tune on your own father.

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  6. My father was a very angry, scared, depressed man who did his best. He was raised in extreme poverty by an alcoholic mother who I'm guessing drank to deal with her shitty life. He wasn't a bad man and he always provided for us, he just didn't know how to be a kind father. I wish I could talk to him now, as adults, without fear.

    I know I wasn't the best mother as I struggled with depression and isolation and taking care of Katie. I did my best but it wasn't that great. My children always had clean clothes and a meal on the table. I drove them to their sports and we ate supper together every night but I was often absent inside my head. I had nothing left to give them and for that I am truly sorry.

    You were indeed blessed to have a good father and your childred were blessed to have you and Shirley.

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    1. Thank you for your personal reflections Lily. From where I stand I think you have been amazing. Resilient and true in spite of everything. You should give yourself more credit. That will teach the black dog.

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    2. Apparently I can't spell children. Sigh.

      I forgot to mention I love the photo of the four of you.

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    3. Lilycedar's words gave me pause: *I was often absent inside my head.*
      Damaged children carry a future they cannot see, and the adult carries the damaged child inside her head.
      What is that saying? Be kind to everyone you meet, because everyone is fighting a hard battle. Some very hard indeed.
      Haggerty

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  7. So I have to wait until they're in their thirties to know whether I was any good or not?

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    1. It's time to remove the steel gauntlets Daddy Dunham.

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  8. You've passed on a legacy of good parenting to your children and I'm sure they'll pass it on again with their own kids. I love the picture you shared of your family...Ian has such rosy cheeks in it! What a sweet photo.

    My dad was (and is) a kind and gentle man, but he's had struggles with alcoholism and mental illness my whole life. Because of those things, even though I know he loves me, he's always been extremely self involved and we can go months without speaking and he hardly seems to notice. I feel a great deal of pity for him, to be honest. His life hasn't been east. I'm also sorry to say I didn't show him much respect when I was growing up. I was so ashamed of his drinking that I was often mean to him even though he was the nicest drunk you ever met. I was just a kid in a bad situation, bullied and emotionally abused by my mother, and he was an easy target. I have regrets about that and wish I could have done better.

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    1. You were the child. It wasn't up to you. Good that your dad was a happy drinker and not one of those whose drinking brought out the devil.

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  9. What a darling photo! Every relationship, including the parent/child, has ups and downs, but if the essential love, support and communication remain in place, the troubles can be weathered. I am very close to my daughters who lost their beloved father 8 years ago. My amazing dad died a month ago. I miss him very much. Fathers are so very important to our sense of security and well-being. Toblerone is the best! Yum.

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    1. Condolences on your two losses Margaret. In the big scheme of things, eight years is not a long time. Unusual for a spouse to pass away before a father. Good to hear your relationships with your daughters are happy and wholesome.

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  10. Whether happy families are all alike is a moot point.
    This is such a happy moment in your family's life, one that Phoebe will gaze upon years from today. *My Nan was so pretty,* she will think.

    As for Gramps, sort of a cross between Burt Reynolds and Bilbo Baggins with a floppy Sonny Bono fringe and a Zapata moustachio. Do you sing I Got You Babe at karaoke?
    The Sixties are coming back man. We are Stardust !
    Haggerty


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    1. ...And we've got to get ourselves back to the garden
      ...to plant a couple of rows of broad beans.

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  11. My father left when I was 5 years old, never to return again. But my mom would meet a man and marry him by the time I was 8 years old and his efforts probably saved me from a life of poor fatherhood. Mom would be happy to know that he is still being a father to us now when she no longer can be a mother.

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    1. Thanks for sharing that Ed. What a special guy your stepfather was and is. He showed you the way.

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  12. *Oliver - Good Morning Starshine.* YouTube.

    While the rockers were rocking and the hippies were hipping, John Coltrane was struggling to pay the rent on his Harlem apartment. A genius who only made 40.
    Haggerty
    P.S. Get back the Zapata !

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  13. Fatherhood transformed my life - so much so that I wrote a book about it! Not quite, but my first book is a series of personal essays inspired by those experiences and their contrast to my own childhood - it is a very difficult journey to explore honestly and deeply but like you say it is the most satisfying and I'd say, deeply emotional experience. My own father was a manic depressive and violent with it - his illness being an explanation if not excuse for his behaviour. I had nothing to do with him for 30 years but went to see him before he died - making a peace of sorts. It was one of the most difficult things I have ever written about, and yet the day had a twist to it which was healing in a very surprising way... But the thought that my children would ever have that sort of (non) relationship with me is horrifying.
    You raise important issues in this post and ones that few men chose to talk about.

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    1. Julia Blackburn, one of my favourite living writers, wrote a memoir of her father, Thomas Blackburn, the poet. He was given to depression, violence.

      *The Three of Us - A Family Story* (2008) was Julia's way of laying ghosts to rest. Beautifully written like all her work.
      Her last book was *Time Song - Searching for Doggerland* (2019).
      Haggerty

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  14. Oh yes, the '80s moustache. Forgive us Lord for we knew not what we were doing.
    That was a nice thing for your son to do. You must have done many things right.
    Of course I have my own theories on how fathers (and mothers) should raise children and I would be the perfect father but fortunately I didn't get to put my theories into practice and no child was hurt by my theories.

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    1. I guess that when you and R were younger it was difficult for a pair of co-habiting men to adopt needy children. It's easier now isn't it?

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  15. Hello YP. Adele here.
    Just back from the hospital after visiting 2 day old Charlotte Grace, a little beauty and your post on fatherhood could not be more timely.
    It has been wonderful watching our son in law prepare so carefully over the last 9 months for this moment and now come face to face with the reality of becoming a father and all the responsibilities that that entails. The time he put into practicing dressing the baby doll, carrying it in the front pack, assembling the car seat and attending the 2 day prenatal classes has given us huge confidence that he will be a wonderful father as well as a great husband to our daughter.
    How did he get this way? His parents married young and had 2 boys but the marriage ended before Dan and his younger brother reached their teens. It could have been a broken home scenario but it was an amicable split which has meant the family remain close to this day even though both parents have new partners. He has a loving relationship with his elderly grandmothers and keeps in regular contact. Both parents and his brother have been out here twice since he has moved from the UK to New Zealand in 2016.Our families have blended well and I holidayed with his mother and Nan on their last visit. Life wasn't always easy when he was growing up in two households but the respect which his parents showed for each has certainly rubbed off on him and his brother who is also a wonderful Dad. I think this is the key ingredient. Respect allows all members of a family to grow and fulfil their potential. As parents we have to recognise when the time comes to step back and allow our offspring to flourish as the capable, caring adults we hoped they would become.
    We consider ourselves so lucky to have gained a son like him. After a lifetime in a household of women, including the cats, my husband enjoys the new balance.
    I am overjoyed to have finally joined the grandparent club
    . Happy to enjoy a new role,to be the supporter. Advice available but only if requested.

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    1. Whoopee! Welcome to Charlotte Grace! Congratulations Nana Adele!

      Thanks for the background info on your son-in-law. Sounds like the new babe will be the making of him.

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  16. My father lost his parents and oldest sister all within one year when he was just a teenager. It was during the Depression and he basically had to finish raising himself in a homeless situation for some years, despite having five other siblings--several of whom were even younger. No one could afford another mouth to feed. Despite those circumstances, he went on to become a successful individual. My mother had a lot to do with that as she provided the kind of stability he hadn't known until they met in WWII in the UK. Both were in their late 30s when they married. Both had a great sense of humour, loving hearts, can-do attitudes and a love of travel. I am beyond grateful they were my parents. Pretty sure Ian and Frances feel the same way about you and Shirley.

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    1. Thank you very much for sharing this uplifting story Mary.

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