“Once a father, always a father”. I read that in a book. Well, actually I read “once a mother, always a mother”, but I am translating it in the interests of gender-equality. If women can assert their equality in the work-place, then men should be allowed to assert their equality in the parent-place.
In fact, as an apparently “successful” career-person, the much more overwhelming “success” of my life has been the joy and privilege of being allowed to be the father of my three lovely children. (If they are reading this, my two sons may cringe at this word, but, hey, I’m talking about your insides as well as your outsides).
I am, once, twice, three times a father (if you know it, fill in the next line of the song). All three are now grown up, and two of them appear to have left home and live in Yorkshire – for reasons best known to themselves. The third lives at home, which is more than I do, as I work 3-4 days per week in Europe.
So its all much more long-distance, occasional and hands-off than it was when they were 2, 4, and 6. In those days, my role as a dad was full-on from the second I walked in the door from work, to the moment the last child fell asleep – or when I nodded off half way through a Mr Man book, snuggled up in one of their beds.
In those days, the fatherly role seemed pretty clear. I was self-appointed Head of Humour, Chief Games Officer and Director of Construction. Their mother – my wife – was Chief Organiser, Head Chef and Director of Logistics. Our relationship with our children was tactile, energetic/tiring, often messy and mostly joyous.
Of course we had our moments of frustration, stress and distress. Our children had their share of accidents and disappointments, and we mislaid one or two of them in public a couple of times. But my abiding memory is of fun and laughter – crazy bedtime games, building massive k’nex structures and complex brio railway layouts – and those precious hugs, cuddles and beat-ups (before you call social services, it was mainly them attacking me)
The days as a father of young children were – if I am honest – the most enjoyable days of my life. If that is where you are now – enjoy them and (you know who you are) spend less time at work.
But then – because we kept feeding them – they grew up. Dad was now the one who played cricket in the garden, taught DIY skills and initiated exciting international holidays. I took them camping, to football matches and on trips to foreign cities. By now I was attempting to be some sort of Educator – trying to teach them about the world – how to live in it, understand it, explore it and enjoy it. And I tried, as best as I could, to be an Example of a decent human being.
The problem is – if you encourage your children to be resourceful, independent and to think for themselves – there is a real danger you will succeed. Now, they seem to know more than we do and can live perfectly well without us. They are determinedly independent and rarely need to ask for advice.
I think I know much more about life, the world and people than I did when I was their age. But at their age, I really only asked my father for advice about fixing my car. So now it is more about me asking them for advice – particularly about fixing technology or buying cars.
My work here, as they say – as a father – seems to be done.
But the relationship abides. Once a father, always a father.
The love of a father for his children simply remains unchanged and unchangeable. If you are a parent you may just recognise this and we can’t do much about it, even if we wanted to.
I don’t think about my children all of the time. I probably think about them much less than I used to. I assume wherever they are that they are safe and broadly happy. I prefer to be pleased for them than proud of them. Pleased, that they have achieved things they wanted to achieve. Sanguine about the fact that they have also failed at some things, as we all do. But what is more important is that they are happy and secure in themselves, comfortable in their own skin, that they have some good friends and are on a journey to be fulfilled in themselves and to contribute something unique to the world.
I watch my children’s lives now more at a distance. They go about their daily work and lives as I do, and we rarely interact.
But when we do, I delight in those interactions – whether it is a conversation, a facebook posting, a card or just a look or a smile. I treasure them the more for their infrequency. There is an unbroken and unspoken love which has been there since the day of their birth, and will remain until, well, you know when (and, hey, probably after that anyway).
Sometimes it surprises me. I can be watching or talking with one of them, and an almost painful feeling of love ambushes some part of my digestive system. Hopefully they don’t notice.
So what is my role as a father now? Did I retire or get made redundant?
I don’t think so. As our children grow up , our interactions become more adult and more equal. The relationships become less dependent and more interdependent. And as we grow old ourselves, the dependency may reverse (although they have always promised to put me in a home when that happens). But for now we are similar-sized friends as much as family.
However, whilst they are no longer children, they will always be my children. And I will always be their dad. I will always be here for them. Always loving them. Always ready to feed them, rescue them, support them, treat them, advise them, listen to them, laugh with them. Its all a bit non-negotiable. That part of the job will never change.