There is more to fathering than a life of assembling IKEA furniture, school runs, and telling bad jokes.
There are few things more intimidating for a father than reading an article about what a dad should be. Like when you see a list of the “top 25 skills modern dads have to master” and realise that amongst all the panic and the worry and the mopping up of various fluids, you plum forgot to master any of them.
Knowing how to braid hair? I tried it once — it did not end well. Knowing the words to songs in the charts? Yes, if Led Zeppelin undergoes a major revival. Setting up the home WiFi? No, that’s what my eldest does for me. Fronting the deposit for their first home? Well look it’s early days, but I’m afraid I have bad news, kids.
There are a few of the listed skills that I’ve sort of managed to half get a grip on. I can cook a meal, to a standard that I would call “non-poisonous”. I can assemble flat-pack furniture, although if the requirement is to do so in less than five hours, without weeping bitterly and teaching the children a variety of swear words, I fall down a little. And “telling the kids bad jokes”? Oh yes, I’ve got that on lock.
But overall, it’s clear that I’m not measuring up to stringent dadding standards.
While the ideal father is apparently a whirlwind of activity, forever running around setting up games consoles and painting houses, I am a parenting potato, sitting idle and inadequate while my children grow up without a strong male role model to, one day, teach them how to shave.
Which doesn’t seem fair. Nobody ever taught ME how to shave. I had to work it out for myself like some kind of cave foundling. Nobody ever had a difficult chat with ME, unless you count the time my dad tried to teach me how to play backgammon. I had a very deprived childhood, if you go by articles that place a high importance on shaving lessons.
Lists like this seem designed purely to make a modern dad depressed. It’s enough to make you yearn for the old days, when all a dad was expected to do was put food on the table, keep the car running, and give the occasional bit of wise advice while smoking his evening pipe. Except I’m no good at those either — I don’t even own a functioning pipe.
The message from ‘good dad’ articles is clear: I’m not much good at dadding. And yet, I don’t let it get me down, because I reckon I’ve still got a few skills that mean that, even if I score low on lists of conventional fatherly duties, I can score high with the people who matter. I’m no good at dadding, but I think I somehow manage to be a good dad.
For example, I am fantastic at making sure my children grow up with great taste in TV and movies.
While other, less-attentive fathers let their kids’ minds rot in front of Teletubbies and Doc McStuffins, I am constantly at pains to ensure my offspring gain a thorough grounding in the greats: Fawlty Towers, The Young Ones, and of course Prisoner.
The sound of my three-year-old daughters chanting, “More Prisoner! More Prisoner!” was probably the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and the first time they did, I knew that I was a good dad.
And yes, my kids have seen both Deadpool movies. What should they watch instead? Veggie Tales? I have more respect for the development of my children’s comedic sensibilities.
Another area in which I excel, but which the traditional “good dad” checklists refuse to include: wrestling.
Our society cruelly underrates the value of a dad who can successfully deal with three or more children clambering all over him. If you can grapple with multiple miniature humans, satisfying their need for physical violence while also making sure nobody gets hurt — particularly yourself — you really are fathering at an elite level.
On a related note, I’ve also always been proud of just how high I can lift my children into the air. Their friends’ dads might earn more money or be better at putting a bike together, but when it comes to pretending to fly, my kids get to pretend to fly higher than anyone else.
Yes, I’ve got lots of fantastic fathering skills, from my impeccable spelling to my ability to burp on cue whenever the mood needs lightening.
The point is, a father doesn’t have to fit into a cliched preconception in order to be a great dad. Sometimes being a great dad is reading The Magic Faraway Tree aloud and giving every character their own regional British accent.
Sometimes being a great dad is throwing marshmallow after marshmallow into the air and catching about half of them in your mouth, delighting the kids almost as much as when they hit you in the eye.
Stacked up against that, the fact that I don’t have the slightest clue how to fire up a barbecue is surely of little significance.
My kids know they have a dad who loves them, who lets them watch wildly inappropriate television, and who is frequently faintly ridiculous. What more could they want?
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