The monthly theme post for those of us in the new improved PAIL blog roll is “fathers’ day, then and now”. In Australia, fathers’ day is in September, and by then , hub-in-boots will actually be a Dad.
Fathers’ Day has always been a non event in our relationship. Firstly, it’s been a long time since there’s been any grandfathers on the scene, and secondly, my Dad died 22 years ago, after a long battle with emphysema, and hub-in-boots’ dad died a couple of years before we met, after a long battle with prostate cancer.
My dad was a traditional dad in some ways; not a huge one for showing emotion in some ways, but in other ways a bit of a softie for his generation. I guess it comes with older parents. As the surprise youngest child after a big gap, I always felt very loved. He read me stories as a kid, he probably gave me my love of music, and I can remember years of making him come and pat me to sleep in the cold bedroom away from the open fire. Some of my fondest memories of him are watching him sit & listen to a piece of music, madly conducting in his lounge chair, or sitting listening to me play piano.
He didn’t believe in “Hallmark holidays”. He had a real and often vocal objection to mothers’ day, fathers’ day and Valentine’s day. We always bought him a gift (often aftershave gift sets in such classic fragrances as Old Spice, or a Darrel Lea dad’s bag of lollies & chocolate). But he never expected it. He wasn’t a kick a ball around sort of dad, but he faithfully trudged along to my brother’s brass band competitions, my singing eisteddfods, or other music exams. He never came to netball, though I can remember him taking us to see the sharks play at endeavour field, often. And he came to see me sing in the messiah. Dad liked to be at home mostly. He worked hard in a chemistry lab a long way from home, and so when weekends hit he liked to be at home. He was interested, and interesting. He was the soft one. He understood when we clashed with mum, he always made me feel someone was on my side. He was a good dad. Caring, loving, not really the stern hands off character that seemed to loom large over the families of my peers. He also gave me his warped sense of humour, his Mel Brooks / Monty python / Goon show humour. But He didn’t tell dad jokes! He died when I was 18, so in some ways the grown up me didn’t get to know him in that adult to adult way. I saw him with his other 5 grandkids though.
Hub-in-boots relationship with his father, on the otherhand, was complicated, to say the least. He remembers him as a pretty hard authority figure, prone to violent outbursts after an accident that injured his frontal lobe and his own hard childhood. He sounded interesting and quirky as a person, but as a parent pretty demanding & challenging, in a way that could be conceived as damaging to a small child. It left a no go zone in hub-in-boots that he quickly shuts down when it is mentioned. Slowly over the years we’ve been together, we have been able to talk about small aspects of this, and we agreed prior to trying for a family that he’d see a counsellor about this history. I think during his father’s illness they went some way to repairing this, but there is plenty left to discuss, sort through, and re-examine. I am glad for his and our sake he has decided to keep his promise. As a remote observer who never met the man, I think there are some things hub-in-boots admired or respected his father for. A long involvement in sports / umpiring is something that his dad did, and hub-in-boots has made this a big part of his life. His history with his father has made him very reflective and conscious about the kind of dad he wants to be, and having a son will make this process just a little bit harder than a daughter, as the echoes of his own childhood will be louder.
Hub-in-boots will be a wonderful dad. Like my own dad, I suspect I’ll be the rule maker, and he’ll be the mad fun one, but I hope we can share each role & not be pigeon holed. He abhors violence, and will never hit his child, but he will also be pretty demanding in terms of ethics, morality, table manners, politeness and general social behaviour. He’ll be activity dad: there will be parks, footy games, car racing, but there will also be art exhibitions, operas, books. He will share his multiple enthusiasms and I think create a very well rounded son; someone who can be a total bloke but, like him, openly cry in movies or concerts, acknowledge emotions, show great respect to women, and be able to cook, clean (well at least man clean, its not quite the same) vacuum & iron. He makes me laugh when he’s disgusted by some of the men’s attitudes in our pre natal class. They are whining about having to come, talking about how they’ll never change nappies, and he’s in the front row asking questions and taking notes & shaking his head at their mysoginistic outlook.
Everything that makes him a good person, who is fun to be around, will also make him a great Dad. Apart from his love of bad dad jokes, lame ass jokes involving sad puns he seems to assume are his birthright as a man. We’ve had to place a weekly quota on them, and i can already picture a cringing teenager going “oh Dad” with great disgust as hub in boots cracks himself up. I guess it’s his right.
Dads’ roles have changed so much in a general sense, the remote bread winner now is more unusual. Dads of yesterday were as much a victim of the detached generational attitudes and their own upbringing as they were personally limited in their emotional range. Today’s dads seem conscious of the detachment of their own male role models, and to understand the importance of their own roles in creating a well rounded, resilient person. Their rougher style of physical play has been shown, in research, to be vital to kids. They’ve grown up in an era where there is more expected of them, emotionally.
In a way, perhaps men are now the ones caught in the ‘you can have it all’ myth. It is hard to be the full time bread winner if your wife earns more, hard to be wonder dad if the hours & responsibilities of work & other commitments don’t quite gel with the relatively intense hours of feeds, nappies, bath time and play time. We hope that hub-in-boots will navigate this, for example by taking an earlier shift at work to be home earlier, or using long service leave to get a day off a week, perhaps even later on taking a turn at being mister mum. I think men can be more involved in their new family life than they used to be, but just like women they have realised you can have it all, just not necessarily all at the same time. It is hard to be incredibly involved, and still get up & function at work.
One thing the period of extensive bed rest in this pregnancy has taught us is how to slow down our lives, how to let go of the things that can’t get done, and how much adjustment might be needed, early on, in terms of housework, cooking and shopping with a baby on board. Me being totally out of action was, in a way, a good trial run for the early weeks of “baby makes three”. As an exercise in blame free patience, tolerance and empathy I think it taught us both a lot, and demonstrated to us both the importance of approaching life as a team, of making time and space to nourish our relationship in the face of incredible restrictions, and creating space for each other to still be individuals in the amazing claustrophobia that is bed rest.
Instead of a baby screaming constantly, the third person in the room at the time was the loss of pregnancy, a big boogie monster of a presence that stalked our every step and stood over us, and pretty much forced us to get our shit together. It taught us sometimes one person has to carry the lot, and getting resentful or blaming each other achieves nothing.
I don’t know what hub-in-boots will want to do for his first father’s day. I’m not sure his one month-6 week old son will be up for much in the present shopping / wrapping stakes, and I really can’t imagine what gumby’s choice of restaurant will be. Actually I can, but let’s not go there.
It will be nice, though, that instead of the “move along, nothing to see here” father’s day that normally happens around here, there might be a nasty hallmark card, and a Dad’s bag of Darrell Lea lollies. Maybe a six pack “beers of the world”? As someone who has got me through this period of bedrest, hub-in-boots has already well and truly earned his stripes as a Dad. His enthusiasm for feeling Gumby’s kicks and rolls and punches is funny, (Gumby is likely to recognise his Dad’s voice shouting WOAH!) and he has a perfect attendance record at pre natal visits and every single IVF appointment. When Dad’s day hits we might pass on the Old Spice gift pack though. My taste in fragrance has moved on since I was 8.
You’re going to be a great Dad, hub-in-boots. I know you agreed to this wild crazy ride to fatherhood because you had no doubts about your dad-ability, and i know you’ll enjoy it. Just try not to hog the lego and the train set and the star wars stuff, and spare us all & tone down the dad jokes whenever you can….