Wednesday 20 September 2017

Let's feel the love for our brilliant dads

Father’s Day
Father’s Day

Fiona O'Connell

This is my second Father's Day without my father. Yet apart from a few cards in the shops around this country town, this red letter day is hardly in my face.

Father's Day lacks the fanfare of Mother's Day, with its breakfasts-in-bed and dinners in fancy restaurants. It seems parents are not equal when it comes to the pageantry that celebrates this sacred bond. Perhaps the prejudice against pater runs so deep because of his former role as dominant - sometimes domineering - head of the household: a 'wait till your father gets home' threat used to control wayward kids. Pop played bad cop to mum's caring one - often seen only at dinner, having disappeared all day to bring home that very bacon.

These days dads can be burdened with a mess of contradictory and excessive expectations. Fathers must be firm but friendly/strong yet sensitive/providers who nevertheless are pushovers. All of which makes fathers diluted or mutant mums; easy-going but unemotional, solidly stable without being stuck in the mud.

And while transgender issues are currently a hot topic for human rights, a father's fate is still fragile and fraught when couples separate, with the mother prioritised as a matter of course. The discrimination can also surface when it comes to every parent's worst nightmare - of losing a child. A father can feel forced to act strong and supportive of the mourning mother, when his need for comfort or to cry is just as massive. This is especially true for a generation that grew up believing men should solve problems.

Yet what can a dad do when everything breaks down?

When my brother died suddenly, my dad was devastated but tried desperately to carry on. For he was an up-and-at-them kind of guy, not so much glass half-full as overflowing - one of those awful people who are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at breakfast.

Though he didn't deserve Oscar Wilde's quip that such people are dull. Especially when his personal mantra seemed to be a little story that he would always quote to me when I faced a setback.

It concerned Robert the Bruce, whose small army had battled and been defeated by the English forces six times. The Bruce was sitting in a cave one day, deep in despair, when he noticed a spider trying to build a web. It kept failing, yet it never gave up, until finally it succeeded. That spider inspired the Bruce to go on, resulting in the Scots winning independence.

Though perhaps fortitude was my father's fatal flaw. For his devotion to my mother, who was unable to accept the loss of her child, took its toll. The decline in her mental health ultimately led to his downfall.

Family mattered more to my father than all the wealth in the world. As I was reminded that last week of his life, which despite his suffering he spent expressing his love for us all.

So let's ditch the stereotypes about stern dads. And fondly wish fallible fathers everywhere all the very best.

Sunday Independent

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