Friday 20 September 2019

Frank Coughlan: 'We don't need Father's Day ... but a bit of respect would be nice'

'There is something about this celebration, if that’s what it is, that smacks of contrivance' (stock photo)
'There is something about this celebration, if that’s what it is, that smacks of contrivance' (stock photo)
Frank Coughlan

Frank Coughlan

Father's Day is almost upon us and forgive me for not being over-whelmed. My three will remember and I will be thoroughly spoiled.

For that I should be truly grateful and if I can't work up to that I will make a great show of faking it.

There is something about this celebration, if that's what it is, that smacks of contrivance.

A day that turns up every June more or less uninvited and hangs around for all of the wrong reasons.

These are mostly driven by crass commerce and if any genuine sentiment is involved it is purely co-incidental.

In fact, when compared to Mother's Day, it is very much a poor second.

For starters, it's an after-thought. Created by, of all people, Richard Nixon, it only became a thing as relatively recently as 1972, a full half-century after mums were similarly acknowledged.

Why Trickie Dickie, infamous for carpet-bombing Cambodia and for Watergate, bothered is anybody's business but it was probably about appealing to his apple-pie base, or perhaps simply to get up the nose of feminists.

In any case, we are stuck with it and go through the motions every year with both giver and receiver pretending it matters. But it doesn't.

That's why to neglect Father's Day is seen as minor misdemeanour, but to forget Mothering Sunday in March would be akin to burning an effigy of the mammy in the front garden and not bothering to clean up the mess afterwards.

It's not difficult to work out why either. Mothers are generally judged to be multi-taskers who selflessly negotiate the obstacle course of daily life while fathers get away with doing the minimum and then going down the pub.

Nobody, least of all me, disputes that women do all those things, but it's the notion that fathers still make-believe it's the 1950s that grates.

That concept is as dated as it is offensive. This idea that men are as feckless and useless at being fathers as they are at everything else seems a stubborn societal stain that won't wash off.

There are obvious reasons for this, not least millennia of stubborn patriarchy, bred by church and state, which was only first challenged in any systematic way from the early 20th century.

By the mid-1960s, feminist Betty Freidon's tectonic plate-shifting 'The Feminine Mystique' had struck a chord with bored suburban American housewives who began demanding more from the clueless daddies of their children.

In 1977, radical feminist Pat Mainardi penned a hugely influential essay, 'The Politics of Housework', that declared men weren't useless at pulling their weight but were simply cunning at avoiding it.

Whichever way you poked a stick at men, they turned out to be bastards.

I became a dad in the mid-1980s and have accumulated a collective 85 years of parenting since. This has made me no wiser about the art of fathering and I would be slow to give advice on how to succeed other than to suggest that survival is all you can hope for.

But this I know: I did my share.

And this I observed: so did all the other dads I knew.

I changed as many nappies, dried as many tears, stuck on as many band-aids, drove as many taxis, waited in as many A&Es, sat through as many parent meetings, and disapproved of as many boyfriends.

I wasn't always the most intuitive, or wise, or sussed. I was rarely the one they turned to in a real crisis and was, especially during their terrible teens, irredeemably embarrassing.

But I carried my load. I was there, too.

Fathers don't need greeting cards with saccharine verse to remind them of that, or even over-priced, themed Sunday lunches.

It's not even our children who need to acknowledge it. They already know. It's everyone else in what we call society.

A simple 'where would we be without you?' would do nicely. Thanks.

Irish Independent

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