I’ve written in the past about how fortunate I have been (and still am) to have strong male role models in my life. I like to think that these influences make me a good father, and I’ve certainly received enough love this weekend to believe that I’m doing ok. That said my journey is still only at the very beginning so I’d like to talk instead about some people a lot further down that road.
My dad, like most men, is a highly complicated yet simplistic individual. I don’t wish to pigeon-hole him but he probably won’t mind me calling him an “old school” kind of a dad. If you ever need a pillar of strength or calm head in a crisis, my dad is that man.
He doesn’t confine this strength to the immediate four walls of a wife and two sons either. When there’s a wider family matter amongst the siblings my dad is the go to guy. The man who sorts things out and keeps it together for the sake of everyone else.
He doesn’t confine this strength to his own side of the family either. When my mum’s older brother, my dear Uncle Lewis, passed away my dad was immediately there to assist and to hold things together.
To everyone else who experiences this side of my dad they just assume he’s a tough individual, but I’ve got a different perspective on things. You see, my dad and I are almost identical. We look the same, we sound the same (barring my dodgy pseudo-welsh-african-mongrel accent) and we have very similar personalities. I’m a fairly emotional person and cry at a variety of things and I’m pretty sure my dad has the same natural tendencies. Yet he has an extraordinary ability to force these things down just so he can be strong for those around him. I can only marvel at how difficult this must be to achieve.
My dad hasn’t had an easy life. And we haven’t had an easy relationship. His father died when my dad was still learning to be a teenager and he had to grow up overnight. My dad built a career in the police force, which is very tough. It’s tough on you and it’s tough on your family. My parents dealt with a lot of heartbreak when trying to conceive and when they finally did conceive they ended up with me as their eldest. A chip off the old block in looks, personality and temperament. Luckily they also ended up with my brother who is far nicer in almost every way imaginable!
So now we have a man who lost his guiding role model early in life, who works a difficult and incredibly stressful job and now has to cope with a younger version of himself.
For a while it wasn’t pretty.
We fought a great deal throughout my teens. I was right about some things, he was right about a lot more things. There were some deep fractures. We endured farcical situations like driving to the golf course together (one of our many shared obsessions), playing golf with different people and then driving home together to avoid killing each other or those around us (Dad couldn’t play his own game for worrying about my game, I couldn’t play my game with Dad worrying about my game and so it ignited).
I think if we are both honest there were probably times where we both wondered if the situation could ever be fully healed.
In the end two simple things fixed it. Love and respect.
Whatever may have happened between us over those early years I don’t think either of us every stopped loving or respecting the other in our own ways. The separation that me going to college provided was probably the catalyst for us both re-evaluating our thoughts. Now that I have children of my own I understand a lot more about how difficult it is to be a parent, but I learned to understand the challenges my dad faced a lot sooner than that. This is a man who effectively put a ceiling on his career in order to minimise any disruption to our home life. This is a man who used to go to work in a suit and get changed into a police uniform at the office before reversing the process at the end of his day just so his kids would see “Dad” and not “The Policeman”. This is a man who has dealt with more as a young adult, more as a couple with my mum and more in his professional life than I’m ever likely to get near to and yet he still puts other people first.
Does he drive me nuts? Absolutely. Do I drive him nuts? I’m sure of it. But so what?
Perhaps the thing that gives him the most joy these days are his grandchildren. I get the sense that he is able to do the things he wished he could have done more readily when my brother and I were kids (not that we ever missed out). I get such joy watching him with Rhys and Arwen. He is silly with them. He is patient with them. He is prepared to get in a swimming pool for hours on end every day to take my son from a child fearful of dipping his toe into the water into someone who leaps into the water for fun.
There are a hundred examples I can give but they are all variations on a theme. In short I just want to say thank you dad for helping shape me into the person I am today. Like you I am full of imperfections and complications but I’m a simple guy at heart – give me red wine, chocolate and the people I love and all is well. Together we will sign off this Father’s Day sitting in living rooms in opposite hemispheres watching a golf tournament – we may be apart but we are still together. I love you very much.
Stick around…I’m not quite done.
It would be remiss of me to finish this piece without mentioning my bonus dad. You see, I need someone to paper over the cracks for the forty six or so weeks of the year where I don’t see my dad and I’m lucky enough to have a father-in-law who does just that.
Like me and my dad my father-in-law has the complex/simple thing going on. He has attained a level of grumpiness I aspire to and has a level of fun and enthusiasm I can only hope to match. He has taken me under his wing since I moved to South Africa and has been someone I have relied on heavily for many things. Like with my own dad, we do not always agree on everything but we are fortunate enough to be unburdened by the difficulties that can come with a blood-bond and the similarities between father and son. This gives us the chance to talk quite openly about many things but also to form a different relationship, and a friendship that I treasure.
At the risk of me being branded a soppy poepol Welshman I’d say there’s a lot of love and respect between us. I also sense he is having just as much fun with his grandkids as my dad is.
So as Father’s Day draws to an end I will bugger off now and go and raise a glass to both of you.
Thank you for influencing me to be a better dad.