Some thoughts on Father’s Day

It was a day I hated and would often intentionally avoid, as it was a strong reminder of the fact I didn’t have a father (well, an alive one) any more. I tried to transfer my focus to my Grandfather and other father-figures, but it still rung out to me that my Dad was dead. School projects to make a card, reminders, adverts – all of them stung. Until the day I became a Father.

Father’s day. There are lots of theories and ideas on its origins and its worth. Its origins as a Christian feast day have been around long before socks and ties were the preferred gift – but it was the actions of the New York Associated Men’s Wear Retailers, the Father’s Day Council and Sonora Smart Dodd that got it really off the ground. With that sort of pedigree, it is no wonder that you can’t ignore the solid commercialism of the day today and the focus on the giving of gifts. I particularly enjoyed reading this article on “upscale” gifts to consider. Why not gift dad a $500 steak? Or a massive bbq?

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I don’t really remember the first Father’s day after my Dad died. I was 14 when he died, and the following years do become a little blurry when I try and remember them. I do know, however, that each milestone following his death was painful. His birthday; Mum’s birthday; my birthday; Father’s day; Christmas; his death anniversary. Each milestone a fresh reminder of what was gone. I would often look to downplay things, avoiding things like birthdays or Christmas.

I also made a conscious decision to forget the date my Dad died. He died suddenly and it was and is one of the most traumatic experiences of my life. I didn’t want to remember that date, or the days that preceded it – sitting in hospital with my Dad – laying in a hospital bed, unable to talk to me; the afternoon helping the ambulance officers carry him from our yard. Dad had a stroke in my grandparent’s chook pen and was found by my mum. I was next on the scene. I didn’t set foot near that chook pen for nearly a decade afterwards.

What hurt, and still does in some ways, is that my Dad was pretty great. I’m biased, but he taught me a huge amount of things, gave me a massive amount of time and listened to me prattle on as a young teenager. He was older when he had me, and his health wasn’t as great as it could’ve been – so he went about parenting me (and life in general) a lot differently than when he was a young man, parenting my three brothers. I laugh when people tell me “what my dad was like”, as if I hadn’t met the “real” version of him. I feel sorry for them, as they can only remember the original cut – what I had the privilege of living with was the more refined, remastered version. Sure, the fashion was still terrible, but the man he became was fantastic.

Dad was devoted to his family and his community and would help anyone, and everyone – often to his own detriment. He was dedicated, generous and incredibly loving. Dad could talk to anyone, anywhere, any time about anything (and often did). He was a man that took time out of his life to help. He helped settle Vietnamese refugees at a time the world didn’t want them (not dissimilar to now); took Aboriginal borders to the beach during the school holidays during the 70’s (which was not popular); helped kids struggling with literacy and numeracy by tutoring them in his woodwork classes, and later in life returned to do it again as a school-based volunteer. He stood up for what was right, not what was popular and had conviction to not back down. This earnt him the reputation of a temper. It is this that I respect the most. When he left my life, he left a massive void.

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With Dad, the Valley of the Giants

Some wonderful humans tried their hardest to help me through my teenage and young adult years by being wonderful friends and mentors to me. People who seeped in to the void that my father left – never covering the outline but helping to fill the space. My grandfather, so gentle and quiet; my football coach, so straightforward and structured; my year twelve maths teacher – a man plucked from retirement for one year of teaching, who seemed to come at the perfect time, to chat, take me sailing and introduce me to Nick Cave and Paul Coelho; my brothers, all grieving themselves but desperate to help in their own ways – be it advice, concerts, time, arguments; friend’s fathers – one in particular, who like granddad – didn’t announce he was doing anything, but was just present.

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My wonderful Grandad at my wedding

There were many others – uncles, other teachers, other coaches, older friends. All of them pulled their weight – but unfortunately, none of them were my father. They helped mould me and shape me, but I was not facing the thing I really needed to – my grief.

One of the most influential people in my life, particularly after my Dad died; put it so clearly and succinctly for me one drunken evening. I was three sheets to the wind on her husband’s home made claret and she told me;

“Grief is not compartmentalised, you don’t have separate buckets of grief for each person.

What grief you don’t deal with stays in the bucket until you return back to it for another person – you get another chance to empty what is left.”

Still, to this day, those words mean so much to me. Now this lady is pretty special – a little crazy, but very special; and has helped me along my journey in more ways than she knows. Of everything she has said and done, those words helped me the most.

I had run from my grief. I avoided it. There were years of anger – and a generalised failure to cope. I didn’t cry about my Dad’s death (properly anyway) until over a year later. I remember exactly where I was and when it was. It was great in many ways, but then; I didn’t go back to that bucket of grief for years. When Dad died I was in shock. I was numb. I didn’t know what to do or how to do it. I was a kid. When it happened, I actually found myself comforting other family members as they cried in to my hugs.

I was a pall bearer for my Dad, in what I still to this day think was one of the worst moments of my life. It was important, and necessary and galling and horrific. Since that day; I’ve hated funerals and the sight of coffins – and if there’s a funeral; it takes a bloody big effort for me to be there. Don’t be surprised or offended if I don’t rock up, or disappear half-way through. Its not just that I don’t want to be there, I just can’t. If I’m there, it is most certainly for a damn good reason. And under duress.

What I have been able to do though, is face my Dad’s death and funeral and the associated grief when I’ve been forced to go back in to a world of grief.

My Nanna’s funeral was my first real attempt; the shaking tears and blisters as I dug a grave for my beloved dog Elu was as much embracing the tears I failed to shed in the past as it was my beautiful furry friend.

When my Grandad died – a man who was so, so special to me – I was determined not to hold anything back. This man was a rock to me, the one who filled the biggest space inside the void my father left – and I was not going to hold back anything that might add to the bucket of grief left over from Dad.

There was tears, and snot, and poems, and tributes and talking and tears and a trip to Kokoda (full of tears for Grandad and Dad) and tears and whisky and tears and tears. I’ve not emptied that bucket of grief fully – but I’ve made a big dent.

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Half way up some muddy prick of a hill

Going back and facing that was important. What has also helped has been new focus and new life, that has forced me to reassess and realign my thoughts on a few things that come along.

While I was able to scrub the day of Dad’s death from my memory, I couldn’t hide from Father’s Day. It would loom over me, announcing itself through junk mail and television adverts for weeks before hand; reminding me I had no-one to buy a chuck-less drill for. I think back to that time as a time that I was so angry and confused. There was a lot of bad punk music and violent outbursts. I was not ok. I was not happy. Things were not going to be all right. Then, new life came in to my life. I became a Father. Suddenly, this day that meant loss and pain and anger meant love and love and hugs. And socks. I had to change my focus. I had to become something else.

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Photo copyright of Lata Photography http://www.lataphotography.com/

This wasn’t simple, it wasn’t like a switch – it has taken time to get in to it and in many ways, I feel like this Father’s day has been my best one yet. This one didn’t have an undercurrent of anger. I didn’t want to avoid it. I embraced it. I sat in bed, looking at my home-made cards, munching on my breakfast and felt happy. I joined in a group Father’s day activity, because I was happy to celebrate the day. I made the most of my day and my time with my boys and even though I was sad my Dad was not around; I wasn’t angry. Like everyone – I’m growing as I go. My Dad lost his Father as a young man. I’m sure that impacted on how he went about things and how he grew as a man. He became a better man as life went on, as he reflected, as he grew. It is all I’m trying to do achieve.

Now, I know this doesn’t mean I’m cured. That my bucket of grief is empty and I’m right to go – but what it does mean is that I’m getting to a better place.

I hate the word journey, the bastards on reality talent shows have ruined it – but it is what life is. There are moments where it is great and wonderful and perfect and moments where it really sucks.

I’ve had a few of those moments, and they are challenging and they take a time to get through. It has taken a bloody long time. It does. My Dad died 17 years ago. I still miss him. It doesn’t get easier to have him gone, it just gets different.

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A new focus

 

 

 

 

Being a Dad

I’m not a fathering expert. I’m not an expert in anything, really. I’m a general nurse. I have a Masters in THE MOST general health area you could think off. I am average, ordinary and general in many, many areas. I am a father, an average, ordinary one and my kids are challenging, but pretty ordinary and average really. This is just some thoughts – take it or leave it. No expert. Just a Dad.

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Doing cross country with my two boys

Being a Dad can be a tough gig. Now – mothers, I know yours is a special kind of hell. You carry a child; accepting numerous changes to your bodies; birth a child in a variety of different manners, none of them gentle; feed, or not feed a child with milk that your body produces, while having to cope with the judgement and shaming of doing it/not doing it/not doing it long enough/doing it too long. You have to do the bulk of the heavy lifting, are the one your child is predominantly attached to in the early years and more often than not give up a career for the privilege. Or put it on pause. Or go return to work with your kids in day-care, while being judged for your time away from work and doing it/not doing it/not doing it long enough/doing it too long. Or have a stay-at-home Dad help you in return to work, who will be held up as bastion of selflessness for doing what the majority of mothers do with zero praise or adulation. Its balls. I get it. I really do.

Being a Dad is different. It is confusing at times and there are challenges. You don’t have anything to do with the gestation of a child beyond the fun part at the beginning. Unless your child has been conceived through IVF, where your fun bit was in a dark room, alone. Come the birth, you’re really a spare wheel. No matter how doting, caring and empathetic you are – you’re never going to get it. The midwife knows this intrinsically and will pay you no attention, beyond scoffing at any minor complaint you may make, no matter how quietly you thought you were voicing your concern about being tired or stressed. Save it for later. There will be no sympathy here.

The baby is born and you are largely forgotten. Child health nurses will largely ignore you, regardless of how involved you are. Friends will ask how the baby and the mum are going. Workmates don’t care, but will ask. They don’t care. They’ll pretend they do, but really, they’re only asking to be polite. Stop explaining what is happening and go back to work so everyone else can move on. Seriously, no-one cares. If they’ve got kids, they’re just waiting for you to finish talking so they can share their story – if they don’t have kids they are purely waiting for you to finish talking. Its not new to everyone else man. You are not the first Dad on the planet. Move on.

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Being a Dad is a challenge. Being a Mum is more of a challenge, and we should cut our whining and consider ourselves lucky and be more supportive, but it is still a challenge.  You feel like a spare part – but society expects you to be a major player. You feel like there is something you should do to help – but it isn’t very obvious. You want to be involved, but workplaces don’t support that really. Oh yeah – the department has got a family friendly policy, but don’t ask your boss for a morning off to attend an assembly. You’ll get laughed out of the office.

You’ll want to get involved and you’ll want to be supportive and you’ll also want some recognition from society that you are more than a walking inseminator – but none of that is probably going to happen so just try and keep yourself busy and engaged and for God’s sake, don’t complain. DO NOT COMPLAIN.

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Here are a few things you can do, to make yourself be less annoying and improve your life, and the lives of those around you:

  1. Forget about sex. For now anyway. Seriously, forget it. Just move on.  For the next few months just sort yourself out. You know what I mean. But even do that quietly and respectfully. You might feel great, and now the baby is sleeping a little more, your feeling a little more like you should try it on and look for a little bit of action. Your partner, despite having grown a 4.5kg parasite for nine months, looks amazing. You’ve never thought she has looked more beautiful. That incredible thing she has gone and done in growing and delivering a child has led to you thinking she is probably the most amazing human being on the planet. She’s also had an unexpected, chest related bonus you weren’t planning on. She is amazing. She looks amazing. She’s the sexiest creature ever. The issue is – she’s lactating. 62035291.jpgYep, those massive fun-bags you want to pounce on don’t belong to you any more (not that they did), they don’t even belong to your partner any more either. She is a walking food source and no amount of sleep, back rubs or gifts are going to change that. She’s also had massive body changes, is feeling incredibly responsible for a brand new, super needy human being and has more things to think of than you’ll ever know. Eventually (I hope for your sake), she’ll bring sexy back and you’ll be back in business – but until then, cool your expectations, be incredibly loving and supportive and focus on being useful. giphy.gif
  2. Focus on being useful. I spent six months as the stay at home parent when my first son was 3 months old. This was in another country, with an incredibly supportive Aunty helping out around the place, but primarily, child rearing was my gig (during the day). IT WAS HARD. Harder than work. Harder than manual labour. Harder than deciding whether to have a macchiato or a latte at lunch. SERIOUSLY HARD. latte-vs-latte-macchiato.jpgSo, when you come home from an INCREDIBLY stressful day at the office, doing whatever the hell it is you do; or get in after a really solid day on the tools and your back is throbbing – get useful. Now, this may not mean coming through the door and helping out by cooking. If you cook dinner, your partner is still looking after your kids. You need to ASK what is the most useful thing to do and muck in and do it. Then, when its sorted and baby is sleeping – turn your attention away from the couch and take on the next most useful thing you can tackle. You need to help the hell out. Raising a child is a full time job. Cleaning the kitchen and doing the laundry is ON TOP OF THAT. It is not an all inclusive deal, my friend – you need to do you share (as in an equal share) of the housework on top of the invaluable work you do earning money, because your partner is doing the invaluable work of raising your child for nothing. It is sometimes called domestic foreplay. If point one really resonated with you and you’re in a massive dry patch right now, try point two on for size. See if you can launder your way back to loving. Try to scrub your way to sex. Seriously, worst case scenario, you’ll actually help out by doing a small portion of the amount of housework you should be doing. Best case, you might gain some appreciation.images
  3. Don’t baby-sit your kids. Don’t do it. And don’t let ANYONE say that you are. You’re not babysitting. You’re not a desperate teenager saving money for next weekend’s binge drinking (or responsibly buying a car, or uni text books). You’re parenting. You’re fathering. You’re not doing a favour or taking on some additional task. You’re being involved in the most important thing in the world to you, aside from your partner. If someone asks if your babysitting your own kids. Tell them to go away (in much more colourful language). If your partner says your babysitting your kids – correct them. AAEAAQAAAAAAAAOQAAAAJGIxM2NiMTYxLTFiN2ItNDU5ZS1hZWRhLTcxYWIxZWIyYjMyNQ.jpgOn a slightly related side note: if your partner refers to you as “one of the kids” or a “mother of three” and includes you in the count – you need to grow some balls and man up. I don’t care how completely useless you are as a partner and a father, if you let your partner believe that you are as useful as a child in her life – forget point one. In fact, forget having any sort of meaningful adult relationship with your partner. Man up, stand up and change what ever has to be changed man-child. 635688549940642012-1245705170_man child.jpg
  4. They’re your kids. Yep, get involved big guy. You’re not doing a “favour” by being involved and taking them to swimming on the weekend. You’re not special. You are just doing what is expected of you – so don’t expect a pat on the head for just being an average father. Being involved in your own child’s life when you are not at work is not amazing. You don’t get a Father of the Year nomination for doing what is basically expected of you, having decided to bring another human being in to the world. tywinlannisterfar_893624.jpgJeez, if you think it is some big deal that you are involved in the most rudimentary way in the raising of your own child – you’re probably expecting a medal Ceremony for Domestic Services for that load of washing you put on. Pull your head in. It is your child, your house, your family. Take responsibility for what is yours and do what is expected of you without wanting a pat on the head every time you fulfil your most basic obligations.
  5. Work on your relationship. Once you’ve got your head around covering off the basics above – put some extra special effort in to getting along with your partner and work on your relationship. Take time out to spend together. Use eager grandparents to care for your child. Don’t feel bad for taking up a grandparent’s offer to look after your kids if your going to spend time with your partner. Your parents or in-laws remember how banal and mind-numbing raising kids can be, and they want to show off to their friends about how engaged and supportive they are. Exploit this for your own gain. They did. Don’t you remember being dropped off to Nanna and Grandad for the school holidays? THE SCHOOL HOLIDAYS! Not an evening so you can watch a movie – extended bloody periods. My parents even went over seas. article-2501704-195AE59800000578-881_306x423.jpgHonestly, get over your self and how important you think you are in the raising of your own children and give Gran and Pop a turn. They want to prove to you they still have it. And seriously, as much as you think you’re critical to your kid’s well being day to day, you are so quickly forgotten once the milo and lollipops come out. Honestly, your kids will go to sleep without you, they’ll be safe(ish), they’ll enjoy bonding without you hovering around being clingy, they’ll love it. Get out and spend some time with your partner and reconnect. Keep dating, well beyond the birth of your kids. Make your relationship a major priority. you’re a team in this childrearing thing, and if that isn’t your number one priority, ahead of kids, work and craft beers – you still have time to re-jig things. Make time. Exploit your parents generosity and reconnect. You never know, point one may be back in play if you’ve done well in the other areas.

So that’s it. I could go on all day – but who needs that. We’re all losing interest. So that ends my general advice to Dads. Its nothing more than the basics really: don’t be a demanding tool, be respectful and fair, and don’t expect a ticker tape for doing the basics. Again, I’m no expert and my advice in general – but I’ve been trying to follow it for a while now and, despite the small sample size, it seems to be working.