Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Sign of the Times

I was recently working with a friend on a project when he had to stop and take an email. He read it through and then snorted in disgust and started swearing.

"What's up? I asked.

"Ethan's snowboarding for this week is cancelled because of the rain," he answered.

"That's too bad. Piss you off?"

"No I was expecting that, given the weather."

"Why the swearing then?"

He handed over his phone with the email. "Have a look at that sign off and tell me if you can figure it out."

I had a look. The instructor listed his name, his contact details, his professional accreditations and then I saw it. On a line of its own. Right below the accreditations. It may have even been in all caps but I could be imagining that:


Oh, *#%& off, I thought and then laughed. "Father?" I hazarded.

"Yes! Am I right?" he asked. "What a wanker. I mean, piss off."

It was a funny reaction because neither of us are particularly old school dads. My friend is a very involved, divorced dad, with shared custody and was the first guy I know to take an extended paternity leave. He in fact was one of my inspirations to try it myself. He is a creative guy, a teacher and writer too. So, what was it about this sign off that pissed us both off?

I played Devil's Advocate (I know, unusual for me but, what the hell?) "Well, isn't it a greater accomplishment to be a father than to have your B.Ed.?"

"Oh, I don't know, I guess. Sure. You're supposed to say that. It's just so sucky. And self-congratulatory. And like it qualifies him somehow to be the instructor."

I also think it goes to the insecurity of what it means to be a father these days. It`s certainly in the news a great deal about how dads are an endangered species and how they may soon be irrelevant and unnecessary. First of all, my main response to that is: Crap.

Apparently kids raised by two lesbians are the happiest. This again strikes me as pop science glossy magazine 'reportage' based on and geared to an extremely small subset of people i.e. neurotic N. American bourgeois paralytically self-aware parents. I mean, COME ON, how can it possibly be a fair claim to say this - just how many lesbian parents are there in the world? Where do these kids come from - The stork? Men are involved in some fashion here and it`s certainly not realistically going to be affordable or all that common for IVF world wide EVER. I`m sure they`re all super happy and that`s just awesome but to go from this small sample to say that dads are unnecessary and of growing irrelevance is absurd. The fact it seems to be taken up by the media with solemn seriousness just makes it more infuriating.

So I see FATHER`s goad here to establish that he`s an involved dad who cares and is proud of that role. Great. Still it rankles.

Sure, some men are not pulling their weight - they are absent dads, never involved in their kids' lives and not providing any kind of support. In those cases the Mums have to make do on their own and in the men are irrelevant and unnecessary - and maybe they are all better off without the men. But I don`t think this is a fair representation of most dads out there either. Lots of us are flawed, not very good dads but we`re there putting in our share and doing our best - coaching, working long hours to help pay the bills, transporting kids to various play dates, schooling and sports also counts.

So maybe this is another problem with FATHER`s declaration. I mean, so what, that you`re a father?Any baby-daddy can make that claim. It is simply biology to father a child. My friend and I were joking you could instead insert other nouns: SPERM-DONOR. IMPREGNATOR. FERTILISER.

The title implies that FATHER is a good father and who's kidding who - he is tipping his hand to indicate he's a GREAT FATHER. And, just maybe, likely, better than YOU. So is it this level of Daddier-Than-Thou which is the most galling?

Sidebar - is it a bit rich that I am complaining about FATHER? After all, I write a blog and column about being a Dad. How am I different than he? Maybe I'm not. I hope no one is taking cues on how to do a good job from ME. Other than maybe a nod - oh yeah, I've done that. I've thought that. Or wow maybe I'm not so bad after all, reading about what THAT guy thinks and does. Still, does my criticism of FATHER mean that I think I'm a better Dad than he is? Hell no. He's likely way better at it than I am but seriously, so what? Keep it to yourself. It's so self-aggrandising.

And maybe that's a generational thing. For some reason I think that FATHER may be a lot younger than me and my friend. The generation who posts pictures of their dinners on Facebook or Tweets about the inconsequential details of their lives. Maybe what offends us is the implication that to be an involved Dad one must reject classic male/father attributes. FATHER's seeking validation, attention and praise for being a good father instead of demonstrating good ol' manly values like duty, responsibility, self-sacrifice, toughness, discipline, and hard work. And not asking for a gold star or a pat on the back afterwards.

My friend and I are likely older Grizzled Dads. And even though we're pretty different than our own dads in our involvement in child rearing, we carry forward those things our own fathers taught us about being men. Like that generation's idea of Actions Speak Louder than Words. Calling yourself a FATHER means nothing. It's what you DO and how your kid thinks of you at the end of the day - "Did my dad help me to be a better person?" It doesn't have anything to do with what some stranger thinks upon reading your email signature.