I often think the interesting thing about parents is their children only know one part of who they are. I guess that could be said of most relationships really, but parents have had this whole life before their children exist and they have been many things to others before they are a parent…..they’re a son or daughter, perhaps a brother or sister, a friend, a niece or nephew, maybe a husband or wife or an aunt or uncle. My dad was no exception, and had many titles before he was called Dad, and yet, despite this whole other life I know him only as he appears to me….my father.
My father is an English gentleman. He’s from another era where men worked, and provided for their families, and women predominantly stayed at home taking care of the children and domestic chores. My dad grew up in London during the war, in a time when food coupons existed and there was no electricity in homes, or telephones or televisions, a time when children played in bombed out houses without parental supervision. It was an era when the streets served as a playground and place of adventure; when no-one owned cars, and the absence of traffic allowed for street games with an old balding tennis ball serving as both a cricket ball and a football. It was a time when mothers were too busy with chores to worry about the whereabouts of their offspring. Tasks made easy by the modern conveniences, we enjoy now, were mammoth chores for my grandmother; without electricity, clothes were washed by hand in a tin bath and then put through a mangle, some sort of contraption to squeeze the excess water, before being hung out to dry, meals were prepared with rationed goods and made to last a number of days, and floors were scrubbed by hand. It was a hard life, and yet I can see the freedom that accompanied the simplicity. The freedom to roam; untethered from mobile phones, social media and the pressures of having the latest models of everything. The freedom to have fun without overthinking every consequence, and being able to make mistakes without your every move being recorded on someone’s phone when you do.
Our life experiences often shape who we are and my dad grew up in a harsh time when people worked hard in all aspects of their lives. My dad continued this throughout his adult life and no one could ever fault his work ethic. I remember after a day at work he liked his dinner, his cup of tea and his nightly news in peace and quiet. My mother, as I believe, was often the case then, used my father as a threat for good behaviour; “if you don’t clean that up now I’ll tell your father when he gets home”, or, “just you wait until your father hears about this”. To some degree this influenced my image of him, and he became a man to be somewhat feared, his arrival home from work was often not awaited in exited anticipation, but rather in dread of the telling off I might receive. My dad appeared to be very much a weekend dad. He worked during the week, but at weekends he could be found mowing the grass, taking my brother to his soccer games and generally pottering around the house doing odd jobs. I can still picture in his flared jeans, or bell-bottoms as I believe they were known in the 70s, sporting a bearded face and moustache.
Family friends used to tell me how lucky I was to have such a funny dad who was always joking. Maybe I just didn’t see that side of him growing up, but a funny man is not one that springs to mind when I picture the father of my childhood, or maybe it was my inability to see my dad as anything other than the stereotype of a father; a responsible caregiver who made the rules. If I had to use a few words to describe the dad of my childhood I’d chose reliable, consistent, strict and fair. I marvel at knowing he spent his own childhood roaming free and yet, during my own childhood he was bound by time. Maybe it was having access to so much freedom that made him crave routine. He was always ready early for any commitment, and I recall him counting down the time to leave and then going and sitting in his car. As an adult I can appreciate how frustrating it would have been having a daughter (me) who was rarely on time. My lack of punctuality is something I have not grown out of, and no matter how early I get up I still seem to run late. One particular quirk my father had, which I found incredibly amusing, was when we had friends staying he created a bathroom roster. Each of us was allocated a bathroom slot, which had to be adhered to, so that everyone could leave the house on time. I can see how this makes perfect sense to my father, a man given to punctuality and precision, but to me who just trusted the bathroom would be free exactly when I needed it, I found this an extraordinary amount of effort to go to. I wonder if such timetables existed in other households, perhaps they did.
Growing up my dad always spent more time with my brother than me, which gave the impression he was the favourite. Sometimes I minded about this, and other times I didn’t as it meant I got to spend more time with my mum. As an adult I understand this on a different level. My dad, an only child, enjoyed a special relationship with his own dad, and I can imagine he hoped to recreate this father-son bond with his own son. My brother and dad also shared a love of sports which was ultimately more interesting than shopping for makeup with me!
My father was, and still is, a creature of habit, he likes his morning routine and prefers not to deviate from this. He is a man of honour and sticks to his word. As I’ve already mentioned he is an English gentleman; he is polite and does not swear or use uncouth language. He likes order and peace and I know my arrival from overseas must test his patience as I enter his home with numerous suitcases, the contents of which are immediately strewn across his living room floor.
As I’ve become a parent myself, and seen my own children grow into adults, I’ve gained a deeper appreciation and understanding of my dad. I now understand the responsibility of trying to raise decent humans, who will contribute to society, the pressure of earning enough to provide for the needs of others, the balance of being a parent first and then a friend to your children, and having to make decisions that are not popular. I understand the sacrifices that are made which are not always appreciated at the time and how exhausting it is to have an argumentative teenager (me again).
So to my dad I want to say I recognize your hard work and dedication as a father. I see your reliability and consistency not as a restriction, as I did as a child, but as a strength and a comfort which has provided me the security of knowing you’re there during life’s storms. I also see your strictness was to teach us boundaries and responsibilities. When I reflect on how your early life was, I begin to understand how much change you’ve witnessed in your lifetime; I can only imagine how different your own childhood was from that of your grandchildren, and how difficult it might be to relate to certain situations. This being said, I applaud how you’ve embraced technology and even include emojis in your texts! I also want to simply say thank you for all you do and all you’ve done, and let you know you are loved and appreciated.
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