Each day, a little further for fathers
The other day on the morning train to the city, I observed two men talking about their children. All right, I admit it – I was eavesdropping. But it wasn’t that difficult as they were not guarded in how they spoke with each other, and I sat close to where they stood by the train door.
They didn’t seem to be friends, but they struck me as having the casual familiarity of a couple of men who have met a few times, possibly at the train station where they got on together, and who easily find common ground for casual conversation to kill time while waiting on the platform and riding the train to work.
As they exchanged notes about their children, my attention was piqued as I’m always interested in how and where men find camaraderie over shared (or otherwise) experiences of fatherhood. They appeared to have two young children apiece, including a youngest around 3 years old each – the same as my youngest. When one asked the other if his children got along, the answer was, ‘Aah, yes and no.’ Not an unexpected situation with two young children. When asked in return, the original inquisitor had a different take on that old nutshell: his two young kids got along very well, and delighted in a ‘symbiotic misbehaviour’ – each working off or egging on the other as they got up to mischief together.
I covered a smile as I thought of my two boys – 8 and 3 years old – and their own ‘symbiotic misbehaviour’. That clever choice of words is what prompted me to get out my notebook and record the moment.
One father appeared to care for or spend a lot of time with his two kids for three days a week and talked of how he found that wearing sometimes, especially as one child could ‘talk and talk and talk.’ The other man could empathise with those sentiments, although his personal time with his kids seemed somewhat truncated by work and, besides weekends, his busy work-oriented life was punctuated by only a day or two of leave during the school holidays.
Despite the respective differences in the extent of their parenting, these men seemed to find a common bond in being fathers to young children, and their mutual experiences offered them something to not only pass the time with, but also a level of reflection and wonder at parenting and masculinity today. They enjoyed a fraternity of male parenting that I wondered whether was available to their fathers’ generation.
Women often laugh at men talking like this – surely three days with the kids, let alone weekends and occasional school holidays, are hardly ‘real’ cause enough to find parenting stressful! But for these men, and for many, many men in similar shoes (and I include myself in this shoe shop), the time spent with their children is both a time of joy and anxiety. Parenting is rewarding and stressful, enlightening and frustrating, heartbreaking and exhilarating, fun and downright annoying – for fathers as well as for mothers. And the more time men spend as active parents, the more we will encounter the frustrations and conflicts of child-rearing, as well as their joys and rewards. And the more we will learn from these experiences.
However limited or broad their parenting responsibilities, when men are able to whinge, swap notes, boast, let off steam, or get advice about or otherwise explore their experiences as fathers, their sense of being fathers is affirmed. And surely that is good for everyone – fathers, mothers and children.
This year is the first that I've had to celebrate Father's Day without my dad. I don't think I'm used to it yet. No card or present to buy and send, no early morning phone call to him, no chance to tell him once again how much I love and appreciate him. But I still thought about him, and missed him.
It's spring again, and the tulips that my youngest and I planted in autumn are flowering. They are gorgeous. Flowering now so long after we planted the bulbs, they remind me of the fun I had with my son as we got our hands dirty mixing compost with potting mix and planting the bulbs. Spring bulbs are a lovely way to mark the passing of the seasons, and I'm really enjoying how the days are getting warmer and lighter, with the odd shower thrown in.
Happy Father's Day to all the dads reading this blog. I hope you had a great day.