One of my main aspirations for fatherhood in general is that I can be as good a Dad to my son, as my Dad was for me.
Quantifying this aspiration is impossible and a subjective comparison between my experience and my son’s 20 years for now would be an odd thing to do. Nor would it matter.
If I think through such a comparison now it actually makes me feel that I may be setting the bar quite low.
My parents divorced when I was five and it was messy. I only saw my Dad every other weekend (and almost never in my teenage years), he didn’t have much money and being one of four kids there was so much competition for his attention that you could say we didn’t have much of a relationship growing up.
What this makes me realise is that being a good Dad is not only relative to the amount of things that we did together (although we both now wish we could have done more!), but how he stood up as a father figure.
There is one story that will illustrate my point that I would like to share.
I remember going to my first ever test match of Australia Vs England in 1992 (a sport called rugby league that you have probably never heard of). I was eight years old and it was possibly the highlight of my childhood.
I don’t remember much about the game except for waving my Australian Flag around.
What I do remember is the excitement of being there, and that it was just the two of us.
What I also remember is that I called my Dad regularly from that day onwards asking if we could do the same again, then crying my eyes out every time he said no. It was not because he didn’t want to, it was because he could not afford it (because he was paying ridiculous amounts of child support that left him with little).
This whole thing led me to the most memorable lesson of my life.
My birthday was coming up and there was another test match scheduled for the same week – Australia vs New Zealand – and Dad agreed to take me for my birthday!
The weekend before this, I got myself into trouble. No idea what for, but it was enough to get a smack on the bum.
I ran away, and I kept on running. I didn’t want to face up to the punishment.
When I eventually came around and touched the toes to take my medicine the smack was light and I barely felt it. I thought to myself why didn’t I just do this earlier? But that was not the end of it.
Dad turned to me and said that because I did not take responsibility for what I did I only made things worse. The consequence is that we would not be going to the game.
I do not recall ever being so heartbroken in my life.
In hindsight I recognise two critical elements of this decision:
- This lesson stuck with me ever since – always face up to your problems. They only get worse.
- It must have been more heartbreaking for him than it would have been for me.
The second point is where being that father figure is so important. It would have been so easy to console the sobbing child and give in. But would I have taken the lesson from it and remember it so clearly more than 20 years on?
I learned more about being a man that day than any day since, and it genuinely shaped who I am.
This small story sums up how I feel about my Dad.
So little time together, but so much influence.
This is what I aspire to be for my son.
Maybe the bar wasn’t so low after all, and I wonder if I will ever be good enough to attain the same level of respect and appreciation in the eyes of my Son.
Footnote: I briefly touched on the child support issue, but this is an equally admirable trait of the father that I now know. Paying the majority of your wage for 20 years to support your four children without hesitation is admirable. A struggle that I would not have noticed growing up, but one that I deeply respect now. There are a lot of men out there who would have taken the easy way out.