So it’s upon us again. I think. Or has it just slipped by? It may have been last weekend, it may be next. It might just have well fallen in January, or be pencilled in for December – but then you probably couldn’t sell as much stuff you want but don’t need. I wouldn’t know. Apparently it’s unmissable, given the volume of media coverage, the cluster bomb of commercial opportunities and attendant advertising bonanza. In my TV-free utopia I’m (almost) blissfully ignorant, but a feature on this morning’s Woman’s Hour has the rusty penny teetering before it finally drops. I refer, of course, not to the beautiful game’s return to its spiritual home in Brazil – my utopia may be TV-less but it’s anything but football-free – no, it is, apparently, some time around now, Father’s Day. Only I’m far too busy being a father to notice…
For some of Father’s Day I will be a father. I’ll be a dad in the morning, or at least up until 11am. I’ll hoist Leo up and out of his cot at seven and he’ll run tottering into my room and hook his right foot up and over the top of my bed and we’ll read stories under the duvet until eight, each one preceded with the pomp of a now-ceremonial kiss on the cheek from him – a mutually understood bargain or a signal to begin, I’m not sure which. Then into the kitchen for a Sunday-slow breakfast and inevitably, having been lulled into a false sense of being time-rich, the pell-mell rush to Waterloo to deliver him to mum who’ll be en route to a Sunday more leisurely and reassuringly Sunday-shaped than mine. Thence across Waterloo Bridge, swallowing down the vague sense of discombobulation and mortal panic that always bubbles up like bile in the minutes after I’ve left him, to the coal face to put in a shift and thereafter to the pub with childless drinking partner to reassure myself within the span of a pint or five that my life might after all be, in some way I’m yet to notice, normal…
That’s discombobulated and panicked not simply on account of going from my hermetic existence as a full-on single parent to two days without Leo throughout which the silence he leaves behind will be deafening, but because I know my son will be spending the majority of Sunday with a man I never see but who, it would appear, considers himself to be every bit as integral to my son’s life as I am. So if this is Father’s Day, just who is it for?
‘We’ never did Father’s Day. ‘We’ being me and Leo’s mother – I retain the inverted commas as the decade-long span of our relationship seems surreal in the memory now, a montage of scenes half-remembered from another life, and not necessarily mine. Leo and I are now the only reality I know. ‘We’ didn’t do Mother’s Day either, in the interest of balance. Valentine’s Day survived the massacre and limped on in the form of a few handmade cards and some very cosy meals for two or three years. The only days deemed important enough to be granted due weight and observance were prefixed with ‘Christmas’ and ‘birth-‘. All others were derided, wisely it seemed at the time, as the spawn of American greeting card houses long since mutated into consumer-fests for fools.
But of course I’ll be his dad when he’s away on the train, when he’s in the other half of his life, when I’m rolling home drunk, when I sleep, when I wake. And this weekend, or last weekend, and however much the head says no, this proud, bruised single father is wilting just a little as he discovers that Father’s Day is pretty much ubiquitous after all, and I wonder – do I want the sweet benediction of that card after all?
Do I deserve recognition? Do I need it? On a day like today, maybe. To the pool early for Leo’s swimming lesson. ‘We’ do swimming and ‘we’ alternate – last week was mum’s turn, and when asked after me – mistakenly referred to as ‘your husband’ – by the instructor, declared ‘oh, he’s just the dad.’ That ‘just’ hung around for the rest of the day and might be worth a piece in its own right. ‘Just’ dad’s day, perhaps? There’s an almost cosmic irony in being, frankly, an exemplary father (hey, if I don’t say it who else will – that’s the whole point of this piece, right?) in as much as I do it all myself and I love doing it all myself, and being… alone. And not just alone but, without wishing to break out the violins, entirely unvalued. I guess it’s the relative isolation and the entire lack of real emotional support that has me pining for some token expression of appreciation.
Isn’t fatherhood it’s own reward? Ah, ‘its own reward’ – how that phrase might have jarred had it been suggested to me before I had a son. And yet I’d have discarded the sanctimony I wanted to hear and guessed at the truth in it, and of course I’d have been right. It is its own reward and how liberating to know and feel that each day, even if at times I do feel a little like an a one man show with an audience of …one. Though he is some audience. Very receptive.
Some dads will be feted, treated, celebrated, lionised even and sure, it would be nice. But I suspect I might breathe a sigh of relief to have given the Radiohead CDs a swerve this time.
Card or not, and let’s be fair, his crafty little digits aren’t yet two – though that hasn’t stopped him producing a glitter-encrusted Easter card courtesy of a thoughtful child-minder – I’m fortunate. Indeed, partner or not (and right now I honestly prefer not), I’m fortunate. I know there’ll come a time I can tell my son that one sun kissed Saturday I crouched down to him and kissed him as he wrestled with the high drama of end-of-day fatigue. In the kitchen with our bare feet still encrusted in the afternoon’s sand and grime, I squatted down and sang him The Byrds’ cover of Mr Tambourine Man as it played on the radio and as he nuzzled into me and we butted heads I knew I had the only show of appreciation I needed. And I marvelled just at being loved by him, and had the sense to know that these were the days of my life.
Might put that in a card and post it to myself…