Monday, 24 June 2013

It's Been A While

I saw my Dad yesterday for the first time in months, and I feel like maybe we started to connect again after what has been years of a very distant, disjointed sort of relationship. He very much struggled with my teenage years, and then me having my son very young (20). He just didn't know how to relate to me during that time and now I feel like we're on an even footing and able to come to each other as adults, something has changed.

He looked so different when I saw him for the first time, I almost didn't recognise him. But different in a good way – I thought that he looked like an ageing hippy who couldn't quite bring himself to throw off every last fragment of suburbia, which is probably closer to who he is than any other look he's ever had, but he looked taller somehow, less lost in his own skin, and less like he was trying to hide or be someone else. He has stopped dying his hair, cut it short, and grown a beard. We were sitting in the car and I thought, this is just the next chapter really. It was nice. I don't know if he will ever be the kind of father I spoke about in my other recent post on fatherhood, but I am feeling more mellow. He is the dad that he was always meant to be, and I have found my way to adulthood on my own and now he is there and he sort of always was, he just didn't know how to be present all of the time.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Fringe, on Fathers

I have just finished watching Fringe, and it was awesome. (Mild spoilers, only if you haven't got to Series 5, nothing about the final!) Absolutely without a doubt has to be my favourite series, ever. One of the big themes running through it is fatherhood - Peter's relationship with Walter, throughout the whole thing, and then later on Peter's relationship with Etta (as well as the gorgeous one off episode about the two Astrids and their respective fathers which was extremely touching). Seeing Peter have such strong feelings about Etta in the final season really touched something in me, and it made me think, a lot, about how it might be when Creepy and I have a child together, especially if we have a daughter. I think it's going to be weird and quite difficult for me and it made me look, not for the first time, at my relationship with my own Dad.

This comes at a poignant time for me in planning our wedding, because of course tradition dictates that the bride is given away by her father. I don't want this in my wedding, for two reasons, mainly a feminist sort of one where I feel a bit indignant at the idea of the whole symbolism of a woman being passed over from being the property of her father to being the property of her husband – I mean come on! The second reason is that if anybody was going to give me away, I don't feel like it should be my dad, because to be honest, he just hasn't been around, especially in the years since I've left home. My parents divorced when I was 6, and it was really me, my mum and my sister against the world. There were no stepfathers and barely any male role models, my dad was sort of this fun guy who would appear every so often and take us to the kinds of places that our mum couldn't afford, and would disappear periodically for months at a time.

The first time I questioned our relationship was when I was a teenager. He had remarried, we now had half-siblings, and it was becoming increasingly obvious that he saw, or at least treated them differently. Perhaps I am being unfair, seeing it in a childish or teenage way, because some of my earliest memories are of him being a very involved father at home, and maybe it was just easier for him to engage with young children, or when the whole package was there. But still, he didn't make a massive effort to hide the fact that he regretted his first marriage and felt he was too young when he had us two.

So, my experience with this and the slowly becoming distant contact, and a few of my close friends also having cause to re-evaluate their own opinions on or relationships with their fathers led me to the conclusion that dads are, in general, a bit useless and pointless and fun when you're little, but then the shine wears off. I remember reading a quote around this time, I have no idea who originally said it, but it was something along the lines of “Daughters are always going to be disappointed by their fathers.” I think the original author was talking about young girls building up such a rosy image of their father that they were disappointed when he turned out to be a human being, but I took it at literal face value that all dads were generally a bit crap and, basically, not important. This served me fairly well as far as not being bothered by the absence of mine, but when I became pregnant at nineteen I remember having the distinct and conscious thought that if the relationship between me and the father broke down, I would just raise the child on my own, no big deal. My own mother had certainly coped as a single mum and so would I. And I did, but after that relationship ended I started to see things differently. I was young, granted, but I really hadn't thought through this process of just raising the child on my own as though the father didn't matter or didn't exist. He did very much exist and he was putting influences on my son that I wasn't always happy about. I started to realise that if he stuck around, he was going to matter a LOT to my son and he wasn't necessarily going to go away. And if he didn't stick around, that absence was going to matter to my son, too. These are not the kinds of thoughts which occupy your mind when you are a footloose and fancy free eighteen year old who wants a husband and a family, any husband, because fathers aren't important anyway.

So anyway, it was too late and he had a father who I was suddenly realising was the wrong father, and I was starting to realise that maybe fathers do matter and that an established relationship with one could change everything. And then I met Creepy, and after a while with him I realised that he did in fact have one of these mystical good relationships with his own father, and it fascinated me. Everyone I had ever met either had a bad relationship with their father, a non-existent one, or they just never spoke about their great relationship with their dad because they just took it for granted that everyone had one. So this was an entirely new concept for me, at the age of 22, that someone could have such a close and loving relationship with their dad. The day that the penny dropped, I went online that night and wrote a post on an internet forum asking people to tell me about the good relationships they had, or had had, with their fathers. I was overwhelmed with responses describing something that I literally had no idea I was ever missing. The idea that someone could exist in this role, who supports you unquestioningly, who builds you up and is always behind you, who is proud of you (even when you mess up), who shows you that you can do things and that you are an enjoyable person to spend time with, who challenges you and pushes you, at the same time being there to catch you if/when you fall, generally having your back. Basically, everything I would want and have found in a husband, but someone who is there in that role always, since you were a little girl. That is what a father should be to a daughter, that is what I never had, and that is what my husband will be to our daughter, if we ever have one. I can already see him being that person for our son, and often I feel like he is a better parent than me (although I do remind myself that he has more patience due to not having to cope alone 24/7 for months at a time!) I am afraid that if we ever do have a daughter he will slowly break my heart, in the nicest way.