Father’s Day is one of those pseudo “holidays” created by card manufacturers (and more recently – as in the case of Pi Day – internet foibles) rather than being steeped in tradition and history. You know – like my birthday.
I have the honour of listing myself amongst those males of the species who can call themselves “father”. As well as the biological act of becoming a father there’s also the on-going relationship with one’s offspring – or even a child who is not biologically yours. This is by no means a pre-defined relationship and can be healthy and strong with step-father, foster parents etc., and conversely toxic and destructive with biological parents. Fathers don’t have the market cornered for either extreme of experience, by any means – though they do tend to have the ability to make bad parenting experiences very bad.
As my own children have matured into young adults I have observed with not a little trepidation as they transfer their decision making from the childhood surety of “mum/dad said…” to the less definite, but ultimately more useful “my own accumulated experience would indicate…”. Of course they unnecessarily re-discover some of the same mistakes we did at that age, as well as dealing with whole new decisions that simply didn’t exist a generation ago (like “Should I sell my soul to iOS or Android?”). Hard though it is to see a loved one make a mistake you could have helped them avoid, it’s definitely a lesson more fully absorbed when the cause and effect are directly experienced rather than simply discussed.
Being a bit of a stick in the mud myself, I’m not big on cards and presents for birthdays and the like. I didn’t really mind at all then that offspring No. 1 simply sent a one-liner via SMS to at least acknowledge I had a small contribution to her DNA. No. 3 offspring, my son, has asked if he can take me for dinner tonight – just him and I. Though I’m slightly nervous that he might be wanting to inform me of some unplanned life event or personal discovery, the calmer part of me is trying to accept it as simply his way of sharing the day. No. 2 offspring – the artistic one – created a small card for me, and presented it as I descended for breakfast, along with a yummy-looking Okanagan “port-style” bottle of wine from Black Sage vineyard.
The image she chose to use for the card was from a back-issue of my BBC History magazine. It shows a medieval soldier doing battle with some sea-going monster. Odd choice, I thought, until I read the back of the card:
The great battle of 2015 when father slayed none other than the toilet clogging sea-ogress.
Leaving aside for a moment the slew/slayed debate, I feel I should explain the reference…
Several weeks ago the toilet in the “children’s bathroom” had begun to misbehave. It would flush – in the sense that the water (and some proportion of other items therein) would leave the premises via the usual method of the sewage pipe. However, it did not flush with the same amount of gusto we had become accustomed to, and would often leave unsavoury reminders of recent interactions with said toilet. Being a family born in the UK, this was embarrassing to the point of pain.
My own stance was along the lines of “one of you lot blocked it – you sort it out” for several weeks. This is an easy stance to adopt when you have access to an unaffected en suite and there’s an additional 3rd. toilet in the house as well.
No. 2 offspring though is a delicate soul and of the opinion that men should offer women 100% equivalence… except where unblocking toilets is concerned, where she’s quite happy for sexism to endure. No. 3 offspring is of a practical nature and simply moved his business elsewhere. As it were.
Eventually though, the persistent calls to address the issue got to a stage where I took it upon myself to handle things once and for all. I began by canvassing family members for suggestions, but not being in possession of the requisite paperwork to obtain dynamite, I looked to my fellow citizens at Home Depot for potentially more practical advice.
Now, it must be said that these types of toilet blockage are a by-product (sorry!) of North American design, that require the “soil pipe” to exit the toilet downwards, instead of sideways as is common in the UK. This means that the water – plus anything it may be transporting – must negotiate a full tight curve both laterally and vertically. Since this obviously increases the chance of blockages, there is an associated line of products designed to assist with that very situation… and help with the economy.
So, $40 later, I was in possession of an instrument of torture which could double for the task of freeing up the blockage. After weeks of grief, one might say that restrictions were lifted, and free passage was once more possible. This seemed to be a disproportionately big deal to No. 2 offspring – as commemorated in my Father’s Day card.
Over the years I have accumulated many tools “just in case” or because a given problem is generally just so much less trouble if you’ve got the right tool for the job. I can honestly say that I really really hope I never have to use this particular tool again, but if I do… I will still be glad I have it. The alternatives are just too gnarly for a Brit to consider.
Over the last week, CBC has been running a competition for the best example of “what my dad taught me” during my morning commute. Whilst No. 2 offspring is on break from McGill, she’s got a summer job with the local museum and I’ve been giving her a lift to work. I jokingly asked what she’d learnt from me. With an inscrutable face, she looked at me and said “how to swear eloquently at other drivers”. Though admittedly not an entirely worthless skill, I admit to feeling I’d perhaps fallen somewhat short of the mark in the parenting stakes.
Imagine then my pleasure at reading the last clause of the note she had put inside her card to me today:
Happy father’s day to the best daddy ever!
Thank you for driving me to work, fixing the toilet, being my garden partner and for encouraging me to be the best I can.
It was, I think you’ll understand, a near tear-jerking moment for me. I’ve always considered my success – and indeed, failure – as a parent as being measured solely by how effectively I have helped prepare the children for their own lives. I am but one influence amongst many and as they grow, that influence inevitably recedes into the background.
To be the best you can be is all anyone could ever ask of anybody. It’s not a religious stance. It’s possibly not even a moral one. Only you know what your best is. To perceive that that is something to aim for is a keen weapon to have along for life’s journey – helping to assess each of the decisions that life will place in front of you.
I feel honoured that my beautiful daughter feels that this insight was some form of gift, and that it has benefited her in some small way.
Don’t get me wrong – I am immensely proud of all three of my children. This little essay was simply inspired by the small actions of one of them on one day. As “the middle one”, I felt it was about time she got her own little acknowledgement and tonight I will toast all three of them with a small extravagant glass of almost-port from the Okanagan and thank Darwin’s memory for allowing me to take some small satisfaction in all their future successes.