The moment when a parent’s superhero masks slips is a sobering moment for both parties.
Father’s Day. Sunday June 21. Any busy High Street in the UK.
A Mum or Dad bawls at their child, face red, contorted, eyes bulging. The child looks solemnly back up at them. Perhaps there are tears. There may be swear words. You walk past, silently seething. Your soul sags.
It’s easy to judge.
That moment you witness is exactly that, just one moment, and none of the strangers witnessing this sad play has any idea of the emotional torment that may have been inflicted in the minutes or hours beforehand, know nothing of what has led to the outburst.
I’ve done it. Total, utter frustration and exhaustion build and as soon as it happens, I am that person in the street, being judged by others walking past. Instantly ‘fuck you mode’ is enabled, I stare back, dare them to say something.
We all want to be the best parents we can (actually, that’s not true is it? some people clearly don’t give a shit about being a parent) but nailing down exactly what that entails is a little harder. Because no one tells you how to do it.
I’m 40 in October, which is surreal in itself. Thirty feels like five minutes ago.
I remember my parents turning 40. I looked up to them, figuratively and literally, convinced they knew what they were doing. They had a mortgage, cars, they were both independently self-employed. At the dinner table, Dad would talk sagely about weather fronts – the man even had full control of the weather it seemed. He was as close to omnipotent as seemed possible. He’d ponder the threat of the Russians, lament the lazy strokeplay of David Gower, wonder if anyone would ever be better than Steve Davis at snooker. Meanwhile Mum ensured I enjoyed the happiest childhood possible in an idylic seaside Norfolk town.
Without a brother until I was 10, I was alone among these two superheroes, hoping the adult world – otherwise a bewildering combination of mystery and banality such as how to drive in the dark, contents insurance and organising a plumber – would avail itself to me in time.
When you are young, you don’t know how much you don’t know, so the world is a magical place, literally full of possibility. Then you become a teenager, and gain a little knowledge, some of it even correct, and you start to see your parents for what they are.
But more than that, they are people in their own right. People with feelings, with weaknesses, fears even, just like the rest of humanity. It is a stark moment, that tearing down of the edifice. Da, I now saw, was just a man. A great man in my eyes, but still, just a man. The moment when a parent’s superhero mask slips is a sobering moment for both parties.
And so now, as a Dad of two, wondering what our eldest thinks of me (our youngest is one, I am nothing but a conduit for food and soft-play to him), I spend almost every moment of my life panicking that I’m doing it wrong, that he will expose me for the fraud that I am before I am ready, that I’m winging it.
Of course, I know now that there are very few people in the world – perhaps five – who are not winging it, who don’t have a complete grasp of what they are doing and why. I work for a large corporation. Virtually everyone there is winging it – bumbling through their day trying to justify their job – despite its ultra-slick public image. Which is fine as long as you admit it. Problems surface when you have to deal with someone who can’t see the absurdity of our existence.
So perhaps that’s the answer. With smart phones it’s easier to look smarter, to quickly Google the answer to a tricky question, but perhaps I just tell Thomas and Samuel I haven’t got a clue what I’m doing, that I will be inconsistent, will tell them of for something that I was fine with two days previously, tear off the mask early, allow them to see my weaknesses.
But then, kids need security, routine, safety… oh, I don’t know. Madness lies in thinking too much about this.
I don’t know if parenting is harder now than it used to be – the tide of outside influences is certainly stronger these days – but when you see someone shouting at their kids, remember they’re making it up as they go along and as long as they love their kids, show them they love them and treat them with respect, I can understand if they lose their shit occasionally. Because sometimes, despite what Facebook will have you believe, kids are just utter shitheels.
This much I do know, however. Fatherhood is almost the only thing I take seriously now. Everything else is just stuff and nothing can match the inherent guilt of being a Dad, so never, ever let them go to bed on an argument, because then dawn can’t come quick enough.
Happy Father’s Day Dad. I know how you feel. xx