Today is Father’s Day in the UK. A day when traditionally a big fuss is made of your father, a day when you buy him a card with a suitably sentimental message, and a token gift, perhaps you even take him out for the day. It’s a day when children of all ages can celebrate the man who loves and helps raise them.
But, what about if you are no longer with your child’s father? What about if the role he plays in their live is minimal? What about if he is absent altogether?
This was the problem I faced when my daughter was four years old and in her reception year of primary school. Before then it had never been a problem, we simply didn’t mention it and Father’s Day was a non-event in our home. Although my daughter did still then occasionally see her father, it certainly wasn’t regularly enough to warrant making a fuss and buying him a card stating he was – “the best dad in the world” – because he was far from being worthy of that title!
So, it never occurred to me we would have a problem at school in the run-up to this particular Father’s Day and I had no inkling of the emotional trauma it was going to cause, until I picked my daughter up on the Friday before Father’s Day. Immediately knowing something was very amiss from her red, angry face and sullen silence, I waited until we got home to ask her what was wrong.
As a reply she thrust a homemade card at me showing a stick family all smiling inanely, with assorted glitter spelling out the words “Happy Father’s Day”. I looked at it and then looked at her. I could see she was really upset, but it took almost an hour of gentle questioning before the whole story came out.
The teacher had announced that they were all going to make special cards for their dads to celebrate Father’s Day. Not really understanding what they were talking about, my daughter said she didn’t want to. Too shy to explain why and at four too young to articulate her wishes clearly, the situation quickly deteriorated and ended with my daughter being told to “stop being difficult and make the card for her father”.
Obviously, I was angry at the teacher’s insensitive treatment, but it was too late to do anything other than soothe my daughter with lots of cuddles, her favourite supper of pizza and ice cream, and an extra-long bedtime story.
By the following year, of course, my daughter had forgotten all about it, but I hadn’t. The week before Father’s Day I paid a visit to the school and spoke to her teacher, a different one from before, she was a lovely, kind lady who instantly saw the issue.
This time when I picked my daughter up from school the Friday before Father’s Day, she was proudly carrying two beautiful cards she’d made for both her grandfathers. Excited to tell me all about the wonderful time the whole class had had making cards for the special man in their lives – be he a grandfather, uncle, stepfather, godfather or even an older brother – no one was left out, and no one was forced to make a card for someone who no longer existed in their lives.
This became a tradition throughout the whole school and the practice was even adopted for Mother’s Day, when pupils were told they could make cards for the special lady in their lives – mother, grandmother, auntie, big sister, godmother – it didn’t matter, the pupils could make the cards for anyone.
Since then, Father’s Day for my daughter has always been about the two wonderful men who have been steady constants in her life, her two grandfathers, and she enjoys choosing them special gifts and seeing them on that day.
With just a little bit of imagination and a light, sensitive approach, her teacher was able to take a potentially unpleasant situation – not only for my daughter, but for other pupils whose parents had separated – and turn it into a positive experience for all the pupils so that it was inclusive, not exclusive.
Being a single parent is one of the hardest jobs there is and any little acts of understanding we encounter along the way are a blessing. It’s hard enough when the other parent is still around to occasionally share the burden, but sadly all too often this is not the case. Having to be both mother and father, the fun parent and the disciplinarian – the good cop/bad cop – as it were, can be emotionally, mentally and physically exhausting. Often my smile would slip the moment my daughter was safely tucked up in bed, and then I would sit on the sofa and wonder how the hell I could carry on because I was quite plainly rubbish at this whole parent thing. But, next morning, I always got up, shaped up and showed up. I had to, there was nothing else I could do, but some days it was hard.
I guess what I’m trying to say in my usual rambly fashion, is that it’s ok to feel like a failure, to think you’re doing it all wrong and that everyone else is making a better job of it than you, because believe me, they’re not. If your child is happy, healthy and knows they’re loved, if they trust you and can talk to you, and if they know that you’ve always got their back, then you are doing a bloody fantastic job and don’t let anyone else, especially yourself, tell you differently.
It is so easy to judge someone else’s life and think they’re coping better than you are, don’t forget people only show you the smooth, calm surface – underneath they are all paddling just as desperately as the rest of us.
So Happy Father’s Day – or Grandfather’s Day, Godfather’s Day, Stepfather’s Day, Big Brother’s Day – whatever works for you, because if it works, then it’s not wrong.
Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoy your Sunday.