It would be a lie to say that I have always loved my father. Most boys are much closer to their mothers in younger years, and I am no exception. Traditionally, dads were never at home, either working hard for the family’s material wellbeing, doing the ‘man thing’ or just avoiding the problems offered up by suddenly being trapped in a home populated by stressful kids and a justifiably demanding wife.
My father sought refuge abroad, in the office and on the tennis court, and managed to discover the remotest locations on all five continents. When my sister and I did see him, he represented authority; the bogeyman that curtailed our thirst for freedom, as opposed to our benevolent, far too lenient mother, who tried to compensate for his absenteeism. It would be equally untrue to say that we did not hold him only as dear, we just perceived him in a different, more idealistic light. I am sure these sentiments are nothing new to most of you, representing the norm rather than the exception.
Today, things may be different; dads on the dole providing more of a parental role model – if present at all – and single parent families, more often than not run by working mothers, are becoming increasingly common. But, then, I would not know about that.
I am now a grown-up and my perspective has changed. Mum and dad are no longer icons who can do no wrong, but are real people, just like you and I. For some years now, in fact ever since I retraced the tracks I left behind when fleeing the nest aged 18, I have formed a new relationship with my two progenitors, even more so with the man I always called dad.
There comes a time when the thirst for freedom and life becomes satiated, a time when you come to realise how finite our life and the possibilities associated with it are. At that point, you do not want to be left wondering what may, or may not, have been. You start making moves and catching-up on interpersonal relationships that you have ignored, neglected or been running away from for many years. In my case, I wanted to get to know my dad before it was too late and light the embers that had never really been lit.
This is not something done deliberately, but a response to an inner calling, a mission, not born out of obligation, but desire. I sincerely believe that this happens to everyone somewhere along the path through life, and can only urge you to listen to your heart. The consequence of not doing so, is a remaining lifetime of regret and unanswered questions, a void that will, forever, remain unfilled.
Coincidentally, the other day I came across the last page feature in a superficial magazine, entitled Papa-lapapp, which offered up some thought provoking statistics. Did you know, for example, that 90 per cent of men wish that their fathers had had more time for them when they were growing up? It seems that a large part of our formative years lacked a vital ingredient, an important counterbalance to other influences, perhaps responsible for later development, or lack of it. This fact may explain why one out of four men admit to speaking to their deceased fathers!
Mothers and daughters, mostly, enjoy a close physical relationship, which endures from early childhood, men do not. An awkward patting of the shoulder or a firm handshake is as personal as it gets. Hugs are rare. Conversations (sons and fathers talk to each other on average once a month) revolve around sport or work, nothing too personal or contentious, while joint activities are restricted to fishing (15 per cent apparently do so, no verbal intercourse necessary) and getting the next round in.
Is it a wonder then, given this stark father-son relationship landscape, that men find it difficult to talk about, or share their feelings, preferring to keep their own council? It’s not as if there is nothing going on underneath that broad chest, just that the soul has not been tutored in the art of communication.
According to the feature’s statistics, 33 per cent of men consider their father’s example to be aspired to in adulthood, thus making it difficult to break that general mould. This fact, reflected in the contradictory stat, which elevates Bill Cosby and Homer Simpson to the position of being the two most popular television dads. One listens and offers understanding and advice – the ideal, while the other acts out the more traditional stereotype – selfish, stupid, simplistic and insensitive – the reality.
The average infant is one-year-old when he/she first articulates the word “dad”, a term that is still used by 48 per cent of sons in later life. How many actually ever come to appreciate the true meaning behind that form of address? The funny thing is, that the vast majority of men think that they are the complete opposites of their fathers, not realising that nothing could be further from the truth. As we get older, the similarities become more and more apparent, we only have to open our eyes to them.
Reaching full circle in your process of self-assessment is not always an easy thing to do. But, if we allow ourselves to overcome our carefully nurtured prejudices, our fear of what we know to have always been there, the result is rewarding.
Building a relationship with your father, the potential for which has been there from the beginning, completes a previously unfathomable jigsaw, answers questions that have been floating in the subconscious, and helps you become a more complete person.
When I say “dad” I now know who I am talking about. My dad is a real person, a thinking, feeling human being, infinitely fallible, as am I, and is no longer a figurehead. I consider him my friend, and I am very glad that we finally managed to meet each other after all these years. If you have not already done so, hold out your hand, give it a try, you will not be disappointed.
“Whoever wishes to foresee the future must consult the past; for human events ever resemble those of preceding times. This arises from the fact that they are produced by men who ever have been, and ever shall be, animated by the same passions, and thus they necessarily have the same results.”
Machiavelli, political philosopher
“If you do not know where you come from, you do not know who you are and then it is almost impossible to move forward.”
Tony Benn, former Labour MP
Skip Bandele reflects on life and his world – as he sees it