Thursday, 28 February 2013

The hapless, bumbling father

Here's an interesting article about fathers and advertising, which begins:

THE hapless, bumbling father is a stock character in product marketing. He makes breakfast for dinner and is incapable of handling, or sometimes even noticing, a soggy diaper. He tries desperately to hide the crumb-strewn, dirt-streaked evidence of his poor parenting before the mother gets home.  

As I've said, Dads in advertising annoy me so much that I've proposed the Sutton rule. Not only are Dads in ads usually hapless and bumbling, ads aimed at Dads seem to be so emotionally manipulative. Current hates include the 'take your teenage daughter to Disneyland before she stops talking to you forever' ad, and the 'if you're trying to make a connection with your stepson and all else fails, there's always junk food' McDonalds ad (if anything, stepdads fare worse in ads than biological fathers). 

Apparently advertisers are getting more interested in the 'Dad pound':

In the past, consumer-product marketers weren’t all that concerned with what fathers thought — women, after all, make the majority of purchasing decisions for households. But men are catching up: In 2012 men spent an average of $36.26 at the grocery store per trip, compared with $27.49 in 2004, according to data from Nielsen. Companies see an opportunity to reach a new demographic. 

Advertisers are reaching out for the 'Dad pound'

The article has some great examples of campaigns which have ignored or belittled fathers. But what really struck me about the piece was the hook of 'Dad 2.0 Summit – a meeting of so-called daddy bloggers and the marketers who want to reach them'. I'm just dipping my toes into the blogosphere, and it's becoming clear there's already a community of daddy bloggers (although many more US-based than UK). 

THE 200 or so bloggers and media professionals who attended the second annual Dad 2.0 conference in Houston from Jan. 31 to Feb. 2 were mainly in their 30s and 40s. They tended to wear well-fitting jeans, button-down shirts and blazers, and they were quick to whip out pictures of their children on their iPhones. 

That's me! I do that!

If you read on, you see that the event offered:

1) free whiskey
2) sword-fighting lessons
3) test drives of minivans
4) free cheese
5) cheerleaders


The $2 million letter from father to son

“Dear Michael, Jim Watson and I have probably made a most important discovery.” 

So begins a 1953 letter from Francis Crick to his 12-year-old son. It's to be auctioned in April with an estimated price of $1-2 million. It contains the first written description of DNA as a code and of the mechanism of DNA replication – preceding the pivotal scientific articles about DNA’s structure and its genetic implications by more than a month.

The full transcript of the letter is pretty detailed… I can only assume that Nick Jnr didn't exist in those days, so Crick wasn't competing with a repeat of Pokemon or Phineas and Ferb. 

I like 'Read this carefully so you can understand it. When we come home we will show you the model'. I wish I did the kind of job where I could write a letter like that to my boys, rather than 'Today I shifted some apostrophes around. When I come home I would like to talk about something else.'

I would be interested to hear from other Dads how much interest their children show in their work, and whether they even know what it is they do. Just yesterday my eldest informed me that there was a rumour at school that I am a Doctor, but that he had told everyone that I'm not a useful one.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Not the most auspicious start to fatherhood

Another weird and wonderful tale from the animal world, described by Ed Yong on 'Not exactly rocket science'.

'For a small Amazonian frog called Rhinella proboscidea, death is no impediment to sex. The males form huge mating balls in which dozens of individuals compete to fertilise a female. These competitions are so intense, and the combined males so heavy, that the poor female sometimes drowns in the struggle.
But for the males, that’s not a deal-breaker. Thiago Izzo from Brazil’s National Institute of Amazonian Research has found that the males can force the eggs from the bodies of the deceased female, and fertilise them. It’s a unique strategy and one that effectively involves sexual reproduction with a dead partner. Izzo calls “functional necrophilia”.'

...'Dad, how did you meet Mum and how did I get born?' 'Umm...' 

'Farewell, thou child of my right hand'

It's 'Poetry corner' with another guest spot from my own Dad.

'Here's Ben Jonson writing about the death of his first son, who died of the plague in 1603. So tender and grieving – gives the lie, I think, to the easy assumption that because infant mortality was so high in those times (about a third of all children died before the age of ten) parents didn't feel their losses so much.'

On My First Son
Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy;
My sin was too much hope of thee, loved boy.
Seven years thou wert lent to me, and I thee pay,
Exacted by thy fate, on the just day.
O, could I lose all father now! For why
Will man lament the state he should envy?
To have so soon 'scaped world's and flesh's rage,
And if no other misery, yet age?
Rest in soft peace, and, asked, say, 'Here doth lie
Ben Jonson his best piece of poetry.'
For whose sake henceforth all his vows be such,
As what he loves may never like too much.

Ben Jonson

'Jonson was a mate of Shakespeare's, and Shakespeare also lost his only son Hamnet when Hamnet was only eleven; possibly he died of the plague too. One is tempted to see a reference to this in the following passage from one of his lesser-known plays 'King John':
Grief fills the room up of my absent child,
Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,
Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words,
Remembers me of all his gracious parts,
Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form;
Then have I reason to be fond of grief.

Dads in jail

I'm reading an article by Michael E. Roettger and Raymond R. Swisher which contains some scary stats about Dads in jail:

'Unprecedented growth of the US prison population has led to a large number of incarcerated fathers. In 2007, US state and federal prisons contained 766,000 fathers of 1.55 million children; a 90% increase since 1991. According to data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, nearly 13% of young adults report that their biological fathers have ever been incarcerated…
As in the case of incarceration, minority children are disproportionately affected… by adolescence, 24% of African-American children have experienced a biological father's incarceration, compared to 4% of Whites.'

Now the authors admit that in some cases, particularly those involving extreme criminality or domestic violence, father's incarceration 'may represent a relief of stressors within the family, leading to positive outcomes for children… But in many cases, incarcerated fathers remain potentially important within the lives of children.'

Unfortunately most of the article is behind a paywall so I don't know what conclusions the authors reach and what their recommendations are for ensuring such fathers still play a role if and when it is desirable to do so. The authors do say that 'At five to ten times the rate of other developed nations and lacking a criminal justice system focusing on rehabilitation, issues surrounding father incarceration remain somewhat unique to the United States.' But it would be very interesting to hear the views and experiences of any experts or Dads here in the UK.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Further reading

After my post on reading to your children to mark the Booktrust campaign to get more Dads involved, I went home and found a load of books on their shelves which I should have mentioned. So here's part two of my recommendations.

Picture books
I'm a fan of Jeanne Willis, particularly 'There's an ouch in my pouch' and 'Bottom's up'. Cressida Cowell, better known for 'How to train your dragon', has written a superb series of Emily Brown books, particularly 'Emily Brown and the Thing', which is a very handy tale if your child gets scared at bedtimes. 'How Santa Really Works', by the appropriately named Alan Snow, is great for building up the pre-Christmas excitement. And for a modern classic, look no further than Shaun Tan's 'The Lost Thing', which is also available as an award-winning animation from iTunes etc.

Young fiction
As I said in the last post, I find a lot of modern fiction aimed at young boys intensely irritating and just really badly written. I tend to try to go back to the classics that I loved as a boy, and then sometimes find (e.g. the Willard Price 'Adventure' series) that they really haven't stood the test of time.
The one exception is the Jack Stalwart series by Elizabeth Singer Hunt. Spying, gadgets, travel, what more could you want? She's a lovely lady too - when my son emailed her with a suggestion for a new gadget she sent a really considerate reply.

The classics
I've got a soft spot for Robert Westall's 'The Machine Gunners' and you could do an awful lot worse than getting a Shirley Hughes collection and the complete Winnie the Pooh - two beautiful editions your children will be able to pass on to their children.
But to me the winner hands down is 'The Iron Man' by Ted Hughes. 'A children's story in five nights', this is a beautiful, poetic, modern fairy tale and I still can't get enough of it. And if your child has a 'Book day' at school where they have to go dressed as a character, how about making Harry Potter disappear for once and making a Space Bat Angel Dragon costume?

Friday, 22 February 2013

Dad song #5

Another one that I have always sung to my boys. I think this is an old Appalachian ballad, adapted by Woody Guthrie and sung beautifully here by Richard Hawley from the album 'Cole's Corner'.

'Where would you go? You choose…'

My boys have always had books at bedtime, in fact to the extent that they now see missing a night as a huge punishment. Sometimes after a long day it's the last thing you want to do, but I'm a firm believer in the benefits. These days my wife and I take one boy each, or at weekends we might take it in turns to do shared stories.

So I am right behind the Booktrust campaign to Get Dads Reading. To be honest, I wouldn't say their survey is that worrying though:

'A new poll, carried out for Booktrust by Opinium, reveals that just 13% are the main reader with their child, with a quarter of fathers saying that the demand for them to work late means that they do not have time to read together more often.'

… Why would we necessarily want Dads to be the 'main reader' or 'take the lead' at bedtimes? I read to my children pretty much every night but it's very much a shared activity with my wife so I wouldn't say I'm the 'main reader' or 'take the lead'. And I'm also surprised it isn't more than 25% of Dads saying that work means they don't have the time to read together 'more often'. That doesn't mean they don't read to them quite a lot. And I'm not sure it constitutes a 'crisis'.

But there's always room for improvement, so I'll share my tips on reading to children:

- A great book to start with, for all but the youngest children, is one that I think I got free from Booktrust. You Choose by Pippa Goodheart is a simple and superb picture book that encourages all sorts of flights of fancy and weird conversations.
Where will you go?
You choose.

- If you've got 5-10 year olds, I would avoid books that are designed for them to read to themselves. Let them do that. I really can't stand reading Beast Quest type books... they're badly written and often make no sense at all, to a Dad at least.
- Instead, stick to the classics. You can't beat Where the Wild Things Are (modelled in this article by my boys), Danny Champion of the World, Norse myths (this edition is simply stunning), Just William, etc.
- Don't just read, improvise. At the moment the boys are loving Famous Five stories. I'll chuck in little asides - for example, when the children are let loose on an unaccompanied camping holiday (obviously in a pre-mobile phone era), I add in a bit where Julian decides they really are in rather mortal peril and perhaps they should actually write to their parents to inform them of this; on receiving the letter a few days later, the parents write back to enquire whether it's urgent enough that they should cut short their own holiday and come to the rescue; etc). This causes fits of laughter, and lots of incredulous 'does it really say that?' (which, to be fair, they also say a lot for the bits that really are in the book).
- It's fine to stretch them, but if you start a book that's probably a bit old for them and they're obviously not enjoying it, just stop after a couple of chapters. There's nothing worse than bedtime reading becoming a chore for all parties, and I made that mistake with the David Walliams books.
- If you don't want to read a story the whole time, these Lego books take some beating!
- For other non-fiction, the 'See inside' series is excellent. My favourites are Science, and Your head, which had two superb psychologists, Chris and Uta Frith, serving as consultants to help out their own son Alex Frith. 
- If you really can't face the nightly read, putting an audio book on for them is better than nothing.

That's my advice, for what it's worth. Sometimes 20 mins of reading seems like quite a chore when all you want to do is flop down in front of the telly. But apart from anything else it's a great time for a cuddle, and I personally am not looking forward to the day when they don't want a story anymore.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Are you the 'black cloud Dad'?

Last night my wife and I had a rare night out to see the fantastic comedian Russell Kane at De Montfort Hall. Pretty much the whole show was about having kids – rather unexpectedly given that he's not got his own, and slightly disappointingly given that I was hoping for an hour or so not assessing my own parenting.

But this bit certainly got a chuckle of recognition…

‘When I say I’m the opposite to [my Dad], I don’t mean to disrespect his memory and stuff, I just mean emotionally. He couldn’t have got more stuff wrong if he tried. It’s the male curse: I’ve inherited this gene, like most men in the room, the "one thing happens, the whole evening is shit" gene. The tiniest thing, down comes the mood. 80-90 per cent of men carry that fucking gene. Do you think we want to be like that? We don’t want to be like it. We can’t fix it.

Maybe women have the gene, but they seem to have better access to this sentence: "Oh, I know we were late today, but we did get to the gig in the end. I’m sorry I lost my temper: can we just have a nice night now? I’ve managed to emotionally regulate myself." Whereas admit it guys, most of you in the room: "The M1’s fucked, we’re going to miss the show, whole night’s ruined!" Get there on time, it’s not ruined, we got to De Montfort Hall in good time, there’s time for a drink, don’t stress. "I know all that. But because I lost my temper for a short period of time, I’m now going to hang on to that mood and fuck up the rest of the night."

I don’t want to be that Dad, the black cloud Dad. I don’t want to be the black cloud man, let alone the black cloud Dad if I’m lucky enough to be one.'

Ring any bells with you?

Dad song #4 'Daddy, what if I stopped loving you?'

Shel Silverstein on the Johnny Cash Show, via Brain Pickings.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Parents' evening

I have parents' evening for my sons later. I wonder how other Dads out there find them? (Get directions to the school and then follow the signs, ha ha). 

When I go, Dads tend to be pretty thin on the ground, maybe 1 in 3 kids are represented? In the actual meeting I tend to take a back seat, which is pretty unusual for me.

I wonder if it is because I'm actually not that bothered how they're doing academically? Of course I want them to do as well as they can, but my wife and I tend to ask much more about how they're doing socially. Do they get on well with their classmates, do they enjoy school, are they happy? 

Thankfully we know this anyway, so parents' evening largely becomes about getting a warm glow of confirmation and then going for celebratory fish and chips. 

But it's also an opportunity to sit on the tiny chairs outside the classroom and look through their creative writing and drawing. This usually includes some 'interesting' depictions of family life and my role as Dad in particular… I'll have to see tonight if there are any to share, but they usually involve me drinking too much beer.

I would love to hear your views and parents' evening stories!

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Dad song #3

'Lullaby' by Arco. I have always sung this to my boys. Beautiful.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Working for your Dad

Today's news that Paul Ince has been appointed as manager of Blackpool FC, where his son Tom plays, has got me thinking about the pros and cons of working for your Dad. Would you like it?

This article has some interesting experiences, including:

"The good thing about working at the same place as my dad is that there will always be someone in my life who understands exactly the pressures of my job"

Famous Dad #1

'To my dearest daughter,
Now that you are ten, I want to write to you about something that is important to me. Have you ever wondered how we know the things that we know?'

Richard Dawkins has the answers in this rather lovely letter to his 10-year-old daughter Juliet.

The letter includes his thoughts on love and evidence, which of course includes parental love:

'There can be plenty of evidence that somebody loves you. All through the day when you are with somebody who loves you, you see and hear lots of little tidbits of evidence, and they all add up. It isn’t purely inside feeling, like the feeling that priests call revelation. There are outside things to back up the inside feeling: looks in the eye, tender notes in the voice, little favors and kindnesses; this is all real evidence.'

What would a Mumsnet for Dads look like?

You've probably heard of Mumsnet. It's rather successful, with over 8 million visits per month. I don't really have much experience of it and certainly won't be stripping off in M&S over it. But is there an equivalent for Dads, and if not what would one look like?

On the Mumsnet forum itself, somebody points out that the Mumsnet slogan 'by parents for parents – because Dads can be Mums too'. I'm not arguing for segregation, but I'm also not sure that really does it for me.

There is in fact a Dadsnet, but it hardly seems to be a hive of activity – there are very few threads and the front page says rather folornly 'most ever users online was 45'. Does that sum up the demand? Are Dads just not that bothered, or do we meet to discuss Dad-related issues in the real world rather than virtual?

I would love to hear your thoughts on the following:

1) Are there virtual communities of Dads out there?
2) If not, why not?
3) What would 'Dad versions' of various existing sites look like?

Friday, 15 February 2013

Guest Dad #1

One thing I want to do with this blog is hear from other Dads about what they think makes a good, and bad, Dad. I have a good friend called Pete, who I met and shared a house with at university. We still meet up from time to time in Sheffield to watch the mighty Owls. I always admired his Dad, John. This is what John had to say – many thanks to him for allowing me to post it here.

"Whilst being flattered, I think that your assessment is more than a little flawed, largely because the proof of the pudding is in the eating and because our mutual exposure has been limited to pleasant but short lived occasions. In my case the 'proof of the pudding' is Peter and Chris. Both Janet and I are proud of them in the sense that they have grown up to be reasonably good blokes whose strengths mainly outweigh their weaknesses. I cannot begin to analyse how much we (and specifically me) have influenced that outcome.
When I look back we have probably been pretty lucky with our kids in that I can’t remember them presenting us with any really serious problems. For instance, if they were ever involved with drugs it can only have been in a minor way because I never knew about it.
I think that the main thrust of being parents was to try to create a stable environment in which the children were happy, and that the way to do this was by encouragement. You need to be involved with their activities for as long as they want you to be but to be very careful not to impose your own ambitions and expectations on them. I saw a lot of parents who, in my view, pressurised their kids, particularly in the areas of academic achievement and sport, and hence we attempted to avoid any suggestion of it. At the risk of teaching Granny to suck eggs it is important to accept your offspring as they are and not as some idealised being that you may want them to be. It’s also important that they know that their parents are flawed but at the same time are just about acceptable. 
'accept your offspring as they are and not as some idealised being that you may want them to be'
My views haven’t changed much over the years but a strange thing happens to most people. At some stage after they have grown up your kids start to regard you as their dependents (rather than the other way round) after which your main aim is not to be too much of an embarrassment to them. We now quite often limit our comments until we are asked because it’s quite hard to recognise that your own children have become fully fledged adults.
In short parenting is day to day interaction in which your responsibilities gradually diminish. Discipline is a tricky subject if you have to apply it but hopefully that application is necessary on only extremely rare occasions. It can mostly be avoided if the kids don’t want to let you down and you don’t let them down."

Dad song #2 and #3

The great Richard Hawley played live at Maida Vale yesterday and included a couple of songs in the set that speak to the love between father and son. 

'I'm on nights' is, he says, 'about the love I was shown by my Dad'.

'Don't stare at the sun', his new single, is about him flying a kite with his youngest son. While high on LSD. 

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Walking away

This poem, by Cecil Day-Lewis, first appeared in the collection The Gate and Other Poems, published in 1962. It is dedicated to Day-Lewis’s first son, Sean, and recalls a day when he was watching Sean go in to school. It has become one of his most enduring works and in 2001 was chosen by readers of the Radio Times as one of their top ten poems of childhood. Thanks to my Dad for pointing me to it.

It is eighteen years ago, almost to the day –
A sunny day with leaves just turning,
The touch-lines new-ruled – since I watched you play
Your first game of football, then, like a satellite
Wrenched from its orbit, go drifting away
Behind a scatter of boys. I can see
You walking away from me towards the school
With the pathos of a half-fledged thing set free
Into a wilderness, the gait of one
Who finds no path where the path should be.
That hesitant figure, eddying away
Like a winged seed loosened from its parent stem,
Has something I never quite grasp to convey
About nature’s give-and-take – the small, the scorching
Ordeals which fire one’s irresolute clay.
I have had worse partings, but none that so
Gnaws at my mind still.  Perhaps it is roughly
Saying what God alone could perfectly show –
How selfhood begins with a walking away,
And love is proved in the letting go.

Monday, 11 February 2013

'Vivid memories of Dad'

How do you keep memories of your Dad alive for your own children? Developmental psychologist and author Charles Fernyhough considers fathers, children and the nature of memory in this 2009 article.

Charles has of course also written a captivating account of fatherhood and the first three years of his daughter Athena's life, 'The Baby in the Mirror'.

Dad song #2

'The story of Isaac', in which Leonard Cohen gives the fatherly advice 'don't sacrifice your 9-year-old sons. Unless you've had a vision.'

Come on Daddy!

Last week I posted the poem 'Slow down Mummy' by Rebekah Knight, along with my own response, 'Speed up Daddy'. Now Rebekah has very kindly sent me her own response, 'Come on Daddy!' for this blog.

Come on Daddy, don't sit still!
I love you Daddy, I always will. 
Daddy you're home! That's great!
Daddy you're home! The computer can wait.
Let's have a hug at the door.

Put down the remote, and let's fight on the floor.

Let's kick at a ball, or  build a great fort.
You can read me a story, or we can just talk.
Let's go for a ride on our bikes, to the park,
Let's race to the goal post, I'll beat you, I am fast!

Come on Daddy, let's buy an ice cream!
Ask me what I want I be when I'm older, 
Please help me dream!
Come on Daddy, help me get dressed, 

I love the clothes you chose for me, 
All a mis-match! 

Come on daddy, let's jump on the trampoline!
Come on Daddy I want to giggle and scream!
Come on Daddy, a piggy back please?

Oh dear Daddy, I grazed my knees. 
Play with me daddy. Don't sit still!
I love you Daddy. I always will!

Many thanks again to Rebekah for her vision of fatherhood, which is far more warm-hearted than mine, but still doesn't involve a nice sit down.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Dad song #1

Ian Broudie addresses his baby son Riley in this 1992 hit:

So here's your life,
we'll find our way,
we're sailing blind,
but it's certain nothing's certain.

I don't mind,
I get the feeling
you'll be fine,
I still believe
that in this World,
we've got to find the time...
for the Life of Riley.

From cradles and sleepless nights,
you breathe in life forever,
and stare at the World from deep under eiderdown.
Although this World is a crazy ride,
you just take your seat and hold on tight.

How movies teach manhood

This is a fascinating TEDx talk by Colin Stokes, put my way by close friend and great Dad Paul Redford.

'Is Girl Power going to protect them if at the same time, actively or passively, we are training our sons to maintain their Boy Power? … I think we have got to show our sons a new definition of manhood… I want fewer tests where my son is told "go out and fight it alone", and more quests where he sees it his job to go out and join a team.'

Give it 13 minutes of your time.

It has introduced me to the fabulous idea of the Bechdel test, which can be applied to film and other media. It's three simple questions:

1. Are there at least two women?
2. Do they talk to each other?
3. About something other than a man?

There is a user-edited database of some 3,300 films classified by whether or not they pass the test, with the added requirement that the women must be named characters. As of July 2012, it listed 53% of these films as passing all three of the test's requirements, 11% as failing one (the women's conversations are about men), 25% as failing two (the women don't talk to each other) and 11% as failing all three (there are not two named female characters).


I'd like to introduce the Sutton test, which will be applied mostly to supermarket ads:

1. Is there a man in it?
2. Is he a Dad?
3. Is he being anything other than a dickhead?

Thursday, 7 February 2013

'That little creature is sitting there, behind the armour'

This is a letter from poet Ted Hughes to his 24-year-old son Nicholas, full of fatherly advice on the vulnerability of our inner child.

When I came to Lake Victoria, it was quite obvious to me that in some of the most important ways you are much more mature than I am. . . . But in many other ways obviously you are still childish — how could you not be, you alone among mankind? It’s something people don’t discuss, because it’s something most people are aware of only as a general crisis of sense of inadequacy, or helpless dependence, or pointless loneliness, or a sense of not having a strong enough ego to meet and master inner storms that come from an unexpected angle. But not many people realise that it is, in fact, the suffering of the child inside them. Everybody tries to protect this vulnerable two three four five six seven eight year old inside, and to acquire skills and aptitudes for dealing with the situations that threaten to overwhelm it. So everybody develops a whole armour of secondary self, the artificially constructed being that deals with the outer world, and the crush of circumstances. And when we meet people this is what we usually meet. And if this is the only part of them we meet we’re likely to get a rough time, and to end up making ‘no contact’. But when you develop a strong divining sense for the child behind that armour, and you make your dealings and negotiations only with that child, you find that everybody becomes, in a way, like your own child. It’s an intangible thing. But they too sense when that is what you are appealing to, and they respond with an impulse of real life, you get a little flash of the essential person, which is the child. Usually, that child is a wretchedly isolated undeveloped little being. It’s been protected by the efficient armour, it’s never participated in life, it’s never been exposed to living and to managing the person’s affairs, it’s never been given responsibility for taking the brunt. And it’s never properly lived. That’s how it is in almost everybody. And that little creature is sitting there, behind the armour, peering through the slits. And in its own self, it is still unprotected, incapable, inexperienced. Every single person is vulnerable to unexpected defeat in this inmost emotional self. At every moment, behind the most efficient seeming adult exterior, the whole world of the person’s childhood is being carefully held like a glass of water bulging above the brim. 

'…the whole world of the person's childhood
is being carefully held like
a glass of water bulging at the brim'
And in fact, that child is the only real thing in them. It’s their humanity, their real individuality, the one that can’t understand why it was born and that knows it will have to die, in no matter how crowded a place, quite on its own. That’s the carrier of all the living qualities. It’s the centre of all the possible magic and revelation. What doesn’t come out of that creature isn’t worth having, or it’s worth having only as a tool — for that creature to use and turn to account and make meaningful. So there it is. And the sense of itself, in that little being, at its core, is what it always was. But since that artificial secondary self took over the control of life around the age of eight, and relegated the real, vulnerable, supersensitive, suffering self back into its nursery, it has lacked training, this inner prisoner. And so, wherever life takes it by surprise, and suddenly the artificial self of adaptations proves inadequate, and fails to ward off the invasion of raw experience, that inner self is thrown into the front line — unprepared, with all its childhood terrors round its ears. And yet that’s the moment it wants. That’s where it comes alive — even if only to be overwhelmed and bewildered and hurt. And that’s where it calls up its own resources — not artificial aids, picked up outside, but real inner resources, real biological ability to cope, and to turn to account, and to enjoy. That’s the paradox: the only time most people feel alive is when they’re suffering, when something overwhelms their ordinary, careful armour, and the naked child is flung out onto the world. That’s why the things that are worst to undergo are best to remember. But when that child gets buried away under their adaptive and protective shells—he becomes one of the walking dead, a monster. So when you realise you’ve gone a few weeks and haven’t felt that awful struggle of your childish self — struggling to lift itself out of its inadequacy and incompetence — you’ll know you’ve gone some weeks without meeting new challenge, and without growing, and that you’ve gone some weeks towards losing touch with yourself. The only calibration that counts is how much heart people invest, how much they ignore their fears of being hurt or caught out or humiliated. And the only thing people regret is that they didn’t live boldly enough, that they didn’t invest enough heart, didn’t love enough. Nothing else really counts at all.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Let's hear it for (stay at home) fathers

Here's an interesting article from last week on The Guardian, by Anne Karpf, put my way by a great developmental psychologist Liz Meins.

Karpf points to new Office of National Statistics figures which show that 10% of the parents who stay at home to look after their children are fathers – a record high. She writes:

Some of the increase in stay-at-home fathers, of course, is the result of male unemployment, but a lot of it is also because growing numbers of men have woken up to what they've been missing out on in the home while they've been out at work. And because so many of them have seen through the ideological guff about motherhood and realised that hey, they're as good at wiping noses, making playdough giraffes and whipping up a macaroni cheese as any woman.
Or better. When my first child was born her father, whose third child she was, proved to be a much less vexed and more creative parent than me, who didn't feel altogether jubilant about this fact: join in and all that, but please don't make me look incompetent in the process.
She goes on to say:
These days it also brings a certain kudos. There's little sexier than a big man attending to a small child. "Aren't you lucky?" women say to me – all because I live with a man who takes active responsibility for his own children. 
'Lucky' is an odd choice of phrase, isn't it?
Karpf also points to research that shows children of 'involved fathers' are
more cognitively competent at six months, have higher IQs at 3, do better academically, are less likely to be obese or have behavioural problems or suffer depression, are less likely to become pregnant as a teenager, accept themselves more, are more empathetic and less likely to divorce.
…you wonder why governments and states, even if all they care about is the bottom line, don't reorganise everything to enable men to get seriously involved with their kids. The financial, not to mention human, benefits would be incalculable.
The key point for me here is that 'involved fathers' is actually measured by amount of interaction, including higher levels of play and caregiving activities – so it's not just about 'stay at home' Dads, there are lessons for us all here.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

'Be a man, make your own list'

Interesting take on fatherhood from Louis C.K., via @tomstafford

Slow down Mummy / Speed up Daddy

One of the sparks for this blog was a poem that has been widely shared on Facebook recently.

Slow down mummy, there is no need to rush,
slow down mummy, what is all the fuss?
Slow down mummy, make yourself a cup of tea.
Slow down mummy, come and spend some time with me.

Slow down mummy, let's put our boots on and go out for a walk,
let's kick at piles of leaves, and smile and laugh and talk.
Slow down mummy, you look ever so tired,
come sit and snuggle under the duvet and rest with me a while.

Slow down mummy, those dirty dishes can wait,
slow down mummy, lets have some fun, lets bake a cake!
Slow down mummy I know you work a lot,
but sometimes mummy, its nice when you just stop.

Sit with us a minute,
& listen to our day,
spend a cherished moment,
because our childhood is not here to stay! 

Now I have no problem with this poem: it's an admirable sentiment, if perhaps (according to the Mums I have spoken to) a bit of an unachievable ideal.

But why do you never see 'Dad' versions of these poems? When I search for 'slow down Daddy', I just get a lot of tragic stories about drink driving.

As I am sure I'll find myself emphasising time and time again on this blog, I love my boys with all my heart and couldn't be happier with fatherhood and all that it brings. But I still can't help wondering what would a Dad version look like, if we take off the rose-tinted spectacles and view life through the cultural prism of crap Dadding? 

Maybe a little like this. I'm a little worried it doesn't scan.

Speed up daddy, there are dishes to do, 
speed up daddy, I need a big poo.
Speed up daddy, go out and earn more money,
speed up daddy, I'll be fine with mummy.

Speed up daddy, let's capitalise on your obsessional tendencies by tapping you for another collectible trading card game,
speed up daddy, let's wrestle and use you as a punchbag and then when you accidentally drop me on my head ensure you get the blame.
Speed up daddy, me and Mum are snuggled up underneath the duvet,
how about a full English, and a cup of tea wouldn't go amiss, eh?

Speed up daddy, put Capital FM on, even though you have an iTunes library of approximately 15,000 killer tunes culled from a period spreading across 7 decades and really could do an awful lot better than Rhianna's 'Shine bright like a diamond' or Olly Muir's 'Troublemaker' on constant repeat,
Speed up daddy, in this day and age it's not acceptable (quite rightly) to just bring home the bacon and then put your feet up in your favourite seat.
Speed up Daddy, you need to ferry me to a large variety of extra-curricular activities: cubs, gym, football and swimming,
and if you think you can have a lie in when you've got a hangover you've got another thing coming.

We do love you, Daddy, 
Just not as much as Mummy.
It's an inevitable consequence of spending more time with her in the early days,
I wouldn't worry about it.

UPDATE: Rebekah Knight very kindly wrote this special 'Daddy version' for us. I think we can all agree hers is better!

Monday, 4 February 2013

Let's start at the beginning…

'You and me baby ain't nothing but mammals, so let's do it like they do on the Discovery Channel'
The Bloodhound Gang

I never imagined I would start my first blog post proper with a lyric from a Bloodhound Gang song, but I thought it might be illuminating to turn to the animal kingdom for some great and terrible Dads. Can us human Dads feel good about ourselves in comparison?

Here are my top three Dads from nature:

1) The hardhead catfish carries up to 48 eggs in his mouth for two months. How does he eat? He doesn't.
2) Penguins. -40Âșc. Enough said.
3) Foxes. Red fox (Vulpes vulpes) fathers are extremely attentive dads in the first few months after their pups are born. As the mother remains in the den with the newborns, the fox dad heads out to hunt and brings back food for the whole family at least a few times each day. These reynards also seem to be keen on keeping young pups active, having been observed playing with them and leading them around their territory. I have to say, though, there's a touch of Chris Rock's 'you feed your kids and play with them? Congratulations, you low-expectation-having motherfucker!' about this one.

A note about seahorses. Everyone goes on about seahorses. Sure, they stow fertilised eggs in their brood pouches, giving them nutrients, oxygen and a cosy environment for 1.5- to 6.5 weeks. However, if a male judges its female mate to be subpar, it will not direct as many nutrients toward the developing eggs that are ensconced in its pouch – and sometimes males will absorb the eggs entirely, using their nutrients as a food source. 

Here are my worst three Dads from nature. This mostly revolves around eating your own young, which is covered in Lesson 1 of Dad school:

1) When newborn bass swim away, their Dad proudly watches them swim into the distance. But if there are stragglers, he swallows them up as a reward to himself for helping the strong ones stay alive.
2) Lions are greedy and lazy. Not content with letting the females do all the hunting and most of the parenting, the male lion is always the first one to eat and often leaves only scraps for the rest of the pride. In lean hunting seasons, an alpha lion will let his wives and children starve first.
3) Assassin bugs. With a name like that, perhaps expectations are not high. All he has to do is protect the eggs, but he tends to eat the ones on the outside edges of the brood, which are otherwise most likely to fall victim to parasitic wasps. This strategy is so hardwired that they do it even in laboratory settings completely devoid of potential parasites. Interestingly, assassin bugs do have a bit of a soft spot – the males are some of the only insects that are willing to adopt broods from other fathers. (They don’t eat any extra eggs when their kids are adopted.)

A special mention must go to the orb-web spider Nephilengys malabarensis. The brilliant Ed Yong describes how the male snaps off his own genitals inside the female and runs away. His severed organ continues to pump sperm into the female (indeed, at a faster rate). This allows him to fertilise her remotely, while denying entry to other males. It also means he's less likely to get eaten, a fate that awaits 75% of males during sex.

Now is that being a good Dad or not? I'm not sure, but if the media is to be believed that's about the sum total contribution of most human Dads. 

Welcome to Dad Pride

Dads, eh? What are we like?

Well, if the current Disneyland ad is to be believed, we cling desperately to lost times with our offspring, bribing our teenage daughters into gracing us with their presence for one last weekend before we slide into lonely senility.

If we live in a McDonalds land, we also throw money at the troubled relationship with our sons. And when they accept our clumsy efforts to build bridges, we THROW IT BACK IN THEIR FACES with a sarcastic dig.

What about Google, the oracle of all truth? Chuck 'Dads rubbish' into the search engine and you get 2,400,000 results. 'Mums rubbish' – 1,210,000 results.

It's official: we are twice as rubbish as Mums.

Except we're not.

This blog is my attempt to galvanise Dads, to find some sense of collective pride. 

Mums are good at this. Mums love to share slushy poems on Facebook about what a great job they're doing. And they are: let me make one thing very clear from the start, I am not anti-Mum and you will not find me dressed in a Batman costume shouting my manifesto from a rooftop. Mums do a great job, and I am married to the best. But this blog is about Dad Pride.

I will be celebrating Dads – real life, historical, from the natural world and more. Anything that might give us a collective pat on the back, and restore some Dad Pride.