Friday, 31 May 2013

Dad song #9

I'm somewhat obsessed with Lee Hazlewood at the moment, and this is the perfect song for my blog. I believe he wrote it for Nancy Sinatra, who recorded it as a tribute to her Dad Frank (who used to have 12 showers a day).

There's a man who always stood right by me
Tall and proud and good when times were bad
Too much heart, is the only fault that I see
This song's not for you folks
It's for my Dad

Always a partner, a playmate and a teacher
Ready with a joke when times were sad
And in my teens, sometimes he was a preacher
This song's not for you folks
It's for my Dad

He always was a rock when I needed one
He gave me good advice when I needed some
I want you to know that when It's said and done
He's one of the best friends I ever had... I ever had
This song's not for you folks
It's for my Dad.

… I like the idea of 'too much heart' as a fault. It reminds me of job interviews, where the interviewer says 'We've heard a lot about your strengths, now what about your weaknesses?' 'I'm too honest'. 'Oh, I don't think honesty is a fault!' 'I couldn't give a **** what you think.'

Thursday, 30 May 2013


Half term this week, so another trip to the cinema to watch more crap Dads. This time: Epic.

I am happy to report that Epic passed the Bechdel test, courtesy of a brief conversation between Queen Tara (voiced by Beyonce Knowles*) and MK. But did it pass the Sutton test?

As seems to be the way with films I watch these days – is my wife trying to tell me something? – there were loads of Dads in the film. Were they rubbish?

The leader of the evil, decay spreading Boggans, Mandrake, intent on destroying the forest, seemed like a fairly loving father as tyrannical leaders go. He included his son, a general, in their joint enterprise of spreading devastation and darkness. When his son meets a messy end, and one of his soldiers says 'Plus, your idiot general gets himself mulched!', he thunders: 'That idiot general was my son!' with something approaching fatherly pride. So, setting aside the apocalyptic intentions, I think Mandrake passes the Sutton test.

The leader of the Leafmen, Ronin, voiced by Colin Farrell in a really off-putting way where his Irish accent pops up and disappears like a Whack-a-mole fairground game, is a father figure to MK's love interest, who he has mentored since the death of his birth father. He's the square-jawed, stoical hero type, who struggles to express his emotions. There's a nice line at the end where the two, relieved to be alive, are ribbing each other and MK says 'Oh please… just say you love each other!', and Ronin replies 'I thought we just did'. Dads, eh? Can never tell our boys we love them. Except of course we can and do. But again, a pass for the Sutton test.

Finally there's MK's Dad, a naturalist obsessed with finding the advanced race of little people in the forest. He starts off as the stereotypical rubbish Dad, barely noticing his daughter (grieving for the loss of her mother – for every rubbish Dad in a film, there's a Mum who's got off the hook by dying). His single-minded pursuit was behind the breakdown of his marriage, and although he obviously loves his daughter he's on track to lose her too. He's basically saved by the fact that he turns out to be right, so MK starts to see him in a different light. When someone asks her 'Who gives up everything for a world that's not even theirs?', she replies: 'Dad. My Dad does'. 

Us Dads have been known to have our obsessions, and the message here seems to be that as long as they bear fruit all will be forgiven and your children will still talk to you. But once again, overall I think MK's Dad just about passes the Sutton test.

So well done to the makers of Epic, who I think also made Ice Age (which has a lot of Dad themes in it). It's all still pretty relentless though isn't it: certainly seems that all Dads in films have to display some level of thoughtlessness, single minded obsession or repressed emotion!

*Dad joke alert: How do you contact dead single ladies? Have a Seyonce. Yes, that's right, this whole post was just an excuse to tell that joke. 

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Darth Vader and Son / Vader's Little Princess

I popped into a bookshop in a grey and drizzly Loughborough yesterday and was cheered considerably by a little book called 'Darth Vader and Son'. In postcard form, Jeffrey Brown imagines Darth Vader as a Dad like any other - except with the baggage of being a Dark Lord of the Sith.

Apparently there's also a follow-up, 'Vader's Little Princess', in which Darth faces the trials, joys, and mood swings of raising his daughter Leia as she grows from a sweet little girl into a rebellious teenager.

Star Wars and Dads - what more could I want?

New Dads feel more physically attractive

Newly published research suggests that men feel more physically attractive after becoming a father - at least if it's in their first year of marriage.

I became a father in my first year of marriage - in fact, 9 months and 15 days after my wedding day (so much for enjoying the trying…). I'm not sure I felt 'physically attractive', maybe more 'exhausted' and 'poo stained'. But having said that I've only got worse as the years have gone by, so maybe this finding represents men thinking 'well if I'm not attractive now, I certainly never will be again!'

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

We are not idiots!

The main spark for this blog was the discrepancy between one prevailing societal view of Dads – that we're a bit rubbish – and the actual contribution of loads of great Dads who I know or have met over the years. At the time I thought I was pretty much alone in the blogosphere: there are loads of online networks for Mums, but a quick search suggested there wasn't that much discussion and support amongst Dads.

A few months later, I have come across lots of sites, mostly in the US, where Dads are leading the fightback. This morning I listened to an interesting and amusing discussion on the Dadsaster podcast. In particular, there was a fascinating chat with @DaddyFiles who has written about the use of fathers as a punchline.

They discussed this article, in which one Mum gives her views on appropriate gender roles:

The maternal instinct is a real thing, Kelly argues: Girls play with dolls from childhood, so “women are raised from the get-go to raise children successfully. When we are moms, we have a better toolbox.” Women, she believes, are conditioned to be more patient with children, to be better multitaskers, to be more tolerant of the quotidian grind of playdates and temper tantrums; “women,” she says, “keep it together better than guys do.”

This is obviously a massive generalisation, even though with my sample of 1 I would possibly agree with her on the final point: my wife probably does keep it together better than I do. She's also incredibly patient and tolerant. I might be a better multitasker.

I very rarely get the vibe from my wife that she thinks I'm any less capable than her on the parenting front (and of course it's not a competition). And when there has been a glimpse of that, I think it comes across as playing up to a cultural norm rather than a deeply held view. That's something the article tackles:

Psychologists suggest that perhaps American women are heirs and slaves to some atavistic need to prove their worth through domestic perfectionism: 'So many women want to control their husbands' parenting,' says Barbara Kass, a therapist with a private practice in Brooklyn. '"Oh, do you have the this? Did you do the that? Don't forget that she needs this. And make sure she naps." Sexism is internalised.'

Of course, women have had to put up with this for years, a point Aaron Gouveia (aka DaddyFiles) makes in the podcast:

'It's like what you see with so many women entering the workforce in recent years, men have gotten defensive, and women don't have it even, going to work and trying to get up the corporate ladder, and it's kind of the same thing here in reverse: women have traditionally been at home with the kids and now Dads are staying at home, and there really is a sense of "wait a minute, you're creeping in on my turf here." It really shouldn't be that way, it should be equal involvement or at least as close to equal involvement as you can manage. It's a shame that that mindset is still there.'

I think there's a lot of truth in that, but I don't think it's enough to explain the general rubbishness of Dads in popular culture. Take films. Most of those that portray Dads as bumbling idiots are written by men, by Dads. I think crap Dads are just seen as an easy target, with broad enough shoulders to take the sexism in good humour. And generally we do. But it doesn't half go on, and that brings me back to the purpose of this blog: to hopefully show from time to time that many Dads are in fact capable of getting through the day without killing, losing or starving their own offspring.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Friends for tea

This afternoon my youngest son has a friend coming round for tea. I always find this amusing and horrifying in equal measure.
I wonder if other Dads have experienced the same thing. My wife tends to bear the brunt of the experience, and when I arrive home I have usually missed a good hour or two of sibling rivalry and cajoling of our guest to do things they really don't want to do. It just seems inevitable that if eldest son has a friend round, said friend will mainly want to play with youngest son, and vice versa. That's if they want to do anything at all: we have a rather large Lego collection, and on more than one occasion I have arrived to find our guest immersed in the latest Marvel offering when all my boy wants to do is drag him outside to play football.
I usually get back just in time for the actual 'tea' bit. Now my sons have got lovely friends and they're not necessarily angels themselves, but you get used to your own child's ways. So I tend to spend much of the mealtime agog as our guest demands a ketchup sandwich, or devours six cookies in one go, or just refuses to eat anything. If ever you're in need of a flood of love and appreciation for your child, just invite one of their friends round for tea.
There's an added element of amusement / horror to this afternoon's visit, which is that my son is having a girl round. Now my son is six years old: I am sure this is entirely innocent and I shouldn't be worried about the fact that he says she mostly wants to see his bedroom. I shouldn't be worried, but then again this is my son we're talking about. Once I was chatting to his elder brother about playtime, and elder brother informed me that during 'chase' he had kissed two girls: one on the cheek, one on the forehead. 'Where do you think the best place to kiss a girl is?', I asked youngest son. 'Under the slide', he replied.

Friday, 10 May 2013

All-stars: Does it pass the Sutton test?

Last weekend saw another family trip to the cinema, this time to watch All Stars, in which shy streetdancer Jayden must team up with wheeler-dealer Ethan to save their local youth club.

Now some of you may remember me proposing the Sutton Test, to complement the Bechdel Test (which I'm happy to say the film passed, by virtue of a brief conversation between 'Gina' (Ashley Jensen) and a council official). Put simply, the Sutton Test when applied to any media is:

1. Is there a man in it?
2. Is he a Dad?
3. Is he being anything other than a dickhead?
Unfortunately All Stars failed this test, aside from a few minutes of redemption at the end. To be fair, a) it's just a film (yes, I do know), and b) adults in general didn't fare well in this film. The whole point was that kids were doing stuff for themselves, in the face of bureaucratic madness, work-enduced exhaustion or blind ambition from the adults surrounding them.
But did there really have to be three crap Dads? Jayden's ignored his obvious love of and talent for music, banning him from dancing in favour of an entrance exam for an independent school. He did come round in the end when he chased him to the performance and actually saw him dance. Ethan's Dad was, again to be fair, a reasonably good portrayal of that kind of Dad that keeps banging on about being a lone wolf, not wanting to be tied down by actually facing up to his responsibilities and being there for his family and son. Amy's Dad, John Barrowman, spent the entire team grunting from the sofa (apart from one dream sequence), depressed at his wife walking out. I don't think he even made it to the show, which is unusual for John Barrowman.
I'm not saying that lots of Dads don't have those faults. But three of them, in one film? The portrayal of rubbish Dads in the media just seems so relentless. Maybe the Sutton test is even harder to pass than the Bechdel test. Or maybe the difference is that men in films start out rubbish and then, because the films are largely written and directed by men, by the end they're vaguely passable. Whereas women just barely get a look in as three dimensional, independent characters at all.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

What do you want to be when you grow up?

It's a question we all ask our children, and back in 1936 on the receiving end were some US 10-year-olds. Their answers, over at the Center for the History of Psychology blog from the University of Akron, make delightful reading.

I don't wish to support any US-stereotypes, but my favourite is definitely Ed:

'I am going to be a police man so I can go out to hunt people and do target practice.'

First time fathers feel excluded

Interesting research summary in Society Now:

'Many first time fathers continue to feel like a ‘spare part’ during their partner’s pregnancy, despite increasing recognition by antenatal and maternity healthcare services of the need to involve and
engage men throughout pregnancy.
But, interestingly, a small study of first time fathers aged 22-58 found that although men were at times frustrated by their lack of involvement, most participants felt this was entirely appropriate because antenatal and postnatal appointments were primarily about looking after the health and
wellbeing of their partner and child.
“Men tended to enter into the process of becoming a father having already determined that they were less important, and that it would be wrong, and inappropriate, for them to try and make healthcare consultations ‘about them’,” explains researcher Dr Jonathan Ives. “By putting aside their own concerns, not raising their own thoughts and fears, and adopting a deferential and supporting role, men felt they were doing the right thing in terms of being ‘good men’ and ‘good partners’.”
The study points out that some experiences with health services might re-inforce the perceived
appropriateness of this ‘deferential role’ and validate the idea for men that they were less important. Significantly, Dr Ives points out, “routine and apparently innocuous actions by healthcare staff (like pulling a curtain) can be interpreted by men as exclusionary practices because these actions fit their expectations and the role that they feel is morally appropriate.”
Such insight into men’s feeling of exclusion could be usefully incorporated into the teaching of
midwives and health visitors, Dr Ives suggests.'

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Letters of fatherly advice

This collection of words of wisdom from Dads, via the lost art of a letter, is well worth a look. It's via the fantastic Brain Picker.

My favourites are F. Scott Fitzgerald to his 11-year-old daughter:

Things to worry about:
Worry about courage
Worry about Cleanliness
Worry about efficiency
Worry about horsemanship
Worry about…
 Things not to worry about:
Don’t worry about popular opinion
Don’t worry about dolls
Don’t worry about the past
Don’t worry about the future
Don’t worry about growing up
Don’t worry about anybody getting ahead of you
Don’t worry about triumph
Don’t worry about failure unless it comes through your own fault
Don’t worry about mosquitoes
Don’t worry about flies
Don’t worry about insects in general
Don’t worry about parents
Don’t worry about boys
Don’t worry about disappointments
Don’t worry about pleasures
Don’t worry about satisfactions
 Things to think about:
What am I really aiming at?
How good am I really in comparison to my contemporaries in regard to:
(a) Scholarship
(b) Do I really understand about people and am I able to get along with them?
(c) Am I trying to make my body a useful instrument or am I neglecting it?

…And this from Ronald Reagan to his 26-year-old son on the eve of his wedding, which - as the website notes - is thoughtful and strikingly honest, but perhaps suggests Reagan senior had his concerns about his son straying!

Dear Mike:
Enclosed is the item I mentioned (with which goes a torn up IOU). I could stop here but I won’t.
You’ve heard all the jokes that have been rousted around by all the “unhappy marrieds” and cynics. Now, in case no one has suggested it, there is another viewpoint. You have entered into the most meaningful relationship there is in all human life. It can be whatever you decide to make it.
Some men feel their masculinity can only be proven if they play out in their own life all the locker-room stories, smugly confident that what a wife doesn’t know won’t hurt her. The truth is, somehow, way down inside, without her ever finding lipstick on the collar or catching a man in the flimsy excuse of where he was till three A.M., a wife does know, and with that knowing, some of the magic of this relationship disappears. There are more men griping about marriage who kicked the whole thing away themselves than there can ever be wives deserving of blame. There is an old law of physics that you can only get out of a thing as much as you put in it. The man who puts into the marriage only half of what he owns will get that out. Sure, there will be moments when you will see someone or think back to an earlier time and you will be challenged to see if you can still make the grade, but let me tell you how really great is the challenge of proving your masculinity and charm with one woman for the rest of your life. Any man can find a twerp here and there who will go along with cheating, and it doesn’t take all that much manhood. It does take quite a man to remain attractive and to be loved by a woman who has heard him snore, seen him unshaven, tended him while he was sick and washed his dirty underwear. Do that and keep her still feeling a warm glow and you will know some very beautiful music. If you truly love a girl, you shouldn’t ever want her to feel, when she sees you greet a secretary or a girl you both know, that humiliation of wondering if she was someone who caused you to be late coming home, nor should you want any other woman to be able to meet your wife and know she was smiling behind her eyes as she looked at her, the woman you love, remembering this was the woman you rejected even momentarily for her favors.
Mike, you know better than many what an unhappy home is and what it can do to others. Now you have a chance to make it come out the way it should. There is no greater happiness for a man than approaching a door at the end of a day knowing someone on the other side of that door is waiting for the sound of his footsteps.
P.S. You’ll never get in trouble if you say “I love you” at least once a day.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Dad song #8

This song just came on my iPod, and I thought it was well worth posting here as the finest tribute to a lost Dad that I have heard.

It's 'You were a boxer' from the Pacific Ocean Fire album 'Hibernation songs', from 2010 I think. The Leicester band featured twins Jon and Andy Bennett, who I have known on and off for many years.
The song is about their Dad Paul, who they had lost to leukemia not long before. It breaks my heart every time…
'you, you were made of rocks and stone, not white blood cells and borrowed bone'
'shut, shut the window, wash your hands, cos this, this was not part of the plan'
'You, you were made of hurricane, selflessness and Sky Blue blood inside your veins' [he was a Coventry fan]
and most of all 'you, you were made of something real, in a world where we all lie and cheat and steal.'

It can't have been easy to write and record, but I'm glad they did and I think their Dad would have been proud.

Paul was one of those Dads that I only met a handful of times but who nevertheless had a big impact on my own parenting. When I went to stay with Jon and Andy a couple of times when I was around the age of 16, he didn't seem that different from my own Dad: he worked hard and was therefore understandably a little tired and irritable. His generosity in taking in a confused teenager he barely knew for days on end wasn't really appreciated at the time. But after losing touch with Jon and Andy during my university years and beyond I was glad to have the chance to talk to their Dad at gigs getting on for 20 years later, to thank him for his hospitality and to see how time and retirement change you as a person and a father. He now seemed so relaxed, thrilled by his sons' music and just there for them with a smile on his face.

I'm struggling at the moment, in numerous mundane and self-absorbed ways. I just hope that when I eventually come up for air, my own kids will still be able to see through to the core of me as beautifully as Jon and Andy did with their Dad.

Paul would have been 64 last week. Jon just told me 'I can't figure out whether it seems 5 minutes or a lifetime since I saw him'. RIP.

Friday, 3 May 2013

How to talk to your kids when you think they're using drugs

I came across this article yesterday. I thought the title was a little unfortunate, as it just made me think of talking to your kids while they're using drugs, when really the only sensible approach would be 'shall I put some toast on?'

It's also perhaps rather US-centric. 'Get your child treatment'. Really? Might that be a bit of an over-reaction?

It’s key to take your child to see a qualified therapist who specializes in working with teens and young adults. When talking about professional help, don’t negotiate with your child, or take “no” for an answer, Duffy said.
Instead be brief, firm and clear, he said. Duffy gave the following example of what you might say to your child: “It is clear to us that you have been using something, and we are really concerned for your safety. As your safety is our domain as Mom and Dad, we are going to pull rank here and schedule an appointment for someone for you, and all of us, to talk to about this issue.”
Depending on the situation, you can “give [your child] options regarding therapists or treatment centers,” Kaplin said.

I'd be interested to hear the views of other Dads, but this definitely isn't the approach I would take. I like to think that if and when the time comes with my own children, I'll be able to have a calm, informed conversation. Somewhere between the extremes of dragging them to a therapist and chopping out lines on the kitchen table with them… hopefully I've been around the block enough to be clear about the pros and cons.

My own Dad wouldn't have dragged me off to therapy, but being a fan of meditation he did dismiss all recreational drugs with the claim that 'Taking drugs would be like landing on Everest in a helicopter'. With hindsight I see he meant 'cheating', but at the time I just thought 'WAHEY! That sounds COOL!'

Thursday, 2 May 2013

The fatherhood / the motherhood

You may well have seen these videos, ads for a new Fiat.

As is often the way, the 'Motherhood' one is better.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

At least I'm not a shark

Apologies for the lack of blogging activity lately, following my initial flurry. Rather predictably I've been busy being a Dad! As I may have mentioned, holding down a full time job while being as good a Dad as possible while also trying to retain some sense of self and former life – in other words drinking waaay too much and staying out past, ooh, 10 o'clock – can really take its toll.

Still, things are tougher in the animal world. Consider this piece from the fantastic science journalist Ed Yong. He points out that males have to compete for sex through a variety of elaborate rituals and cumbersome appendages, but that it doesn't end there.

In many animals, females exert a surprising amount of choice over who fathers their young. Even after sex, females can store the sperm of different partners in separate compartments and determine which ones get to fertilise her eggs.
For males, this means that sexual competition continues after sex. It’s not just about finding mates, but about ensuring that your sperm fertilises her eggs. This leads to fierce “sperm competitions” and bizarre adaptations, where males scrape away the sperm of past mates, guard or plug females so they can no longer accept partners, 'traumatically inseminate' her through her back, or even poison partners with toxic sperm to limit future sexual encounters.

But in sand tiger sharks this reaches new, cannibalistic levels… head over to the National Geographic site to find out more, but suffice to say that even if a male successfully fertilises a female's eggs he would be advised not to start bragging to all his mates about impending fatherhood just yet.

'I'm going to be a Dad! What? Oh no!'