I don't know why we ignored Father’s Day and Mother’s Day. It just happened. I suspect it was my wife’s influence. The late and legendary Mary B grew up in a large family in rural Ireland, where life was too vital and real to bother with such trivia.
- A male perspective: dealing with change and crisis
- How can isolated men get the care they need?
- How can you heal a family fracture?
I remember her one-word reaction to a TV ad promoting Father’s Day. ‘Codology,’ she said. I assumed this was an Irish expression of disapproval.
In their early years, our three daughters didn’t realise parent days were missing from their lives. Eventually it dawned on them, and they wanted to know why.
‘Every day is Mother’s Day,’ Mary B told them. ‘Oh, and Father’s Day too, I suppose.’
Mary B and I were quiet rebels. We rejected the gender roles that were still expected of couples in the 1980s. We shared the housework, cooking and parenting, although she conveniently left property maintenance to me, and when the kids were very little, she stayed home to mind them while I worked five days a week.
David with his daughter, Catherine, in 1982
I'm pleased our girls have turned into good, kind and successful women. Is it possible that our brand of parenting-on-the run actually worked? It felt like we were making it up as we went.
On the day our first daughter was born, Mary B was in labour for 14 hours. The baby was in the breach position and wouldn’t budge. We were grateful for the laughing gas on tap. Both of us.
That evening, the doctor delivered our baby by Caesarian section. A nurse brought me a little red-haired bundle wrapped in foil, and I was overwhelmed by sudden love.
A mother’s love will grow as the baby grows inside her. For the father, there is this breathtaking rush of instant and unexpected love for a little person who wasn’t there yesterday.
That sudden love was just as strong when our other two girls were born. It came with an overpowering need to protect my daughters from any hurt that may threaten them, and I still feel that way today, even though they are now adults and time has taught me that cruel reality will always usurp a father’s protective instincts. The best you can hope for, as your children suffer the wounds and scars inflicted by other children, is that they acquire resilience.
David holding his second daughter, Siobhan, in 1983
I see resilience now in my grown-up girls, but sometimes I detect sensitivities and old hurts lingering on. How did these little war wounds of life get past my guard? Are they the cracks that let the light in? Or are they evidence that as parents we buckled under the pressure of career demands, financial stress, relationship tensions, injured egos, and our children's constant hunger for love and attention?
After our kids had survived childhood, Mary B told me she wished she hadn’t been so ‘hard’ on our two oldest girls. (Our youngest has glided through life without much intervention.) I responded by saying I felt the same way. We then argued about who had been the least patient. Neither of us believed in slapping, so Mary B regretted those occasional moments of frustration when she had slapped young legs, but was I worse for the few times I had raised my voice in exasperation to levels that were frightening to young ears?
Mary B was a conflicting mix of convention and rebellion. She disagreed with the Catholic Church hierarchy on just about everything, but she enjoyed the ritual of mass. After our argument, we went to mass to cleanse our soiled parental souls. The priest’s theme was forgiveness.
‘Forgive everybody, everything,’ he said, ‘including yourself.’ It was exactly what we needed to hear.
Kids know their parents are imperfect. In most cases, excluding the shocking sustained cruelty of some wrecked parents, our children forgive us our failings.
Mary B and Siobhan, 1983
My daughters now laugh about my own ‘fails’ as a father, and I laugh with them, even at their recollections of how bad-tempered I became trying to brush their tangled morning hair while getting them ready for school.
My two oldest girls often urge me to retell an epic fatherly fail that happened when they were too young to remember. I had just come back from a week-long media trip to the Whitsundays. The deal was that Mary B would forgive my absence if I took the girls on a road trip, and therefore off her hands, the following week.
We left on a Sunday morning, me and Siobhan aged 15 months and Catherine who was three. (Our youngest girl, Mary Anne, was still six years away from being born.) On the Putty Road outside of Sydney, Catherine threw up all over her sister and the entire back seat of the car.
David, Mary B and their first daughter, Catherine in 1980
I pulled into a bush clearing and sat both girls on a log. I cleaned up Siobhan with a bottle of sparkling mineral water and a packet of baby wipes, changed her clothes and left her sitting on the log while I turned my attention to Catherine. That’s when the bull ants started biting Siobhan’s legs. And she started crying. Then they started biting Catherine, and I ended up carrying Siobhan in one arm while cleaning and changing Catherine with the other. With both of them bawling from ant bites.
The rest of the road trip continued as it started, with one minor disaster after the other, and the car smelling like a French cheese shop. On the Gold Coast, I made the mistake of taking them into the motel restaurant for dinner. Siobhan plastered my arm with sliced zucchini while Catherine wandered among the other diners greeting the men with ‘hello man’ and the women with ‘hello lady’, and then inviting them to rate their meal. The waitress asked if we would like dessert delivered to our room.
David with his daughters and Mary B in 2008
I was all patience that night, or maybe I just gave up. I phoned Mary B and admitted defeat. It didn’t help to hear her whoops of laughter. The next day I drove to Coffs Harbour and handed the little horrors darlings over to my sister to give myself a few days’ respite.
On Father’s Day this year, my daughters will phone their love through to me from wherever they may be. There is a lot of it, and I can feel it. With the passing of their mum, a new depth and warmth has grown between us all, a defensive wall of love. To them, the day after Father’s Day will also be father’s day. And every day after that.
I guess we did something right.
What are your memories of Father’s Day and those special men in your life? Let us know in the comments section below.