I’m not the dad I thought I’d be

father and child s hands together Photo by Juan Pablo Serrano Arenas on Pexels.com

As it’s Father’s Day this weekend, I’ve been pondering about the kind of dad I am – and comparing myself to the father I thought I’d be.

As a child – and then as a young adult – parenting doesn’t seem like such a difficult thing to do. Observe what your parents do. Take note of the things they do well. Ensure you don’t do the stuff they do less well. Mould yourself into your vision of the perfect parent. Easy peasy. What’s all the fuss about?

And then you actually become a parent, and that all goes out of the window. You make all the mistakes you swore you’d never make. You never have time to do all the things you said you’d prioritise.

Yes, I fell into that trap. And for years, being the perfectionist that I am, I’ve beaten myself up for not being the Best Dad Ever. (Or whatever it says on those Father’s Day cards.)

What kind of dad would the kids say I am?

What would my three children say if asked to describe what kind of a dad I am? I’m really not sure.

I hope they would see some positives. A father who makes time for them and has always tried to prioritise family over work. Someone who has supported them in whatever they’ve wanted to do. A friend. A guide. Maybe even someone who occasionally inspires them.

It would be nice, wouldn’t it?

However, I know they’d also mention all the ways in which I have been less than successful. The father who is too shouty too often, who hasn’t always treated them consistently and doesn’t always set a good example for them to follow. The eternal procrastinator. (Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow?) The man who spent too many years of his life being dangerously fat and unhealthy. (Although I’ve turned that around and become a much better role model over the past few years.) The dad who routinely falls asleep on the sofa at the drop of a hat. (Guilty as charged.)

There have been too many times when I have allowed my own selfish pride and bad habits to get in the way of being a good parent. Too many bad decisions; too many harsh words; too many hasty actions I’ve later regretted.

Whatever my idealised vision of fatherhood was, I’ve fallen spectacularly short. The perfect dad? Absolutely not. A good dad? I hope they’d say yes.

A lifetime of small moments

When I look back, I realise that I set unrealistic expectations for myself. My dad wasn’t perfect; no father ever is or could be. But there have been so many things he has done for me over the years that I look back on with immense fondness.

Many of them are small moments. I suspect he’d remember very few of them himself, but they mean the world to me. Endless summer holiday nights when we would stay up and play mah jong or cards until 2am, even though he had work the following day. His endless patience taking me to the park to play cricket, or teaching me how to splice audio tape, or driving me wherever I needed to go without complaint. The time when this quiet, stoic man took me to one side just after I’d got engaged to Heather and told me with a smile, “You’ve done well, son. I’m proud of you and happy for you both.”

So many little moments that add up to a great amount over the course of a lifetime.

I hope that one day our children will look back on their formative years and, instead of seeing all the negative things I obsess about, they too will remember a thousand little positive moments. Teaching them to cook. Family quizzes and karaoke nights. My pride at their every academic and sporting achievement.

Some of these are echoes of my dad. Some are things that firmly have my imprint on them. Like many men of his generation, my dad has never been one for big outward shows of emotion, but I’ve never doubted his love for me. I’ve taken a different path. I’m still generally quiet. But I love going on walks with the boys where we can have long one-on-one chats. I’m always open for a cuddle with Kara. (At 11, I dread the day, which will come very soon, when hugging me becomes a source of embarrassment rather than comfort.) We laugh together, although they remain stubbornly immune to my dad jokes. I regularly tell them how much I love them. I hope they remember that, and not just all the times I’ve come down on them like the proverbial ton of bricks.

Good enough?

Am I the dad I hoped I’d be? No. But maybe the dad I’ve become isn’t so bad after all. I hope they grow up realising that I was never the perfect father, but that I was good enough and always had their best interests at heart, even if I had a funny way of showing it sometimes. And I hope they take enough of the things I did well to shape the parents they will one day become.

This Father’s Day, that’s all I really ask of them. A cup of tea in bed, and an acceptance that I’m doing the best I can to be a good dad.