Sons and fathers

I am putting the story below up partly because I too am one of those awful old-fashioned Anglo-Saxon types who do not express feelings of affection easily. Whole generations of Anglo-Saxons have lived like that and it is not good. Fortunately, I did pay a visit to my own father six months before he died and did so to tell him that I appreciated him. And I did. So there is some faint hope for me I suppose. My son is a better man than I am in that regard as he generally signs his emails to me with "Love". Maybe there is a generational improvement going on

When did you last have a good old yarn with the man who made you? More importantly, when did you last tell him that you love him? Have you ever summoned up the courage to tell him that?

I love my dad but I’m not especially close to him these days – neither geographically nor emotionally. This makes me quite sad when I think about it, so I try not to. We live 17,000 kilometres apart and we speak just a few times a year – my bad on both counts, I’m ashamed to admit.

I feel guilty. And it was partly guilt that compelled me to fly around the world for his 70th birthday celebrations last month. (Well, that and the fact that I was best man at a mate’s wedding the week afterwards.)

Mum asked me to say a few words after the dinner she had organised for Dad. I am often asked to give speeches these days; I guess it has become my party trick. But this one was different. This one was difficult. How do you say in front of 100 people what you haven’t ever found the words to tell a person face to face? How do you convey genuine gratitude rather than clich├ęd platitudes?

Blokes being blokes, we tend not to be very good at having man-to-man heart-to-hearts. Fathers and sons can go years, sometimes lifetimes, without
discussing anything deeper than the footy. And then, when it’s all too late, we can go years, sometimes the rest of our lives, regretting our silence.

So here I was with an opportunity to give a living eulogy, to tell my dad all the things I’d never told him. I didn’t give a very eloquent speech. The lump in my throat made it difficult to get my words out. But it was honest and it was an honour.

Emotion. I get that from my dad. If I were any more sensitive I’d come out in a rash. Thank goodness metrosexuality reared its neatly coiffed head when it did because now a man’s willingness to have a good cry is considered a strength instead of a weakness.

My dad taught me how to be a man not by instilling a sense of alpha male machismo and forceful dominance, but simply by embodying what it is to be a good bloke. A real man is defined by what is in his head and his heart rather than in his pants or his wallet. My father has never told me how to live — he’s showed me. He doesn’t preach; he practises.

Which is ironic, given that he does, in fact, preach for a living. He is a vicar. Setting an example is more effective than dictating one. It is easier for a father to have a son than for a son to have a real father. Although he is four inches shorter than me, my dad is someone I will always look up to.

When I got married, Dad conducted the ceremony. My bride was weirded out by this. I could understand that but I wouldn’t have it any other way. My parents are the Pictionary definition of fidelity. They’ve been married for 44 years, stuck with each other through thin and thinner, and it’s made them stronger.

One of the most important things a father can do for his son is to show him how much he loves the boy’s mother. My dad has certainly done that. I plan to do the same when the time comes. Because family is everything – even when a prodigal son like me decides to move to the other side of the world.

In some respects, my old man was the original new man. He could cook before it was fashionable — or even socially acceptable — for men to possess any culinary skills more advanced than being able to microwave a meat pie. As kids, we always looked forward to Tuesday nights when Dad made dinner. But then he’d get in trouble with Mum for using all the ingredients she had bought to last for the rest of the week.

Mum was always the one who told us off when we were young, but Dad was the more influential disciplinarian. He rarely raised his voice, which meant it had all the more power when he did. His was a quiet authority — he kept us in check with a look rather than the back of his hand.

Now more than ever he seems to read the timbre of any situation perfectly, knowing when and how to step in and when to just leave things be. That’s the wisdom of a lifetime of experience and observation.

In other respects my old man is old school. He uses the antiquated vernacular of a bygone era and I have never heard him swear. He writes long letters with a fountain pen. He wears a shirt and tie every day, even though he’s been semi-retired for five years. He’s a man of routine. He believes there’s a right way to do everything. There is nothing remotely slovenly about him.

Telstra ran an effective advertising campaign recently that plucked at the heartstrings: “Time to call your mum.” It resonated especially with me. Because I’m so self-absorbed, I rarely find the time to call my parents. That’s why I had to go back for Dad’s birthday. I didn’t just need to tell him that I love him; I needed to show him how much. And I feel better for doing it, like I’ve removed that distance that I had allowed to build up by not returning his beautifully written letters and increasingly plaintive voicemails. And the gnawing sense of ever-present guilt has subsided too.

But less about me, more about you. How’s your relationship with your old man? When was the last deep-and-meaningful you had with him? I say it’s time to call your dad. Tell him what you’ve always wanted to tell him but have never quite found the time, or the words, or the opportunity to say. Tell him you love him.

It doesn’t matter if you talk to him once a day or once a year: do it today. You’ll be glad you did.


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