‘As a father, you’re often a figure of fun’
I think adolescent boys have an overwhelming need to reduce their father from a figure of authority to a figure of fun. It’s part of growing up
He treated his own father with the utmost respect, so writer Tim Dowling is bemused to be the butt of his children’s jokes.
On a family holiday to Massachusetts in 1974, when I was 10, my father walked into a glass wall. He couldn’t see it was there, separating the hotel restaurant from the pool area. He fell to his knees and crawled around on the floor, blood dripping from his nose, trying to figure out what had happened to him. It was an alarming and embarrassing moment. It was also hilarious, but I didn’t laugh, and neither did my three siblings.
Fast forward to another family holiday, more than 30 years later. Flying home late at night, I am stopped at passport control and quizzed about my intended length of stay. As the border agent flips through my American passport, I realise that the stamp authorising my UK residency is in my old passport, which I forgot to bring. I apologise abjectly. The agent is severe with me, and goes off in search of a second opinion. It is an alarming and humiliating moment. I look down at my middle son, who is staring up at me with a huge grin on his face. ‘Are you going to jail?’ he says. My children love watching me get humiliated, and it didn’t take them long to figure out that they could undermine my authority themselves, simply by repeating stupid things I’ve said in what they think is an amusing approximation of my voice. I think adolescent boys have an overwhelming need to reduce their father from a figure of authority to a figure of fun. It’s part of growing up. My oldest son went through a phase of slapping me lightly on both cheeks as a greeting. The youngest had a period where he addressed me exclusively as ‘Daddy-me-laddy’. The middle one preferred the long game: he once carefully wrote ‘Dad you suck’ in big letters in the middle of a new reporter’s notebook he found in my office, knowing I would run across the message many weeks later in mid-interview.
My children are now young adults. As I negotiate the difficult transition from authoritative father to tiresome purveyor of unsolicited advice, I have come to accept that there is something inherently hilarious about my sense of humour failing me. I console myself with the thought that, someday, family history will repeat itself, and my children will produce their own mini mick-takers. When they experience the inevitable agony of going from being the creator of the joke to the butt of it, I will be laughing the hardest.