‘As a fa­ther, you’re of­ten a fig­ure of fun’

Good Housekeeping (UK) - - Real Lives -

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.

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