Marlborough Express - The Saturday Express, Marlborough

Lessons from my four fathers

- Virginia Fallon

OPINION: ‘‘Happy Father’s Day, mum,’’ I said on Sunday, just like I do every year.

We don’t do presents, and it was her turn to shout the coffee, so the acknowledg­ement was just that: a bit of recognitio­n for doing it on her own.

That’s something she’s done almost from the get-go. My father’s death left her with a toddler and an infant who grew up giving the Father’s Day cards we made at kindy to her dad. Pa would also stand in for father’s events at school, but mostly it was just her, going it alone.

This column was going to be about women doing the same thing. I’ve been itching to write about Father’s Day for years, spinning the occasion into a bitter rant about useless men who don’t have dying as an excuse to be absent from their children’s lives.

I’m surrounded by people whose fathers don’t have that hall pass, making the first Sunday of September a painful one. ‘‘Show Dad you love him,’’ says the advertisin­g, which smarts when he’s spent your whole life not returning the sentiment.

Anyway, that was my plan but this Sunday I spent time with four proper fathers and I’d like to tell you a bit about them.

First is the new father who hovers, exhausted, over his baby’s determined efforts to crawl everywhere; eat anything; touch everything. I’ve long learnt to shut up with the advice because he’s doing it on his own and everything is fine.

This father does the night feeds, the Plunket visits and the arsenic hour between 5pm and 6pm when all babies are awful. This baby is rarely awful but when he is, his dad never complains.

Every night they chase each other around the house – the baby in a walker, laughing maniacally –before quiet time falls. They read three books, say goodnight to every one of the stuffed animals, then the lights are dimmed and lullabies are sung. The songs are often made up to include the baby’s name and how much he’s loved by us. His father loves him most of all.

When the baby sleeps, so does my hero, and in the morning starts again.

Next is the father I’m not allowed to write about, but if I was it’d be something soppy; something about being given a second chance to be part of a family with a real dad. That’s as much as I’m risking.

Then there’s the father of more than 50 children, some of whom are now adults and who crowded into his house on Sunday for a noisy celebratio­n. They were fostered in that house as newborns, toddlers or teenagers; some stayed for months; some for years; others never left.

‘‘All you can do is love them,’’ their dad said to me in the lounge, ‘‘that’s all they ask.’’

Finally, at the end of Sunday, there was the about-to-be father, the one who’s spent the past eight months knowing exactly what stage his unborn baby is at and sharing it with everyone.

This father has suddenly started growing vegetables for his family; a young man terrified about the impending birth not because of the gore but in case something goes wrong. That terror is part of being a parent, I tell him.

And although he’s spent his whole life being let down by his father, he can’t help hoping this time might be different; there’s a baby on her way after all.

When I tell him I’m sorry; that I know it hurts, he shrugs his shoulders.

‘‘Happy Father’s Day, mum,’’ he said to me on Sunday, as he does every year.

 ?? ?? The first Sunday of September is a painful one for people msssing their dads, writes Virginia Fallon.
The first Sunday of September is a painful one for people msssing their dads, writes Virginia Fallon.
 ?? ?? Opinion

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