How to be a dad…..when you don’t know what a dad does

I didn’t have a dad. Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not Jesus Christ and I am sure as heck that my mother was not along the same vein as Mary in producing me through some crazy immaculate conception.  I just didn’t have a father in my life (well, not one that was mine).

My parents separated when I was very young.  I have no memory of living with him as a toddler, often thinking I was adopted (as I don’t look like my mother at all), but all hopes of this were dashed aside when I met (yes, met my father).  I remember seeing him and thinking, “nope, don’t look like him at all, maybe I am adopted”….then he smiled.  All doubts were removed as him and I (and now my son) pretty much share the same smile.

But to my point, me growing up without a constant father figure in my life.  So I have noooooo idea what to do as a father.  I have joked that my parenting is 50% made up, 40% winging it, 20% doing what my wife tells me and 20% bad maths.  I’ve been absolutely clueless with what to do and generally just throw to extremes when it comes to my decision making process – spilt milkshake? You can never have milkshake ever again for the rest of your life. Catch a cold? overdressing is the way to go. Overheating from too many items of clothing? strip down to almost nothing.  Without any reference points, I struggled to find balance.  It doesn’t help that I have had no real guidance in how to deal with my emotions so I often got angry at my kids for the silliest reasons and dealt with them in the completely wrong manner.

Yelling and screaming

It doesn’t work.  It didn’t really work when my mother yelled and screamed at me (whenever I misbehaved, she didn’t just yell at me constantly) and it doesn’t work for me with my kids…but it’s what I fell back to when I got frustrated.

Swearing?  Like a goddamned trooper.  I’d make a 1940’s sailor blush with some of the words that exit my mouth….is it appropriate around the young folk?  Shit no.  Do I think about it at the time? Even shitter no.  Do I think about it after the fact? Yes….with regret, sadness and thoughts of never doing it again. Does it stop me from doing it again? Shit no…..but less so.  My vocabulary, while a bit on the colourful side, is improving daily and hopefully, starting to lean in a direction where it lends positively to my children’s linguistic verbosity.

Give and give a little more

I like to provide.  Not that I didn’t have things growing up, I was provided for well within the meagre means my mother had at her disposal, I just wish I had more positive experiences. Things that created memories.  Some of my favourite memories have been etched in my brain as experiences;

My Aunty and Uncle deciding, on a whim, to go for a drive to get a pie….3 hours away in Auckland from (at the time) the only George Pie restaurant we had access to) or driving to spend a day somewhere under the guise of “getting icecream”.  I was once asked to house-sit for them while they went on a trip to the South Island and the day they left, I found myself bundled into the car to accompany them.

My best friend growing up had great parents, a caring mum (she spent an evening making sausage rolls and party pies for a party that was held after our school ball/formal/prom) and jokester/thrillseeking father – I recall going on a holiday to Whangamata where my friends father rode his motorcycle and we took the car and I’m sure he just liked overtaking us at breakneck speed every opportunity he had.

These examples though were what I liked the most of parents and what I wished for constantly as a child.  I now incorporate this where I can – we have had family trips where we take turns deciding which direction we take at the next intersection, each taking turns to choose the music playing in our trips, We encourage (when I say we, I mean I) silliness as much as possible – if in public even better e.g. skipping through Woolworths, waltzing in Westfield, trying to convince my son to ride his scooter through Harvey Norman.

With no father to guide me, I’ve had to take inspiration where I can. An uncle here, a best friend’s  father there, a father-in-law you could only wish for, a wife with great support and direction. Either way, it’s a constant learning process, but I can guarantee that this is a course that I’m trying my hardest to pass. 

Sure, we make mistakes as parents, but when we are getting things right, we are absolutely smashing it.


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