My father died when I was twenty. I was still a child really, having had a privileged existence up until then, protected by my middle-class status, my education and my loving parents. He died suddenly and tragically. It literally turned my family upside down and changed it’s dynamic forever. He died so suddenly in fact, three of his four children were out of the country and were not by his side when it happened. I’ll never know if it was a good or bad thing that I wasn’t there. It doesn’t matter really.
My father was an incredible man. I know everyone says things like that about deceased family members, but he really was.
He was thoughtful in the philosophical sense, gentle, so kind, empathetic, sensitive and a natural baby whisperer. All children were mad about him. I remember on several occasions being out and about with him and strangers’ babies would reach out to him to be picked up when he smiled or said hi.
We loved him deeply, as he loved us. He was a man ahead of his time in that he was passionate about parenting and the fundamental role of both parents in their children’s lives. He was the primary caregiver in our home. He did have a full time job and we had a childminder, but the nature of his work meant that he could be flexible in his working hours and more available to us.
He prided himself on his childrearing philosophy which in fairness would have been quite radical, comparatively speaking. It was unusual when we were growing up for mothers to work full time never mind have their fathers prepare all their meals, do all the housework and groceries and be the first port of call when your little world was rocked by whatever daily catastrophe was taking place at the time. We were rarely disciplined, never punished and I remember few rules except that 9pm was bedtime, no exceptions!
Dad died before my current life existed. My husband has never met him. I was still in college so he never met “grown up” me. And of course he’ll never be a part of my son’s life. It’s such a terrible tragedy really because if there was one person who deserved to enjoy his grandchildren, it was my father and in turn my children deserve to have this wonderful man in their lives.
I look at Baby S and I don’t see my Dad. I’m sure that sounds strange that I would look for my father in my son’s face but I have often heard people say that they see a dead parent in their new child, in an almost reincarnational sense.
He’s not there. But I’m glad. My son is his own person who deserves to live in the full brightness of his own unique light and not in the heavy, expectant spectre of someone whose loss is much lamented.
I was moved to write this post following a recent conversation with some old friends of my parents who were watching Baby S very adeptly use my iPhone. Trish started to recall how she would often scold my father for letting us watch so much television but he would laugh and say that adults were always afraid of the new rather than embracing change as we moved into the future. Just because they as children didn’t have television to watch didn’t mean it was a bad thing that should be withheld for withholding’s sake. The next generation will learn how to manage their own world and navigate it best for them. When Trish finished her story she said “and you know, he was right. It doesn’t seem to have had a bad effect on you.”
I had never heard this story before and it particularly resonated with me as a new mother. I have often felt judging eyes watching when I’ve given my phone to Baby S to play with when he looks for it. I’ve also questioned myself whether it would be bad for him especially as I make a point of not watching TV with him just yet, although my husband does. But you know what, he leaves the iPhone aside and moves on to something else when he’s bored with it. He’s going to grow up in a world where IT skills are not something for your CV but an integral part of life so maybe I’m facilitating his development, just like I do to help him talk, walk and develop social skills. Maybe my Dad is right. In fact, he probably is.
I miss him very much. I wish he was here to help me and to enrich my children’s lives. But life’s not like that unfortunately. I’m hopeful though that the great job he did raising me has influenced my own parenting style and Baby S will reap the benefits of that. I have observed that some things I have done subconsciously or have come naturally to me seem to have come directly from the Book of Dad – maybe nature and nurture are working together to do good. 🙂