We all know about the lack of equality for fathers under the law, but the real problem for fathers today isn't their legal status but what it means to be a father.
"Be quiet!" my 14-year-old daughter snaps at me as I walk into the kiddies' den. "I'm watching Pretty Little Liars."
"The two words you must never use to a father," I jest."'Be quiet'!"
"So, shut up, then!" she says.
My father would have flipped had I had used language like that to him. He was of the old school. Respect and authority were all-important. Today, things are different. People say what they feel.
Of course, I loved my father. He used to play with us when we were young. "Shssh! Dummy's Meeting begins at half past eight!" he used to say, our faces in a frozen still as he scrolled his nicotine-stained hands and faces up and down before us, prompting us one by one to smile, giggle, then exit from the game. I was his shadow. I followed him everywhere, curling up like a faithful dog at his feet under the Credit Union counter, where he worked as a volunteer, sitting in on his trigonometry class in the College of Technology, where he taught, eagerly awaiting break-time and the Wagon Wheel, teacher's pet. My hand in his, he would whistle his way home.
But then one day he let go of my hand. Our relationship ended. I became a teenager. We were no longer close. I came to hate him: I wanted more from our relationship. I longed for times past, but that wasn't to be. He wanted respect; I wanted intimacy.
I refused to call him Dad. I broke his heart. We fought.
Then I heard that he was dying. He had been ill for some weeks when my wife gave birth to our youngest daughter and, finally freed from my duty of care to my family, I rushed to his hospital bedside, newborn in tow.
"I won't ever know this baby," he said, taking my daughter's hand in his. "I won't see her grow up, and she will never know me."
My chest heaved and I finally let go of my anger.
"She will know you," I said. "So long as I am alive, she will know you because I have got so much of you inside. I have your extrovert side, your compassion for people in need, your reflective side, your fun side, I even love dancing like you."
My mother looked across at me from the other side of the bed, askance, probably wondering why the sudden epiphany after all these years. "I don't know what I got from her," I said, joking. She managed a smirk.
"You are a great son," my father said, "but we still have things to talk about."
That, of course, was the last thing I wanted to hear. The past could look after itself, as far as I was concerned. The future was our problem - and we didn't have much of that left.
Three days later he died. We never had our chat, thankfully. Two hours before he passed away, I placed my baby's head against his and put her hand in his. "Can you smell her?" I said. His eyes were shut. He hadn't spoken for two days. "She is warm like you," I said. "Every nerve in her body is twitching all over like yours - her eyelids, her fingers, her feet, her mouth. We all go out the way we come in," I said.
He said nothing.
"Rub my palm, if you can hear me," I pleaded.
He thumbed my hand.
My face lit up.
"See the smile you bring to my face even now," I said. "I don't want to let you go!"
I garlanded him with kisses, beginning with his cheek, going up over his forehead, and down along his other cheek. He must have felt that all his Christmases had come in one - either that or that he had died already.
And what have I learned from this journey? That fatherhood is about connection. It's about relationship. It's about a long-term commitment. It's about communication, being vulnerable, being honest, being open, being real, being close and listening. It's also about care, which men have traditionally laid at the door of women.
Of course, I fall flat on my face 40,000 times a day as a stay-at-home dad to three daughters, but, then, my daughters are always there to tell me to 'take a chill-pill', 'chillaxe' or 'man up'.
Sometimes they even tell me to shut up.
I'd rather that than years of silence.
Happy Father's Day to all you fathers out there!Suggest a correction