Sunday is Father's Day. To be honest, I do not really remember it causing much of a ripple in our household when I was growing up. Consequently, my Dad only started to get the obligatory beer drinking/golfing/fishing/handyman/footballing* (*delete as applicable) card when the card marketeers upped the Father's Day ante.
It is only fair though, that Fathers have a day. After all, Mothers have one, enshrined as it is in the Lenten calendar (unless you are in the US); even every dog has theirs- so why not Dads?
Being a proud parent of three, now somewhat grown up boys, the Father's Day ritual was, initially, to ensure that they were prompted by their Mother; then, when they were old enough, to actually do something about it themselves. This worked pretty successfully until- and this is a big "until", I had to reveal, a couple of years ago, that I could no longer continue to be the outward physical manifestation of their Dad- the rugby-playing, beer drinking Dad for whom the cards were perfectly designed. Instead, I had to finally admit that I had, at least internally, and years of denial, always been a woman, and now would live the rest of my life as one.
Nothing prepares children for this. I tried. I had great support from my wonderful wife. They have been brave, they have been stoic and, most of all, they have been hugely respectful of the changes I have had to make.
Things have undoubtedly changed though, and, even allowing for the fact that they are all, to a greater or lesser degree, in that phase where parents are, at best, a resource, I do not see them nearly as often as I did. I try to tell myself that it would have been exactly the same had things not changed; but I have to face the stark reality that the relationship is inevitably and inexorably different. Of course it is! What do they call me? Well, I have always said that they should call me what they feel most comfortable with- and that has generally, still, been "Dad". I have no problem with that- unless it is across a crowded pub bar, as it once was, with my eldest (we just about got away with that).
I am waiting for that inevitable stage where sons start referring to their Fathers by their first name, in somewhat disparaging tones. I witnessed that with my Grandfather and uncles many years ago. In my case though, that would be a little different and, who knows, maybe not so disparaging when it happens.
Fact is, they still do not know. Furthermore, days like Sunday bring that whole dilemma sharply into focus. The greeting card industry is ever resourceful to take into account societal changes. There are "you are just like a Father to me" cards, for example. The Transgendered Dad one seems though, for the moment, to have defeated them. I can only hope that it remains the case. For me, although Father's Day is a tearful reminder of the pain I caused them, it is still a day of joyful reflection.
As parents, we should not demand tokens of affection from our children. Instead, we should use days like Sunday to reflect on the wonderful times we had in bringing them up- the laughs, the tears, the grazed knees, the bruised egos, the rugby and football triumphs and disasters. In my case, at least, my life changes have taught me the value, both of treasured memories and, I sincerely hope, of creating new ones.
Someone, rather cruelly, once told me that it was as if their Dad "had died". I understand the point; but the simple truth is that, far from dying, I am reborn, still me- and still able to love and support them as I always have, whatever I am called. Surely, that still qualifies me as a parent? Even so, people have called me selfish and many other things, since I had to face my stark reality.
Therefore, I do not want any pre-printed platitudes. The only thing I want, on Sunday, or indeed any other day, is to know that they love me, for who I am now, and who I have always been- the proudest parent in the world.