what makes a dad?

My mum and dad with The Girl on her birthday last year

As I mentioned yesterday and last year, unfortunately Fortitude is no more, and so my front-page winning article on my dad has disappeared.  I have managed to find it on my work PC though – and so this is what I wrote on 18th June 2010.

On Sunday (20th June), it is Father’s Day in the UK.

Father’s Day is one of those odd occasions, as men are generally really hard to choose gifts for – and especially my dad when he tends to say “Well, there’s nothing I really want – I’ve got everything I need.  Just a card would be nice.”  His birthday was only at the end of last month and he got a bottle of posh gin (and I even got some tonic to go with it) and a massive slab of Cadbury’s Whole Nut.  Hardly inspiring – but my dad seemed very happy!

I say ‘my dad’, and I suppose genetically this isn’t true.  He is my stepfather.  My mum married him when I was 6 years old.  But if anyone asks me about my dad, that’s who I think of.

What makes a dad?

I didn’t really get on with my dad when I was younger, we used to clash over everything, and I thought that was because he didn’t see himself as my dad because (by blood) he wasn’t.

As I got older, I think I finally worked out why we had such a difficult relationship.  My dad loves my mum to pieces.  She’s everything he’s ever wanted in his life, and I think that when I was a child, he saw me as a threat.  I was her ‘first love’ and if there was ever a reason to choose between us, I would win.  He told me that when I was about 16 and we’d had a huge argument and I’d (unconvincingly) threatened to leave home.  That’s when I saw him in a new light.

When I thought back over my childhood, he was the one who was always there.  My mum had a normal 9-5 office job but my dad’s was more flexible, and it was always my dad who picked me up from school when I was younger, took me to the doctors, picked me up from friends’ houses, stayed home when I was ill, looked after me during school holidays and basically had to put up with the crap of having a precocious girl.

It was my dad who sat watching Thomas the Tank Engine all day when I was off sick once (and we’d just got a Betamax video player – great move there Dad!) It was my dad who went round to have a go at David Mason when he pushed me off my bike.  It was my dad who taught me how to dive.  It was my dad who showed me how to use all the different types of fire-extinguishers out in our large garden one night.  It was my dad who drove me all round London one week when I was 16 as I had 5 job interviews and was so ill I couldn’t face getting on the Tube.  It was my dad who taught me to ride a bike (which I eventually rode into the back of a milk-float!).  And it was my dad who gave me away when I got married.

It is my dad whose surname I chose to have when I turned 18 and could change it by deed poll.  I STILL proudly bear his surname.  Why?  Didn’t you just read the last paragraph?

They are the qualities that make a father.  Being there.  Caring.  Loving.  And funnily enough, although I didn’t leave home when I threatened at 16, it was only a year later that I did so, and it was the best move for all of us.

The moment I moved out, my dad couldn’t do enough for me.  He will happily run around after me even after all this time.  He’ll sort my car out for me (because I’m just a girl and can’t be expected to understand these things).  We have our in-jokes that my mum just doesn’t get.  He’ll buy me little presents or hand me some money to spend on ‘frivolity’.  He’ll ask my opinion on stuff and he’ll generally just be daddy.

So my childhood relationship with my dad wasn’t the easiest, but he was always there for me.  This is more than can be said for my ‘real’ father.  I used to see him about twice a year and he would always lavish me with expensive gifts, which as a child is great but as you get older, you realise it’s based in guilt.

He’s not a bad bloke, and if he wasn’t my father I’d probably get on better with him, as I would have no expectations.  He doesn’t know anything about me, he doesn’t really try to.  I haven’t seen him for 4 years now, and I haven’t spoken to him for 6 months.  And that’s not unusual.  He’s like a distant uncle who I occasionally think about with a certain amount of fondness – but he is no way a parent.

I know who my dad is, and I love him, pure and simple.

When my daughter was born, and he held her for the first time he said to me “I’m sorry things were sometimes difficult between us when you were little.” And that is probably the most emotionally moving thing that anyone has said to me ever.

Happy Father’s Day Daddy.  I am lucky to have you.


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