So it's Father's Day, and the Net is full of pithy sayings like this about how wonderful fathers are.
That doesn't tally with my experience. My father wasn't a bad person - he just wasn't there. He left my mum when she was pregnant and went to Australia, and I didn't get to know him until I was an adult.
In fact, the same seems to be true for not just many people, but most of the people I know. Let's start with my own family: my mum's
father left her when she was a kid and handed her over to her grandmother so he could further his political career. My ex-wife's father moved out when she was a kid. Anna's father left when she was three. Darien's
father has refused to have anything to do with him for the last thirteen years. Brenna's dad - well, the less said, the better. As I write this, we're currently baby-sitting a friend's kid whose father can't be bothered to look after his son. Most of my stepkids' friends don't live with their fathers. And my own kids have been brought up by a stepfather for the last four years. From what I can see, that ideal father who looks after his own kids is a very, very rare creature these days.
Being a father isn't about contributing some DNA and making a baby. That's just biology and genetics. It's hardly praiseworthy. Almost any living creature can do it.
Being a father is about actually doing the job of looking after kids, whether you're the biological parent, a stepfather, adoptive father, foster father, or just the guy who lives with their mum.
It's about giving up your evenings and weekends to take the kids where they want to go instead of doing what you wanted to do.
It's about going without the new gadget you wanted because the kids need clothes or school books.
It's about playing Snakes and Ladders after work instead of PlayStation.
It's about watching Barbie Sleeping Beauty or Pingu for the umpteenth time instead of sports or the movie you wanted to watch.
It's about keeping a drawer full of childish drawings, because they mean so much to you.
It's about introducing your kids to the books, movies, food and places you love, and taking it in your stride whether they love them or hate them.
It's about spending your vacation time going somewhere the whole family will enjoy, instead of taking the trip you always dreamed of.
It's about staying up all night, cleaning up the shit and the puke when they're sick, reassuring them, and then going to work the next day, exhausted.
It's about looking at the school grades, and knowing whether to respond with praise, encouragement, commiseration, or reproach.
It's about answering those awkward questions, even when they're too embarrassed to ask them.
It's about saying the right supportive things when they go through heartbreak or loss.
It's about being scared shitless when they start to branch out on their own - the first time they walk to school without you, the first time they stay over with a friend you don't know, the first time they drive off solo in your car, the first time they go to a party and you know they'll be exposed to drink or drugs - and letting them do it anyway.
And, perhaps most importantly, being a father is about teaching kids what's truly important in life, not just through the occasional fatherly talks, but by being a role model and showing them that it's important to live up to your responsibilities.
In movies, literature and popular culture, stepfathers generally get a lousy reputation. In my experience, though, it's just as common for kids these days to be brought up by stepfathers as by their biological fathers, and most stepfathers are decent guys who are doing their best to help raise someone else's child. They're the ones who are voluntarily prepared to step up and take responsibility for a child's welfare because they know it's the right thing to do, not because they're protecting and propagating their own genes.
But I see it this way: when they're grown, who are those children going to look back on as their true father? Some guy who gave them a genetic predisposition to blue eyes, male pattern baldness and Morton's Toe, and then disappeared out of their lives, or the man who gave up his own time to actually be there for them when they needed a dad?
So Happy Father's Day to all the real fathers out there, irrespective of biology.