There’s a day for everything now, isn’t there? There are days commemorating Garfield the Cat, Daniel Boone, Picnics, and Sushi, as well as the more well-known options such as grandparents, mums, and dads.
For the past three years, I’ve celebrated Father’s Day as a father as well as someone with a father of my own. In many ways, of course, it doesn’t affect our Sunday very much, but Bryan usually gets me a present (bless him), and my parents report that he is always very definite about what he wants to get me (they help him out with the planning side, of course). I never demand or expect a present from my son, as the privilege of being a dad is its own reward, and I say that entirely without irony.
In my 20s, I was absolutely resolute that I didn’t want to be a father; taking on that level of responsibility was not for me, and I was confident that I would never change my mind. Fast forward to my mid-thirties and I had, indeed, changed my mind; I can’t tell you entirely why that happened, but it did; I wanted to give a child the love and warm embrace of a family that he or she deserved. I wasn’t looking to replace a void in my heart or correct some great injustice in my own childhood – I wasn’t locked in a cupboard, called “it”, or forced into indentured slavery at the age of five (although my parents may well have considered it occasionally when I reached my teenage years). I just wanted to give a home and my love to a child.
Regular readers may remember that Bryan came home just after his eighth birthday, and he was this amazing human being who, when he walked through the front door, immediately went looking for his bedroom to check it out. I remember the moment his foster carers left for the evening; he and I just stared at each other as if to say, “Well, what now?” And then we found out, just by taking one step in front of the other.
There have been times when I have doubted my abilities as a dad; at the start of the dreaded lockdowns, I worried how I would manage home educating Bryan whilst also managing my workload … and we managed it. I worried about being a good enough parent given that there was just one of me … and we managed that too. I’ve made mistakes along the way, and I like to think that I’ve learnt from them. Bryan is a kind, forgiving soul who, if he ever remembers my mistakes, sees fit to never mention them, so I’m certainly thankful for that.
The last three years have been a huge arc in our lives; he’s gone from a small eight-year-old boy who followed me everywhere to an eleven-year-old boy who is just eager for as much independence as he is allowed (and my view of how much he is allowed and his view don’t always align).
We had popped into Broadstairs the other day, and he was walking slightly ahead of me, singing away cheerfully and (I could see) trying to work out a route he could take that was subtly different to me that would give him some of his cherished independence. I’m helping him with the little victories – ordering something in a shop, buying the tickets on the bus, crossing the road without me (although I watch avidly in the background) – so that the big victories don’t come as such a shock when they arrive. He also doesn’t let me give him as many hugs in public anymore, and he is more confident in answering back … that’s only going to get worse, I suspect; I’ve encouraged him to speak his mind, as he used to just agree with everything I said, so I suppose I am at least partly to blame for that one.
I became a father at the tender age of 37, although my son was born when I was 29. I wish – I wish – that I had known Bryan from those first years, but I can’t change the past. I understand that on a logical basis, but I can’t deny the tiniest frisson of sadness either. Thankfully, he has embraced me as his father, just as I have embraced him as my son, and I am so thankful to this boy for being so blooming awesome.