Hugh Riminton: All Dads Want For Father's Day Is To Be Told We Haven't Stuffed It All Up

I didn’t expect a trip to the Post Office to trigger so much nausea.

There I was, standing in the queue, being assailed by advertising that was all about me -- but not directed at me.

Yep, Father’s Day is upon us.

This annual ritual seems chiefly to be an opportunity for retailers to offload all sorts of rubbish that doesn’t sell for the rest of the year.

The sign behind the Post Office attendant read: “When Dad says ‘don’t make a fuss’ he really means ‘make a fuss’.”

Beneath it was the Australia Post logo and a picture of three toy sports cars --what we used to call in my day, Matchbox cars.

Hugh with his youngest daughter. Photo: Mary Lloyd

Ponder this for a moment. No adult male of my acquaintance thinks his life will be improved by the arrival of a thumb-sized Holden Monaro painted in racing stripes.

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But an eight-year-old boy, waiting in the queue with his Mum, might like the look of it. He might badger Mum sufficiently to get the toy bought -- for Dad, of course. And somewhere in the world of widget-makers, a sale will be achieved, leading to a father on a Sunday assuring everyone it was just what he always wanted.

If the toy car doesn’t cut it, the Post Office offers alternatives -- the 'Carnivore’s Cookbook', a collapsible esky (made out of polystyrene with the staying power of papier-mâché), all-in-one barbecue tools. All directed at an advertiser’s image of the true blue, steak-burning, VB-gargling Dad.

There are apparently no actual fathers in Australia. Just cliches firing up barbecues.

I am a Dad.

I am a Dad four times over.

I love my kids. I love my wife.

Take it from me (and from every other Father out there who says “don’t make a fuss”), don’t make a fuss.

There is no material item that you could deliver to that less-fit-than-he-used-to-be male presence in your life that could add to his pleasures.

We don’t want things. We don’t really want Father’s Day.

What we really want, truth to be told, is something we will never bring ourselves to admit.

We want to believe we haven’t stuffed up everything we have ever touched.

Becoming a father happens easily enough. Growing into the role of a father is far more complex. Success is never more than partial. Just when we think we might have learned something useful about the process, the kids are up and off.

Hugh with his kids.

That’s why when you’re older, you love the idea of grandkids. You get a chance to try again. All care, no responsibility.

But on our first go-around, as fathers we imagine we are raising our children. We dispense lectures and advice. When we are in the full flow of our wisdom we can sound to our own ears quite impressive.

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But we learn, eventually, that nothing we say has the effect we intend.

We learn that we raise our children entirely by our example. And that is humbling knowledge.

No-one stays a hero to the people who know them well. No-one can be a hero to themselves.

And as children grow up during the period that their parents grow up, fatherhood coincides with that painful adult reflection on what the hell the whole business of being alive is all about.

Few of us will cure cancer. Few of us will lead our people to freedom from a foreign oppressor. Few will write songs that will still be sung in a thousand years.

The most important thing we will ever do is to love our kids in useful ways and send them into the world.

Fathers know they’re not much good at it. Kids know fathers are not much good at it. But if they’re lucky, they’ll know their dads were genuinely trying.

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So don’t buy anything for Dad this Father’s Day -- unless it’s lunch.

What your Dad wants is to see you. And get a cuddle from you. And to hug you back.

And if he’s really lucky, he’ll get a cuddle from his wife as well. And she will tell him -- “there is no-one in the world I would rather have had than you, to be the father to my kids.”

There you are.

Father’s Day.


Featured Image: Mary Lloyd