Fathers’ Day – and so i guess its the right sort of time to set down some random jottings on the subject.
How not to parent
Let’s start the ball rolling with a wonderful and powerful piece from Paris Lees in the New Statesman. Go read it for yourself. Given how negative it is in relation to her own Dad, you might think it an odd place to start: but i’d suggest otherwise.
Because by setting out what one shouldn’t have to tolerate from a parent, it sort of puts into perspective what a good parent looks like.
Next up, because the discussion reminded me of it, because i love the track and because…well, just because… a celebration from Billy Elliott of parental acceptance. Listen, if you like such stuff, with a box of tissues by your side.
Of course, in the end, i don’t know…can never know…how my parents would have reacted to my own transition. On the one hand, they were (obviously) of another generation, another age.
But they had been through much and what i knew of them suggested a pragmatic social liberalism: as in, mostly, i guess they’d have voted for the conservative candidate. But after a life of disruption (my father lost his country not once, but twice) and tolerance (he built his GP practice, patient by patient, within Birmingham’s inner city immigrant communities: my mum spent much of her life working within the combined melting pot and soap opera of that practice) i have a sneaking suspicion that they might have been more accepting than i feared.
Certainly, my father displayed a ferocity of purpose when it came to protecting his family, no matter what. A few of you will know this story: many won’t.
I remember well a certain birthday over thirty years ago: remember it because it began with a knock on my door. A policeman, whose first words, after identifying me, followed a certain awful script. “I am sorry to have to tell you…”
My brothers, it seemed, had been out the night before, and there had been a car accident. I hurried back home to devastation: my mother in shock; my father still reeling from the fact that some hours previous, he had been asked to consent to life support being turned off for one.
In the midst of awfulness, one poignant fact: he remembered it was my birthday…wished me well…and handed over a card.
I know: some will find that odd, awkward. I didn’t: because within our family, anniversaries had always been important. This was his way of saying that life went on.
Forward another decade and now it is my dad’s turn. Parkinson’s, managed for most of that time by a cocktail of drugs. Then, suddenly, flu, maybe pneumonia, followed by further complications.
There comes a point, i guess, in any illness, when you know that you cannot win. For him, that point was reached around 17 or 18 November – just three days before my birthday.
And yes: we’re a family for whom anniversaries are important; and however much we pretend to be grown up and rational, there’s always that little bit of superstition lurking.
He held on, and held and held. Why? How? I asked my mum. Because he remembers, she told me: he doesn’t want you to carry his death on your birthday as well.
In the end, he didn’t quite make it. He slipped into unconscious for the last time a little before the day: departed, like my brother, on the day of my birth.
But the fact that he tried: that i will never forget.
Last up, an idea that takes us back to the start. Just as Paris can write about poor parenting, so some of us have memories – as above – of superb parents: dads – mums, too – who stand by their children no matter what, and who deserve to be celebrated for that.
So, softly, softly, the question is asked: while some parents have walked away from trans children, others have stayed and stood by and protected.
Time, perhaps, to celebrate those: suggestions, please, for dates for such a celebration.