Today is Father's Day and up and down the country dads are being pampered, receive gifts and cards, as we celebrate great dads everywhere. Our house is no different, in so far that we celebrate the greatest dad I know, my lovely husband Tony.
We are truly blessed to have him. He is always willing and ready to fight the kid's corner, to go the extra mile, to step in when mum's just had enough. He is a listening ear, dad's taxi, the walking cash machine and I am told he gives the best tickles. He is the handy man, the "I know, daddy will fix it," the constant embarrassment to the teenagers and the hero to the little ones. The provider of sweets and cuddles, the perfect climbing frame and slide and broad chest for our newborns to snuggle, the carrier for tired legs and the cheerleader at football matches. The changer of nappies, the best wind up merchant, the enabler, the support and the back bone and the proudest dad there is. When we had one he was amazing and as our brood has grown and grown so has his love and patience for all of us and I don't know what we would do without him.
He would dispute all of the above, he would say he can do better and he is only doing what needs to be done, but I know and the kids know, when the chips are down, the one person you can rely on to come through in a crisis and to find a solution, is Tony.
Sure he's not perfect, he has off days, like we all do and he beats himself up about those more than any man I know, but there is a good reason for this.
You see, fathering is not easy, never more so when you aren't the product of good parenting yourself. Neither Tony nor I are!
There was a campaign on Facebook to put up a picture of your dad in honour of Father's day and all the pictures of my friend's fathers did and do make me smile, but I couldn't do that and neither would Tony. My father once was my hero, as he is for most little girls, desperate for his approval and at one point we must have been close. I am not sure when this changed exactly, but certainly by the time my father remarried when I was nine, he had lost his hero status in my eyes and it was a slippery decline from there on in.
I am sure he must have loved me in his own way, at least my gran forever assured me of this, but he had a funny way of showing it. An epileptic, he was not a well man and every fit made him that little bit more volatile. They say that every fit robs the brain of oxygen and kills off braincells and I could certainly see the decline in my father's mental capabilities the older I got. Eventually he did receive the right medication and his fits decreased considerably, but by then the damage was done. A man, given to violent outbursts of temper and easily led by others, I grew up with domestic violence a never far away sceptre. Things came to a crunch when I was a teenager. By then I had lost all respect for the man I owed my very existence to and being taller than him by then, I gave as good as I got. He never laid a finger on me or my gran after that!
I left home when I was 18, determined to make a new life for myself. Not just home, actually I left the country to go to England and I have been back to Germany only a handful of times since. My father passed away 18 years ago and I didn't even make it back to his funeral. I am not sure I even mourned him. We just didn't have that kind of a relationship and happily married to Tony by then and with two small children I was far too busy to dwell on what might have been. That may sound harsh to some, but we do what we need to to protect ourselves and he stopped being my father when I was seventeen. You know that scene in Eastenders "I'm not your mother" or was it "I am your mother!" can't quite remember what she said, but it was a bit like that. Only I was doing the screeching, being the dramatic teen that I was...
"You are not my father!"
In fact the whole thing left me so scarred that I was never going to have children of my own, ever! Why put a child through what I had been through. Not having a sibling I had no one to share the blows with either. Well I have a half brother somewhere, but as I have not seen my birth mother since my dad divorced her when I was three, that doesn't really count. My only memories of him are of a red haired toddler, who peed in my bed, broke my toys and who my mother favoured over me. To this day I do not like red haired men. It's funny really how deeply childhood traumas affect you, even when you cannot remember them fully.
I also had a deep distrust of men in general, not helped by an ex-boyfriend in Germany, who had been three years older than my own father.... Yeah I know, a psychologist would have had a field day with little old me I am sure.
However all that changed when I met Tony. Marrying him was one of the best decisions I ever made and twenty three years and almost nine children later our relationship is stronger than ever.
It has been a privilege seeing him grow as a father, especially as his childhood was even worse than mine. Whilst I can make excuses for my own father due to his illness, Tony's has no such excuse. What's more the man is still living and Father's day is an emotional time for my lovely husband, never more so than this year.
He has wreaked havoc on Tony's and subsequently our lives from the minute Tony was born several weeks premature. He grew up with the constant taunts of "I should have switched off your incubator," and "I never wanted you," not to mention the physical and verbal abuse and a mentally ill mother, which meant that Tony was basically brought up by his older sister and brother. Complicated relation ships all round, even to this day. I always say his family can't even be described as dysfunctional! At least I had the loving presence of my gran to keep me sane through my child hood years. Tony had no one but himself.
Yet still, he honoured his father, until that man did the unforgivable and we broke all contact 15 years ago. To protect the innocent I cannot say what prompted this, but it was a dark time in our family life and the repercussions can be felt even now.
So Father's Day is difficult for Tony at the best of times, but this year has hit him harder than ever. He attended a child protection day at our church yesterday, part of his ongoing training as a Sunday school teacher. Now these days are never easy. I attended a few myself when I was a childminder and your heart grieves what some people will do to innocent children.
But for my husband it brought back the demons snapping at his heels louder than ever, especially with today being Father's Day and it breaks my heart that I cannot help him more.
So this post is for my husband and all the other people out there, for whom Father's day is painful, for whatever reason. It is a day of celebration of Fatherhood and for honouring all those great dads out there, but it is also a day for reflection and grief.
A good father is a joy to behold, a bad one leaves scars that run deep indeed....