“Daddy” is what my daughter, now grown up into a fabulous young woman, calls me.
However, long ago, when I was her full-time stay-at-home parent and our newly created family then lived in rural England, she often called me “Bob”. Sometimes as an alternative to “Daddy”, sometimes exclusively, in phases during that period of her life from when she learned to talk until after she started at our village school at the age of five.
That always made perfect sense to me. “Bob” is what my wife and everybody else called me all the time and the little girl who spent so much of her time in my company was very aware of everything that went on around her.
Within a year of my daughter starting school, though, I was only ever “Daddy”. That’s okay. To me, it’s only what she calls me.
My now almost 10-year old son Patrick – who, as it happens, recently announced that he wants to be called “Pat” – had a very different early childhood from the one his sister enjoyed. He was born during the five years we were living in London prior to emigrating to Australia for the second time. It was an expensive place to be and both his parents went out to work. During the first two and a half years of my son’s life, until I quit my job, the only meaningful time I spent with him was on Sundays.
They were the ‘missing’ years of my relationship with my son.
I’ve more than made up for them since, I’m pleased to say – in fact, we currently spend most of every day of the week together. But it was an experience that gives me at least some miniscule understanding of what life might be like for fathers who have known nothing other than to hardly ever or even never spend any meaningful time with their children (and I discovered as a ‘side effect’ of the experience a feeling of great compassion for my own father, then dead for many years and with whom I’d never had a relationship of any depth, who, rightly or wrongly, virtually never saw his three sons again after my parents separated when I was eight years old).
My son Pat has never called me anything else but “Bob”. Not ever.
I was curious once. We were still in the days of getting to know each other (years, as it turned out) and I was thinking back to his babyhood when I was hardly ever there. So I asked him straight out, “You do know I’m your dad, don’t you?”
“Yes, of course,” he said.
‘But you call me Bob, not Dad.”
“That’s because it’s your name.”
Yes. It is. There’s no argument from me about that.
And, to be honest, I’m secretly happy to NOT have my name confused with my ‘job description’. Well, not so secretly now, of course.
You see, as far as I’m concerned, words such as ‘Dad’ and ‘Daddy’ – and ‘Father’ and ‘Papa’ and the like – though they may be of special significance to those of us who are of the male procreational persuasion (men who have children, that is), outside of their usefulness in establishing relationships for legal and other, social, reasons, they’re nothing more than nominalisations. Words that have no meaning apart from the meaning we assign to them in our imaginations.
Those words are not our names. They’re not who we are. Even our names are not who we really are.
Since I became a parent twenty years ago, I’ve always felt perfectly free to evolve and express my own personal – maybe even unique – sense of ‘fatherhood’ without deference to any other opinion on this planet that ‘fatherhood’ or ‘being a dad’ should mean one thing and not another. I get to decide, I decided.
Is that ‘fatherhood’? I think of it as simply being me, being human, with people I love.
Perhaps that explains why I don’t have a clue when Father’s Day is.