By Truis Ormsby-Martin - I always know Father’s Day is near when advertising suddenly shifts to power tools and car care kits.
Even if I never buy any of the retailers’ contrived ideas, I’m grateful their ads remind me it’s coming up.
I can never decide whether to be thankful or disappointed that my guy cares so little about Fathers’ Day. He doesn’t do any of the generic celebration days, to be honest.
I usually try to spoil him anyway, as thanks for being a genuinely great dad to our kids. Whether he likes it or not, I think his role as the father in our little nuclear family is worth some acclaim.
My ideal for observing the day involves no buying. I might prepare his favourite home-cooked dinner, line up the kids (and the furniture!) for a Nerf® gun battle through our home, or a make a date for relaxed walk together with the dog by the sea. Sometimes those plans don’t pan out, but I try.
Maybe my insistence on celebrating Fathers’ Day for hubby is actually a bit of FOMO,* after my own growing-up.
My birth-father was technically present for thankfully few of my earliest years. Mum’s second husband was an awesome step-dad, until a stroke took him from us much too young. Her third marriage was to a much younger man, who never tried to fill the role of a step-dad … and that relationship was short-lived anyway.
By that stage, I had a father-in-law, but cancer stole him away before the kids were half-grown.
I adored my maternal grandfather, but his premature doom was a heart attack.
So, counting on my fingers, I believe I’ve had a father-figure worth celebrating in my life for only around half of my years.
My big “what if…”: how different might Adult Me have been, if I’d had a more consistent father figure?
Back in the mid-70s, a single-parent family was really unusual. I was definitely the only kid in the class living with only my mum, at my mainly-white middle-class suburban primary school.
I’m sure it was even worse in the 1920s, when my great-grandmother’s husband ran away with another woman, leaving her to raise their daughter on her own – without even any support like the Domestic Purposes Benefit that Mum had.
I understand more, now, how the social standing of those two generations shaped my upbringing. Every day, we were expected to behave and perform perfectly, above any criticism. The catch-phrase for this quality standard was ‘What if the Queen were coming to dinner?’ For a diverse-brained kid like me, it was really hard. And having those expectations become so deeply ingrained has kept it just as hard throughout my life.
These days – thank goodness – women have much more freedom to end a relationship with the father of their children, or to leave the father right out of raising their child. A family with no dad in the household has become much more acceptable.
Official forms these days allow for a much wider range of family and whānau structures.
But a family life like mine – Mum, Dad, and the two-point-four kids they created together – is still the lump in the middle of the bell curve. I’m okay with that – as long as we describe the norm, not prescribe it.
The more research they do, the clearer we’re hearing the message that boys, and girls, and kids who don't fit the binary model, can all benefit from positive adult-male relationships.
Let’s also remember, some families don’t choose to have no-one to celebrate on Father’s Day. Men are much more likely than women to die young through an accident or health event, or to end up in prison. Those families ‘get me right in the feels’, as my kids say.
So, how do we balance out a kid’s need for a good adult-male connections against the need for a flexible definition of ‘family’? Fortunately, several charities have the objective of supporting kids with exactly this kind of guidance and relationship.
This Fathers’ Day, if you find yourself thinking about kids whose experience of it is a time to feel excluded or stigmatised, let down or missing out, I recommend considering a donation to these two organisations in particular.
Big Buddy helps at-risk boys with no dad-figure in their lives.
Pillars Ka Pou Whakahou helps kids with a parent (of any gender) who’s in prison.
*‘Fear of missing out’
* Photo of the author, Truis Ormsby-Martin with her step father Ron Ormsby, and his brother Kevin and family – Levin NZ, around 1982