Who needs a tough father?
It's a tough time to be a father right now. Taking your child to the zoo or for a walk in the woods could land you on the front page of the newspaper. Whether you are a single dad, a step dad or just a standard dad, fathers everywhere are damned if they do and damned if they don't. And even if you can ignore the media, the headlines and the plethora of self-appointed experts, you can hardly ignore that other know-it-all voice of criticism - the expert in fathering that is your own child.
I know what it is like to feel a failure as a father. I put the clothes on backwards, and forget which cup they always use. I lose count of the number of children I take to the park and come back with one too few - or one too many. I once did a favour for a sick neighbour and took their dog for a walk. The extending leash caught around my son's neck and scarred him for life as I tried to juggle one dog and one boy. But being told off by the doctor or the mother, by supernanny or by supermarket trolleypushers, is nothing compared to being told off by your own child.
My ten-year-old told me off this week for singing in the street as I took her to choir practice. It was a heart-breaking moment, because I have been here before and know it marks the beginning of the end. Sometimes my teenagers if they see me in the street cross over to the other side. They tell me off for wearing the wrong clothes, asking the wrong questions, smiling the wrong way. I get told off when I have a day off for just being around, and told off when I go out to work for not being around. I get told off when I organise a trip to the cinema, and when I don't organise a trip to the cinema. I get told off when I forget to call them down when the football has started, but pity help me if I, confined to my bedroom, even sneeze when they have their friends over for the football. Thank goodness for my foster children. They are still young enough to mostly think I am cool whatever I do.
That said being a foster dad opens up a whole new field of critics. More than ever I have to watch what I say and do. Not just because I am accountable for these children to social workers, but because I care - it matters so critically the way I treat these vulnerable children. A child who has had a history of neglect cannot be accidentally left in the park for even a second. A child who knows what it is like to go hungry cannot afford to think that I may overlook them when I am offering second helpings. A child whose father is in prison needs to know that I am doing everything possible to be with them. A child who has heard a lifetime of criticisms and putdowns needs to be protected from hearing any more. A child who is defined by their place in the care system needs to feel loved and valued as a member of my family.
Even though I may often feel like a failure as a father, I also do not know of anything else in life that brings anywhere near the sense of significance and pride. No amount of criticism shot my way is going to sway me in my resolve to
be the best dad I can possibly be. I know that even my teenagers need me, so when it is tough and those around are quick to judge, I have to learn to be resilient.
This Father's Day, perhaps you would like to join me as a marked man on a mission. To accept the tough challenge of fathering those most in need of a father. To step up to meet the national shortage of foster carers and adopters. I appreciate your hesitations - there are plenty of voices that criticise us before we have even begun - making us feel that we would not bond with a child unrelated to us, that we would not cope with the complexities of a new dynamic in the family, that we may fail in our attempts to give them the care they deserve, that they may end up resenting us for our input into their lives. I can't promise that you won't receive criticism, or condescending tuts and superior headshakes. But at the end of the day nothing is gained by keeping our head below the parapet, or worse, burying them in the sand. Draw a big target on your back and take a tough stand - it is worth it just to know that at least one more child has a father-figure who is really trying.
For more information about fostering and adoption call Home for Good on 0300 001 0995