Saturday, June 16, 2007

Holding out for a Hero

Look it's Super Dad...
Whose Dad is it?
Wow it's mine...

Thus went the legend of no 3's Father's Day card last year.

Given that Spouse has brainwashed them with comic book heroes since they were tiny, it's no wonder that that's how they view him.

My dad was equally keen on comic book heroes, and maybe that's how we all view our dads when we're young - a cross between Superman and Dr Who. We know he'll always be there for us. The hero in our home.

Some time when I was probably around 13, I stopped looking at my parents through the starry eyes of a child, and fixed them instead with the coldly unforgiving stare of a teenager. (No 1 is beginning to eye us up in similar fashion - oh dear.) Though I never stopped loving him, I began to realise my hero had feet of clay.

Angry Bear
Yet Gentle Lamb.
Schizophrenic Dad.

Was how I summed it up in a haiku poem I had to write at school.

My father had an unpredictable temper, and his mood swings were swift and sudden. When in a good mood, he was the life and soul of the party, but there was always a tension - would I do something to set off that rage?

Actually. I didn't, or not very often. I hated confrontation, so I always took the no response, head down, don't argue back approach. Not so Mad Twin. But that's her story, not mine.

But during my teens, I can remember being very critical of him. Particularly when he vented his anger on my mother. It seemed so unfair, generally. And I used to get cross with her for just apparently taking it. It wasn't until I got married myself, that I understood their dynamic better. She was used to his storms, and would just let them blow over. Nine times out of ten he was terribly apologetic. And on the tenth time she would keep up silent pressure until he eventually capitulated. I thought back then, that he always got his own way. Now I think it was probably the other way round.

For women, our first experience of loving a man is our father. Depending on the kind of man he is, we get a template to either reject or embrace for life.

At nineteen, when I left home, I was quite deliberately rejecting my father's template. I didn't want to be with someone as unpredictable and angry as he was. Within weeks of leaving I had (did I but know it then) encountered the hero who would take me away from all that (I am not going to go into that here,though, as I know he wouldn't like it).

When it came to the choice, I thought I was making a very different one. And in many ways I have. Spouse isn't particularly literary, though he likes books; he's into cars, my father wasn't; and most importantly, he's very even tempered.


My childhood memories are peppered with pictures of my father taking care of me. If I had a sore throat, he made the best hot toddies with honey lemon and brandy. Once, I remember coming home soaking and frozen having walked three miles in the snow, and he was waiting with hot soup and sandwiches. He did looking after incredibly well.

He always stood up for me if he thought someone had treated me unfairly. I can remember once how outraged he was that I only got a B+ for a story I'd written instead, of the mark he would have given it (A-). My teacher had marked me down for my bad handwriting. I didn't mind. But he did.

Another time I clashed very badly with a thoroughly useless and nasty Maths teacher. He was threatening to put me in the CSE class. I wasn't that good at maths, but probably not that bad either. I had to beg Father not to go into school all guns blazing. NO teacher was going to behave like that to a daughter of his. I was of course, mortified, at the time, but I look back now in grateful awe. It's quite something to inspire that righteous anger, I can tell you.

And though he could be immensely dense about the way the mind of a teenage girl worked, wondering why we dissolved into floods when he innocently inquired about the spot we'd been trying to cover up, he was just fantastic when the chips were down. The first time I ever got ditched, I walked home and obeying my mother's strictures that I wasn't to be melodramatic (and god forbid, cry), I kept my lip firmly stiff and up, until my father asked if I was allright. My hurt pride took solace in his open arms, as my father told me firmly that it was my boyfriend's loss.

Several years after I was married, I had one summer where I was taken very ill. I felt low and miserable, and went to speak to my mother on the phone. Father usually took the, you want to talk to your mother approach to phone conversations, but that day she was out. He had a well developed emotional antenna and stripped through my defences to the distress underneath.Within hours a bunch of flowers had arrived. Gold roses. Of course.

I see Spouse doing all these things with my kids and it makes me smile. He is very much the hero of their lives, and no 4 has already declared her intention to marry him when she grows up. I hope they all hold out for a hero. And get the ones they deserve, just like I was lucky enough to.

I was holding out for a hero.

And they were both there. All the time.

No wonder I write romantic fiction.

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