Today, June 15, is Father’s Day. It’s never been the biggest deal for me, although the family marked it. I never felt the need to rebel against it. Saying ‘thanks’ to your father seems like a good thing to do and since no-one in their right mind would remember to do that every day, then having a date in the diary helped, I guess.
The ‘day’ itself isn’t much of a tradition, having sparked into life a hundred years ago in the USA and slowly gained footing around the world. As designated days go, it seems one of the less Hallmarked.
My Father died in 2005, at Christmas, after the family spent a week at his bedside. In the couple or three years that followed that holiday was hard to get through but Father’s Day didn’t really trouble us. Just a day that you didn’t have to worry about remembering, and we were thinking about Dad every day anyway. In the years since it’s become more of an irritant. Each year I try hard to resist the urge to reply to emails which come unbidden to my inbox with subject lines like ‘Remember to tell your Dad you love him on Father’s Day!’ Once or twice I’ve sent responses saying ‘please stop emailing me to remind me that my Father is dead’. The machines at the other end seem happy to ignore them and carry on so long as their numbers still stack up.
This year, and for the second year running, I’m a father myself on Father’s Day. Since our daughter arrived last year I’ve felt renewed reticence over such prescribed family celebrations. Each time they roll around my instinct it to ignore them. I don’t want to give in and to tempt fate. She’s only been with us just over a year and, at the moment occasions like these serve mainly as reminders that nothing is permanent and that I can’t relax just yet. Don’t worry about it, I know it’s me.
Today I went for a long bike ride in the sunshine, which I loved. I met my wife and daughter for breakfast at a cycling cafe down by the river and we spent a happy hour eating and just hanging out together. That stuff means a lot to me these days.
Once I’d ridden back home again I decided to build some shelves for the shed to help organise some of the stuff that’s piling up on the floor in there. Somewhere in the back of my mind that seemed like a nice, stereotypical Father’s Day thing to do, so I did it.
I’d had an idea about putting in some big, triangular-shaped corner shelves which would give lots of space for storage but also not block off access to the back of the shed where the bikes hang. I took measurements, drew diagrams and tried to remember maths as I strained to put together the details I knew must be critical to making sure this was actually going to work. Mainly I was trying to work out what sized piece of wood I needed to make two right-angled triangles and to minimise the waste.
My head is foggy when I stray off the well-worn paths these days, and every time I found myself struggling to see the way ahead I stepped back. Thus I drove to the local DIY store knowing that I only had this planned out about 75% of the way, that the remaining 25% could be vital, and thus I could be about to rashly plough on and build something completely unusable. I also knew that I was incapable of sitting down and actually working it out properly as this would require me to temporarily set aside the stronger urge to just get on and do it.
Of course, no-one sells wood in 1200mm x 1000m rectangles, so I ended up buying untreated planks, having stood in the shop wondering how many I would need to make up the same area and how I could lash them together. I got them home and spent a couple of hours measuring, scoring, drilling, screwing fast, and eventually sawing. At several points I had to pause and look at my original diagram, compare what I was looking at, turn paper around to the right orientation and reassure myself that the things I seemed to be putting together would actually fit into the spaces I needed them to. As ever I got 75% of the way to confirming and then couldn’t reassure myself enough in the available time, so ploughed ahead, all the time knowing that I might be heading for a total failure, waste of money and general humiliation and frustration and that it would be no-one’s fault but mine.
After a couple of hours, nearing the end, it occurred to me that I really hadn’t spent much of this Father’s Day with my daughter. That’s okay. I know we can’t spend every hour of every day together, much as I’d like to, and instead I had done some things I wanted to do or which I told myself needed to be done.
As I got to the very end of today’s work, using a rusty old electric jigsaw to cut the very rough plank-braced 1200mm x 1000m rectangle I had screwed together along it’s diagonal to give me my two triangles, two things occurred to me. Firstly, this huge wooden slab, now inexpertly being cut into two, was likely to be way too heavy to actually stay up on a flimsy shed wall. No doubt it would be back down again within days. I made a mental note not to put anything heavy on these unexpectedly heavy and unsustainably sturdy shelves.
Secondly, as I cut across, dividing the piece in two and seeing bits fall away which I hadn’t quite expected to, I realised that I had spent the past two hours being my own Father. He was not a talented DIY practitioner, but he was a tryer, even when his family suggested he might like not to try. I had thought that inexorable feeling that only comes when you know that a job you’ve been doing is heading for failure and yet you cannot stop, had been uniquely mine. Now I realised that he too must have felt it often, whenever one of his fix-it jobs began to turn bad, as some, certainly not all, did.
As I stacked the two shelves inside the shed they had been specially designed and crafted to fit, wondering how they could simultaneously look so solid that they were likely to bring the walls down, and so shaky that their immediate collapse seemed inevitable, rather than the boiling frustration of an afternoon turning from productivity to futility with no-one to blame but myself and my untrammelled incompetence, I felt happy.
I knew that in some way I had spent the day in the sunshine communing with my Dad, and knowing that my daughter, too young though she currently is, may one day look out of that kitchen window and view me hammering and sawing with the same concern that I used to feel for my Dad. Although my Father’s Day focus has shifted from me thinking about him to me thinking about my daughter, from being a son to being a Father, he’s still here so long as I am, a chip off the old block.