My Dad and Me - a trip down memory lane with our father figures

When I started secondary school I met the person destined to be my best friend. The first time I came to her house we sat at a small table in a small niche in the tiny living room. Her seven brothers and sisters lounged around reading, watching TV or playing with the current litter of kittens (there were always kittens).

Father Figure

As the evening drew in and the room darkened, my friend’s father spoke the first words he would ever say to me: ‘my dear, would you mind switching on that lamp’? The seven brothers and sisters, very slowly, and with the mildest of interest, looked up from their books, TV programmes and kittens and watched as I switched on the lamp.

Mr Smith was a wonderful man with many facets to his character but here are the three most important:

1. He was a keen and highly experimental amateur electrician
2. He was incredibly colour blind
3. He did not believe he was colour blind and viewed any reference to it as ‘Lies and Conspiracies’

I switched on the lamp, the lamp came on, I did not die, everyone went back to their books etc…

I was a New Person to that household. By the time the next New Person arrived I was among those looking up with mild interest when they were asked ‘would you mind switching on..?’
Over the years I went from being, in this very literal and terrifying way, expendable; to being so much a part of the family that my friend’s parents referred to each other as ‘your father…’ or ‘your mother..’ when they used me as a conduit for a little light recreational bickering.

So what did I get from Mr Smith, my father figure?

The Eccentric

Well, for one thing, he taught us, if only by example, that it’s ok to be yourself, even when yourself is, frankly, a bit odd. For two girls entering their teenage years this was invaluable. Ignoring all the usual pressures to conform we just did what we felt. We did hang around the park with boys but I was always in goal.

The Cook

He did all the shopping and cooking; his missus did the washing up and laundry. There were no ‘women’s jobs’ or ‘men’s jobs’ – regardless of what you kept in your pants, you were expected to pull your weight. Because of this, when I did decide that there might be more to boys than football and actually moved in with one, it turned out to be one of the most equal relationships I’ve known.

The Pigeon and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon

Like everyone else I knew, this family had a small concrete backyard on two levels. Known as ‘The Hanging Gardens of Babylon’, this yard was carpeted and hung round with a lush jungle of plants and flowers.
Once, when a bold pigeon was stealing his strawberries, Mr Smith rigged up a box balanced on a stick. He tied a piece of string to the stick, placed a piece of bread under the box and began his ‘Vigil of Revenge’. Some days later, when he finally trapped the bird, the family stood around looking at the box in silence, until someone said, ‘you don’t know what to do with it, do you’? We were ordered away and he released the pigeon, insisting that he had taught it a lesson. To be honest, I’m not sure what we learned from this. Be careful what you wish for…?

Fathers and father figures are often portrayed as the strong figure you can rely on and the font of worldly advice. Here are three things Mr Smith did that were a bit better than that!

1. We did rely on him, but his trust that we would do the right thing, taught us to be self-reliant
2. He didn’t give advice, he gave an example: of how you can live a fair and fun life
3. Though the whole house buzzed and fizzed and sparked, he, somehow, never killed anyone.

The Spark provide relationship counselling and support for individual, couples and families including children. Visit The Spark website for more information.

Anecdote, Children And Young People, Relationships