Friday, 15 June 2012

Thoughts for Father's Day

Father's Day on Sunday, not a day we remember very enthusiastically in our fam, either now, or when I was growing up.  But it does make me think about dads and the empty nest, and how, when I was writing my book, I totally bought into the idea that fathers feel their children leaving just as much as mums - albeit in different ways.

I interviewed loads of dads, like wonderful Charlie from the Fatherhood Institute, who went on a kind of  extended bender when his daughters left - an inspiration to us all about getting the most out of life.   All of them felt their children leaving deeply, and thought long and hard about the impact on their lives, and the crisis it could precipitate.

Yet I failed to see what was going on under my nose, and how my own husband was feeling about our kids going.  Perhaps I was just too wrapped up in my own sadness.  But in my own defence I have to say that like a lot of men, my husband doesn't wear his heart on his sleeve - and I felt he was faintly critical of my own frank emotions about the kids going.  By contrast he was resolutely positive: every time I whined he'd say how proud he was that they were making their way in the world. Looking back that's just what the kids - and I - needed him to say.

It was only when I interviewed him for a feature about Dads and the Empty Nest for the Daily Mail that I realised how it had got to him. He said he felt redundant: it used to be 'Dad! Dad!'  as soon as he walked through the door from work, but now the house was silent.  Our three kids going had changed his life in a way he hadn't anticipated, and perhaps still didn't acknowledge.
So it's worth remembering that some of the finest writing about the Empty Nest comes not from women - perhaps because we just think it's par for the course - but from male writers, like  J.G. Ballard: 'But childhood has gone, and in the silence one stares at the empty whisky bottles in the pantry and wonders if any number of drinks will fill the void.'