There is an ideal amongst fathers and budding fathers. The ideal is that, as fathers, they will teach their children the ways of the world. They will apply their experience to guiding their off-spring in how to cope with the challenges of life. They will share adventures and achievements.
In days gone by when an agricultural or craft economy predominated that was probably the reality of life in many families. Children would learn their family’s trade; knowledge and technique passed down the generations.
Industrialisation and urbanisation interrupted the pattern and that’s maybe when the idea of the father as primary guide became less of a reality and more of an ideal. It was no longer strictly necessary to the family’s subsistence or prosperity, but was the distinctive contribution of the Dad. And the skills subject to this idealised transfer were anachronistic: hunting, camping, fishing, building, making. Leisure was devoted to one generation helping the other come of age.
Meanwhile, the role of specialists from outside the family expanded. School education became a societal requirement for children up the the age of 10..14..15..16.
And now we’re in the condition of outsourced parenting. As I survey the impressive range of skills my children possess, I see a battery of professionals paid directly, or indirectly through my taxes, who have been their guide, teacher, example. Numeracy, literacy, modern languages and critical thinking at school. Football, tennis and gymnastics at clubs, holiday clubs and development centres staffed by paid and volunteer coaches. Piano, recorder and choir at school and private tuition. Drawing, painting and collage at school and art class. If they had wanted to camp, trek or build bridges across rivers there were cubs, scouts and guides.
I am left as the commissioning agent – sourcing tutors and coaches, checking their performance, paying the subs (or taxes). I do have a crucial role as chauffeur; and a very enjoyable part to play as spectator. But this is far from the ideal of interventionist, child-shaping fatherhood.
I anticipate a challenge from readers: values – I’m ignoring the contribution I make to my children’s upbringing with the values I support and encourage them to adopt. Maybe – but don’t underestimate the impact of peers on how children view the world. Anyway, that’s not what the ideal of fatherhood is about. It’s practical stuff.
I’ve been mulling over this experience of parenthood as a blog topic for some months, but not really known where it leads me. Then, a couple of weeks ago no.1 son asked if I could show him how to set up a website. I did and we worked together on the appearance and name. He has written his first blog post and we’ve talked about the sort of topics he might cover.
One of the things I’ll be trying to get across to him is that while a blog post needs a beginning and a middle, it sometimes takes a little bit longer to find the right ending.