Happy Father’s Day to my deadbeat dad

Father’s Day isn’t a happy day for a lot of families. A new dad reflects on the lessons he learned from his own dad – one who wasn’t the father he deserved.

Dear Dad,

Happy Father’s day I guess. I wish this note were written under better circumstances, but the reality is that you’ve been dead for four years and you were kind of a shithead.

I don’t have that many memories of us spending time together at home, but do have a few of your favourite dive bar. I remember my younger brother and I tagging along while you warmed a bar stool and slid tiny packets of Eta Ripples our way. One time I had a really good chat with a nice young woman bartender – she had the same name as my mother (and probably still does).

The last time I saw you in the flesh was in January 1991. The divorce wasn’t quite finalised but your marriage to my mother was definitely over and the custody arrangements were in full effect. Even at eight years old I intuited that I might not ever see you again.

And I didn’t, even though I spent good chunks of my childhood and young adulthood living in the same city – sometimes within a few suburban blocks of each other.

For many years I didn’t care to expend any physical or mental energy on you. I figured if you couldn’t get your shit together enough to reach out, why the hell should I? You were the fucking adult in this situation.

My brother, a passionate dude four years my junior, made more of an effort to seek you out in the last decade or so of your life. I stayed in my room that day in 2001 when you came to visit him because I didn’t want to face you. You honked the horn from the driveway and drove him to the same pub you took us to as kids.

Years later my little bro threw you a bone and commissioned you to help him with some home renovation work. His family (including your first set of grandchildren) invited you to a barbeque – an offer you declined because it was “roast night down at the pub”.

You died at 58, looking like a corpse even before your last breath and leaving a $1,200 Japanese import as your sole asset. I was living overseas at the time, toyed with the idea of coming back, but ultimately didn’t.  I took the three days of “bereavement” leave, pottered around the house and caught up on Breaking Bad.

Selfishly I let my brother bear the brunt of the post-death arrangements. He visited WINZ to negotiate funeral costs, cleaned out the hovel you had rented in your final months and had to endure the pub-organised memorial service, listening to platitudes from your drinking buddies about what a “great guy you were” and how you’d “do anything for anybody”. Your obituary dripped with similar sentiments. It made me feel nauseous.

As you stumbled off this mortal coil I was preparing to become a first-time father. I read books, attended hospital visits and talked to other dads about what to expect.

I also made a silent promise to my wife’s baby bump. I swore that whatever happened, my children would have a dad in their lives who cares for them and who loves them. I swore that even in my darkest times, when I’m struggling the hardest, that I would not abandon them.

Parenting is tough, man – I get it. I find it really, really arduous sometimes. I’ve often relied on the wisdom and experience of others to help me learn the custard-stapling-difficult processes of kid-wrangling. And in a messed-up kind of way, it was you who taught me the most.

I’m not talking about your finely honed responsibility-shirking skills (which I absorbed and am consciously trying to train myself out of) or your predilection for alcohol abuse (I hardly ever drink, but have addictive tendencies in other ways).

The biggest lesson you taught me is how NOT to be a father. Thanks to you my children will never feel that their dad has abandoned them. They will have someone to teach them how to ride a bike or change a car tyre. They will have a dad who packs lunches and reads stories and isn’t secretly wishing he were in a dingy room with Lion Red coasters and sticky floors.

So thanks for inadvertently teaching me how to be a dad. I know this wasn’t your intention, but well, I feel like you didn’t have much in the way of intentions that didn’t involve a Swappa Crate anyway.

I wish I had more to thank you for. Happy Father’s Day.

P.S: Your pub was sold to property developers a few months ago and is gonna be bulldozed. Sorry.

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