Writing a book about fathers showed me why I need my own dad.
I’ve been thinking a lot about dads recently.
My book, Inside Fatherhood, has just been published to mark what many regard as 80 years of Father’s Day this June and I’ve spent the last year talking to a group of men about their own unique experiences of fatherhood.
These dispatches from the frontline of modern parenting were intended to give a voice to fathers. After all, 89 per cent of British men aged 70 years or older have fathered a child or played a significant fathering role, according to modernfatherhood.org
Yet, research by the Fatherhood Institute, the charity calling for ‘a great dad for every child’, finds these voices still often go unheard. According to the report Where’s the Daddy: “Fathers and father figures are far more likely to be overlooked in social surveys than mothers.”
But, just as the book was due to be published, my own dad was taken seriously ill. He has spent a long period in hospital and, while now stabilised, has been diagnosed with a major dementia.
I now carry around with me every day the knowledge that he will never get better — only decline cognitively. The irony is not lost on me that, while I was busy talking to men about why dads matter, my own father was slowly fading away.
The ten men I interviewed for Inside Fatherhood all recounted tales of personal sacrifice and redemption, including experiences of adoption, addiction and reconciliation with an estranged child amongst others.
Conducting the interviews, always in person and looking each one in the eye, they opened up to me about their darkest thoughts and moments.
As I collected their stories, it became clear to me the book was less about fatherhood per se and more about the issues all of us as men are grappling with. Fatherhood was the prism through which they engaged with me on wider topics, such as male mental health and male identity.
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Against the backdrop of the work championed by Princes William and Harry for the #HeadsTogether movement, these issues felt more pertinent today than ever before. We’re talking more than ever before — and that’s real progress. But men continue to fall through the cracks.
The Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM), a charity dedicated to preventing male suicide, is currently promoting its #BestManProject initiative to support men in looking out for their mates. This move follows recent research by CALM found that men are three times more likely than women to take their own lives.
I hope that by reading the real-life experiences of my ten chosen case studies, other men in similar positions will find some comfort, support and even practical advice.
Think of it as fatherly, or brotherly, advice.
I know I’ve taken some comfort from their words over the last few challenging months.
I’ve spent the much of that time being my father’s voice while he was too ill to speak up himself. I’ve tried to act as his advocate when I felt the system was failing him.
I’ve also been the one trying to be there for my two daughters who still needed dinner money for school and help with their English homework while the world seemed to be falling apart around us.
Making big decisions, not just about my dad’s future care but also how it will impact on life for rest of us, has felt at times a burden too large to shoulder alone.
I used to bounce ideas off my dad to help me make difficult decisions. Now, with no siblings and having lost my mother to cancer six years ago, I’m making them alone.
Writing this book made me realise how much dads matter. But it also made me realise something more profound.
I miss my dad.
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David is part of the This Dad Can community. As well as lecturing at the University of Chester, David is also a freelance media professional writing mainly about travel and family issues for the Daily Telegraph and other news outlets. He also runs media-writing workshops, specialising in writing for magazines. To find out more visit www.atkinsondavid.com.
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