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Oh Father, go back to sleep

The trouble with middle-class celebrations of middle-class values is not that they invariably devolve into orgies of materialism and one-upmanship, but that they unblinkingly reveal middle-class prejudices.

Sure, Valentine’s Day is a repulsive kangaroo court where paramours are tried and convicted on the weight of their wallets; and yes, Mother’s Day leaves one longing for an ancestry of hermits and robotically inseminated test tubes; but they’re still better than confronting the failures they mask: the heresy of being single or celibate in the sex-obsessed West, the gnawing guilt that comes with knowing that Mom is neglected for 364 days a year.

But because the middle-class doesn’t know any better, not having had the benefit of breeding and brisk lashings with birch branches, it doesn’t realise how telling its -public airing of private attitudes is. And none of these gauche jamborees is more revealing than Father’s Day, come and gone last week.

This day, it seems from the media and the merchants who pimp their products through it, is one on which we think of our sires, reflect for a moment on the good times, and then begin to shovel disdain, condescension, spleen and sarcasm in their direction.

In fact it’s difficult to think of any other festival on our planet that focuses so heavily on the celebrant’s failings, real or imagined. Perhaps the Mississippi Klan comes close, during its AGMs about the Current State of the Negro and Hebrew Races in the Formerly United States. The default attitude of Father’s Day seems to be that he’s useless, and if he isn’t, its just a matter of time before he derails or becomes a dribbling, flatulent old wreck who’s too deaf to hear the jokes made at his expense.

But even those jokes have taken on an authoritative, anthropological air.

Each pronouncement on his character comes with an implicit warning: denial or self-defence is uncool. And so they list his shortcomings like a gospel.

He thinks R&B music is Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin. He thinks a phone is for talking on. He can’t dress, something Mother (wearing the expensive perfume and the tasteful cardigan she got for Mother’s Day) has been trying to train out of him for years. ”Of course I love you the way you are, but Jesus, Harold, you look awful. No I’m not ganging up with the children, you’re being far too sensitive. Of course they love you, dear! They just love me more. And why wouldn’t they? I’m a mommy. You’re … well, you’ve tried very hard. Now be a honey and do those invoices you mentioned while I take them out for a cappuccino … ”

And always that cardinal sin feared by the dissentient youth — embarrassing them — is at the top of the list. The teenagers who demand everything and give so little never pause to think that he might be embarrassed by their greed and insensitivity. But that’s because teenagers can’t think.

So why all the disdain? Or has the middle-class, with its relative financial and emotional security, forgotten that there is an immense difference between a man who has children, and a father? Certainly men as a species, whether they have fathered offspring or not, don’t particularly deserve a day yet. Some sugar-cubes and fresh dry straw would be nice, though.

But the idea of a Father’s Day doesn’t ask us to honour deadbeats and child-maintenance defaulters and alcoholics who harm their children, just as Mother’s Day doesn’t urge us to celebrate 16-year-olds who get pregnant for child-support grants and drunks who leave their babies to drown, or burn or disappear.

No, we’re talking about a father, who works for his family because he was raised to believe it was his duty to do so, who tries not to flinch when his young daughter — whom he would lay down his life for — tells him she hates him because he got her a Nokia instead of a Motorola.

He’s not the brightest (he still thinks he loves his children as much as his wife does, even though society and science tell him this is just not the case) but he’s trying.

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