What makes a good father?

Reflections on fatherhood for Father’s Day 2017

What makes a good father? I’m sure almost everyone asks themselves this question at some point, whether it’s in curiosity, or panic, or even self-congratulation. Since Beloved Husband first became a father almost ten years ago, I have had the privilege of seeing what makes a good father and I have some thoughts on the subject.

When he learns he is going to become a father, perhaps he feels fear and excitement and anticipation. A good father takes all of these feelings and uses them. Maybe he reads the baby book every day, maybe he talks to the Bump, maybe he near kills himself, trying to make sure Bump will have a safe and secure home. Maybe he goes out searching for the one and only food that Bump’s mother can keep down, whatever time of night it is. Maybe he holds her hair back as she’s sick AGAIN and cools her down because dammit, he can’t do much, but he’s determined to do what he can. And maybe he walks up and down the hospital room all night while she finally sleeps, holding his newborn in his arms. Because he’s a good father.

When the baby is here, Daddy sees this squalling, red-faced little creature and recognises the fragility and potential and commits his entire being to protecting it. He baby-proofs every damn plug socket, every possible source of disaster, and double-checks everything. Twice. He sacrifices sleep, sanity and self-image, thinking nothing of putting a silly hat on or pulling odd faces for hours because it makes the baby laugh.

As the baby becomes a child, there are a hundred new challenges to face. A good father will make mistakes – because he’s trying his best and you don’t get it right until you’ve got it wrong a few times. Maybe he’s too soft, maybe he’s too strict, but he’s trying his best and he’s throwing himself in with everything that he’s got. He teaches his son and his daughter to be strong and to be gentle and to love fiercely and to think and to throw themselves into the world, even when it’s a scary place. And when it’s a scary place, he teaches his children that he is there for them, that they can come back and huddle together for warmth until they are brave enough to go back out there.

I don’t think a good father is perfect. I think a good father recognises his frailties and his faults, and he is unafraid of letting his children learn from these so that they can make their own mistakes instead of repeating his. I think a good father has feet of clay, because really, who wants a golden statue for a father?

I think my children are lucky enough to have a good father.

Profits vs people

I remember being in my early teens, and seeing a tv show about car seatbelts, and how the manufacturers of the car decided not to put extra seatbelts in the pop-up seats in the boot because it was too expensive. Yes, there was a risk of a passenger in these seats being seriously hurt or killed if they were in an accident, and, even more importantly of course, there was a risk of said passenger’s family suing the company. But this risk was taken into account, and the cost of paying off the bereaved was judged to be less than putting in these seatbelts.

Profit vs people: Profit wins.

A few years ago, in my twenties, I saw another programme about capitalism, and about how it was actually illegal for a corporation not to maximise its profits. That was in America; I don’t know if that was just America, or the UK too, or some kind of world wide rule of business. This meant that a whole array of businesses which were highlighted on the programme were looking at ways of keeping salaries down (at least, salaries waaay down the ladder), using lower quality goods and cheaper ingredients. This includes things like HFCS, GMO crops, etc, and was in spite of the fact that there was mounting evidence that the health values of these ingredients were, shall we say, dubious. And did I mention lower salaries? Zero hours contracts also spring to mind these days.

Profit vs people: Profit wins.

And now, today, people have been killed and dozens more injured in a huge fire in London. I don’t know how many people have lost their homes in Grenfell Tower. And residents have been raising concerns about this block for years. Last year, Labour put forward an amendment to the Housing and Planning Bill to compel landlords to keep rented homes fit for human habitation, removing the previous clause which specified “homes where the annual rent is £52 or less (or £80 in London)” which had been in place since the 19th century. It was defeated by the Conservative government, by a majority of 93, of which 72 were private landlords.

That tower had new cladding to make it look nicer for the nearby luxury apartments which, it seems, may well have contributed to the terrifyingly fast blaze, no central fire alarm system (neighbours were waking each other up), and no sprinkler system. Any large shop now you expect to have a sprinkler system; after all, we want to minimise damage to stock and risk to profits, don’t we?

Profit vs people: Profit wins.

But there’s a ray of light. People whose homes were on fire didn’t rush straight out, they knocked on their neighbour’s door to alert them. Firefighters are at this moment still going through an incredibly dangerous, burning, building to rescue whoever they can. People have been pouring donations of money, clothes, toys, food all day to community centres and churches – I saw the church my parents were married in, St Francis of Assisi, having to turn donations away as there were so many. People are full of love and light and you see it most at times like this.

People win.

General Election 2017, from the point of view of a partial and prejudiced observer.

Well, that was… interesting.

When the election was called, way back whenever, we were full of gloom and misery, sure that the country was about to be doomed to another five years of Tory rule and to the total annihilation of the Labour party.

I have loved the idea of Jeremy Corbyn being Prime Minister since he was elected leader (we watched the leadership result on holiday, in our little rented house in Seahouses while my in-laws wondered why on earth we were watching something so boring with such excitement), but reluctantly come to admit lately that this is unlikely. Maybe people have become so used to the world as it is, a world of Trump and Theresa and Tories, that the idea of someone who actually wants to make things better for ordinary people is just too weird. Maybe people genuinely don’t realise that there is enough money, it’s just that those at the top don’t like to share it and that “trickle-down economics” rarely ends up actually trickling down. Or maybe Beloved Husband and others are right, and he really just messed up his initial contact with the press and the public and the Brexit remain campaign, messed up so badly that he can’t come back from it.

Whatever the reason, Labour’s polls were abysmal and even I, the eternal depressive-optimist, knew, just knew, that we were without hope. But it turns out, he rocks at campaigning. And Theresa May really, really doesn’t. He got debate on the NHS. He got U-turns, on a manifesto before an election, from the Tories on dementia tax. He got Labour’s polls to climb to dizzy heights (yeah, ok, that’s hyperbole, but to heights unimaginable six weeks ago by anyone but Diane Abbott). He got scenes like this:

 

This is a tiny fraction of the crowd, thousands and thousands of people, at the Sage, Gateshead, for a rally. We were there, with our friends and our kids, in the pouring rain, for three hours. We were there to listen to him and some local Labour candidates, and it was not just inspiring but dangerously, dangerously hopeful. Even though we knew he could not win, we began to wonder what it would be like if he did. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a Green, but this is a national emergency. We need Labour to make gains.

On Election Night, we were ready. I am NOT a politician, a pundit or a journalist. I am not even a particularly knowledgeable amateur. I have strongly-held, often-tweeted, opinions on stuff, and I have possibly a higher level of engagement than people in my neighbourhood, but I do like an election. I stayed up for Election 2015, I even woke sporadically during the night to check on Brexit (and boy, did I regret that). I wasn’t looking forward to this one, but we got snacks in (Jaffa cakes and jelly babies, what else?) and I even printed off a spreadsheet of constituencies with a blank space for colouring in the results. Here it is, decorated by my seven-year-old the following morning:

And we waited for the exit polls. Last time, we heard the exit polls with disbelief and horror, but clung to a faint desperate hope that they were terribly wrong, that we couldn’t possibly have been stupid enough, as a country, to not only vote the Tories back in, but to give them a majority so that whatever fetters the Lib Dems had provided would be removed. By the time we packed the children off to school last May, and the results showed the exit polls to have been wrong, yes, but underestimating the Tory victory, we were sunk into a mire of gloom from which we took days, even weeks, to escape. So this time, we were determined to brace ourselves, not to build ourselves up for any happy news, and then we couldn’t fall too far. After all, we’ve proved the British can’t be trusted with a vote – this is the country that voted for a dog to win Britain’s Got Talent.  Even with the climb in the polls, the most hopeful poll gave us a hung parliament and frankly even that was laughably optimistic.

The exit polls said a hung parliament.

I had been intending to pass the time between results by reading or catching up on some study; the books were pushed aside, and we spent the  next hour or so in earnest debate with each other, with twitter (my God, with twitter – I think I spent almost the next 20 hours on twitter, surely that’s some kind of record?) and with the television as experts scratched their heads, looked at how wrong the exit poll could be (not very, defended John Curtice) and gasped at the plummeting pound.

We watched it all, we were there for every seat won, lost or recounted. We saw things settle down as the first few North-East seats came in and they were Labour, yes of course, but with a swing to the Conservatives. Phew, they thought, everything will be fine, the poll was wrong. God, we thought, it’ll be awful after all, the poll was wrong. John Curtice said, well, we knew there’d be a swing here, the North-East voted strongly for Brexit (and on behalf of my NE neighbours, I do apologise), but maybe the poll was a little out.

It wasn’t. My little, rough clumsy tracker showed Conservative losses, SNP losses, but for the first fifty results or so, no Labour losses and a few wins. It was amazing. I have never been so energised by something that wasn’t in the end as good it could have been, but felt like a joyful, triumphant victory.

The moments that stand out for me: Stockton South. It’s been a Tory seat for years, a blue pebble in a puddle of red. At first it was prematurely declared Conservative again (not officially), then after a recount came the news that the Labour MP, a GP dismayed at the state of the NHS, had won it had me off my seat.

An early forecast that Labour had won Kensington. This is where my mother’s family home was, and we visited it a lot when I was a child. It is a mini, encapsulated snapshot of Britain’s inequalities – the average house price is £1 million but there are pockets of great deprivation. As it turns out, they did win but only after 4 recounts and almost a fifth, eventually declaring at the end of Friday. Beloved Husband kept shaking his head wearily as I randomly shouted throughout the day “They’ve won Kensington, it’s official, it’s…oh, no. It’s another recount.”

One beautiful moment – around 2am, the bookies’ odds changed so that for the first time, [probably] EVER, Jeremy Corbyn was the favourite to be the next Prime Minister.

Last time, we complained that the turnout was so low, the Tories won, yes, but with only a third of the eligible country actually voting for them. This time, we can’t really complain at the turnout but we still didn’t win…BUT. Look at how many seats are now marginal. LOOK. Someone did a calculation, that to win just over another 60 seats, enough for a majority government however tiny, Labour just needed 2500 more votes in various seats. Hastings and Rye. Richmond Park. We were so close to major scalps there. Forty six votes in Richmond Park, and it would have been bye-bye Zac Goldsmith. Corbyn could have been PM now.

But. May is Prime Minister again, but for how long? She seemed blissfully unaware in her (eventual) speech that she had lost her majority. The one she NEEDED to go ahead with Brexit talks. The one she was DEFINITELY going to get, because she was strong and stable and they were the only party competent enough to lead us through the storm of Brexit. It’s not a storm now, it could be Armageddon. Over 52% of the country voted Not-Tory. At least half of her MPs don’t want her. She is clinging on by her fingernails, she cannot last long and she is now no more than a puppet being torn apart by its various crazy puppet-masters (the DUP, anyone??!).

It’s not over yet.

June’s photo album

4th June 2017: South Shields #nofilter

We’ve just been swimming at Haven Point (amazing local leisure centre. Totally worth the drive), had a picnic (in the car, of course), and now we’re sat looking out at the North Sea and wishing we could see this everyday. It’s just amazing how being at the sea makes you feel like you are breathing that bit deeper, and relaxing a little. And how it calls you out to adventure and makes you think you could do those wonderful things you really want to do. If only those feelings lasted once you got home.

Rally at the Sage, Gateshead on 5 June 2017 for Jeremy Corbyn ahead of #GE2017. Unbelievable atmosphere. I didn’t get a picture on the day of the Election – I am practically glued to my phone, yet I forgot to take it to the polling station with me! But this photo really captured the feeling of hope and optimism that started to build up with fantastic speed and momentum in the last few days. I wish he’d won – he was so close. But that is an actual blog post to follow…

10th: Emily just, y’know, catching up with the news. We went to Sainsbury’s as Andrew loves getting the news and analysis and digesting the election, and today is the first day with proper reactions and breakdowns of the vote. Emily and Daniel have recently discovered First News which does a good job of breaking current events down for kids and making news accessible. Although at the moment this photo was taken, Emily was actually engrossed in a story of a girl on holiday whose hair got caught in the pool filters. As her own hair is long and very pretty, she was naturally horrified.

March’s photo album

2nd: World Book Day. Belle, on her way to school!

12th: Spring!

18th: I am rebooting. Life and poorly kids and… STUFF has just been totally in the way so this is Take 2. Emily in the Centre for Life in Newcastle while Daniel is in Coding Club. #evilscientist #worlddomination

29th: My kids, looking down on this. What next for them? Brexit, Trump, Theresa May. It’s not a threatening world, not yet, but there are definitely storm clouds gathering.