Take it to the bridge

We’ve hit the instrumental section of the season here at my folks’. The middle eight of Christmas when my Father’s daily quest to get us out for a walk revs up the morning with all the subtlety of an Animal drum solo. It’s less an attempt at a family bonding manoeuvre than a central heating cost saving exercise. He has already started to feel up the radiators while exclaiming the house has exceeded tropical temperatures as another icicle falls from his nose, crash landing on an empty Pringles tube.  He could put someone’s eye out with that. It’s traditional.

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Hey! Would you like to go for a walk?

No Christmas would be complete either without his progeny reverting to their teenage default settings. This year, we’ve applied some efficiency of our own to the random insults. Gone are the unwarranted dead arms, and any valid reasons for accusing each other of being annoying. ‘You’re so annoying’ is a perfectly workable stand alone English sentence. Like a Christmas induced tourette’s outburst. Gone too is any appetite for resurrecting twenty year old gripes for shoehorning into an already ridiculous argument. I haven’t once heard anyone remark “what exactly do you mean by that remark?”, and the only response I got to my bleating at Bono’s exchange with Michael D was a Mexican eye-roll and the offer of a Celebration. I’m not sure middle age agrees with us.

Thankfully, this outrageous display of civility is compensated by the impressive juvenile pursuits of our respective children. The bickering baton has been enthusiastically grabbed by sticky hands, which they use to cheerfully beat each other up. Oh no wait, that’s a breadstick. Was a breadstick.

I don’t remember either of our parents calmly meeting us at eye-level to theorise on the origin of the other’s mickey fits and appeal to our inner rational adult. Plausible reasons offered for having a melt-down include: tiredness, playfulness, “their age”, or, to quote my own toddler, “an intensifying sense of injustice over perceived uneven turn-taking”. Couldn’t have said it better myself. Here, have a milky bar, kid, and eat it gloatingly right in front of your cousins’ faces. Their Dad administered the worst Chinese burns to me as a child, and wouldn’t take me to see The Smiths when they played our home town in 1985. Not that I harbour festering grudges. The fucker.

Frankly, and I never say frankly, so I mean it forcefully, the endless polite intervening and over-rationalising gets fucking exhausting so I knocked on the doors of bathrooms and bedrooms where their parents were hiding out from their own off-spring and suggested I take them to the cinema. And, if they spared me excruciating levels of social shame, if they were really good, I might throw in a trip to the other Michael D’s.

I interpreted the time delay in their answers as horror at the suggestion of going to McDonald’s, and fully expected exaggerated disgust and nauseatingly emphatic pronouncements about their children’s nutritional habits. Not really. These are my people. So, right on cue, doors enthusiastically swung open, and we cranked our newly fledged maturity up a gear with a potentially violent argument over who would pay for the privilege.

“No, I insist”.

“No, it’s MY treat”.

“Take that back” *flings €50 note*

Etc.

Etc.

It’s a beautiful thing.

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eHomogeneity

Yesterday, it lashed rain for most of the day so I was condemned to the local soft-play centre for a few hours with our one to run off some energy (her) and try to hide behind the Sunday papers (me). No sooner had I opened a supplement to partake in some mildly bitter lifestyle envy, when the first of three parents landed in with a brood, shortly followed by the other two.

It quickly transpired they all knew each other and their collision was a random surprise. The chat about their children took off as they were waved off; each of them taking it in turn to spring up momentarily to warn one of their off-spring to refrain from inflicting pain on another.

Each politely and engagingly inquired how each other’s children were doing. They spoke about the challenges of getting them to focus on doing their homework. Confidence levels between girls and boys were sized up with two registering worry that their girls exhibit greater reluctance to assert themselves in contrast to their boys. After-school programme options at their respective schools were listed and enthusiastically reconciled with the interests and talents of the little folk attending.

It was a familiar scene no doubt cascaded across the nation on a hostile Sunday morning; when one parent is relieved of getting up while the other shepherds their children out of the house to leave it in peace. Unremarkable in many ways.

It shouldn’t be remarkable that these parents were in fact fathers, but I’m rarely in their company so it was both a novelty and an affirmation of what we already know about the centrality of fathers in contemporary child-rearing. I wasn’t watching them while wearing rose-tinted glasses. We know the economic imbalances that characterise the roles and responsibilities in the home and workplace of women and men with children. It’s fair to generalise that the brunt of financial loss and decision-making gain is borne by women. That’s a given. But that doesn’t negate from the evolution of child-rearing as a joint task compared with our parents’ generation. In the main.

Women shouldn’t have to perpetually gender check themselves when relaying their own parental experiences; but men don’t need to be stay-at-home-dads to scratch their heads over many of the same anxieties that have women exchanging furrowed-brows. It may not be the cultural norm for men to take to the keyboard to tease these things out; but in taking to the keyboard many of us are not doing so as single parents. Sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference. That’s not to suggest the existence of domestic utopia, but just an acknowledgement of child-rearing as a predominantly shared crusade.

For all the overlaps in the chat from yesterday’s ear-wigged on men with the worries of women, it’s impossible to imagine fathers being characterised in over-generalised terms in the same way mothers tend to be. There are probably competing answers to that from every academic discipline imaginable. But it doesn’t make it any easier to square with family life as it is. In the main.

Do we have to do a Father’s Day Post?

Last January, because of the law in the Republic of Ireland, a man whose partner died shortly after giving birth to their catastrophically brain-damaged baby, had to seek court intervention to allow him give consent for the withdrawal of his child’s life support.

In response to the tragedy, Eamonn Quinn of the Unmarried and Separated Parents of Ireland, compared the legal deficiencies with provision in the UK. “If this case had happened ‘up the road’ in Belfast, the father would have automatically been the person making the decisions about his baby without having a court case added to his ordeal”.

The case was a rarity, but a reminder of the lack of legal safeguards or rights for unmarried fathers in Ireland.

Only married fathers have automatic guardianship of their children. In unmarried couples, the mother is the sole legal guardian unless and until the father actively seeks guardianship.

Without guardianship, the father does not have the right to seek medical treatment for his child, or query the educational or religious upbringing of his own child. Nor can he apply for a passport for his child or decide where he or she will live.

How does he get guardianship of this child?

One of two ways. If the mother is happy to share guardianship, he can get a form called the ‘Statutory Declaration of Father and Mother in Relation to Joint Guardianship of Child/Children’ which is available online or from court offices, and fill it in with his child’s mother in front of a peace commissioner. If the mother objects, the father can apply to his local district court to be made a joint guardian. The mother’s views will be considered but will not dictate the court’s decision.

What happens if he doesn’t seek guardianship?

If the couple separates, he will have no automatic rights to involvement in his child’s upbringing and can’t stop the mother taking the child out of the country. All rights would have to be fought for in court. Even in a stable relationship, lack of guardianship can cause problems if the father alone accompanies the child to hospital as he won’t be able to give treatment consent.

Is this a common scenario?

Around 26,000 children are born in Ireland every year to unmarried parents — 33% of all children born. It is not known how many of the fathers have a declaration of joint guardianship because the details are not recorded by any agency.

What’s being done about it?

Not enough say campaigners. In 2013, Justice Minister Alan Shatter promised legislation to grant automatic guardianship to cohabiting fathers but there no timeline was specified.

 

Sources: The Irish Examiner/The Irish Independent/Unmarried and Separated Parents of Ireland.

Things I haven’t learned as a parent

1. What male parents make of it all. Or fathers, as they are sometimes called on Earth. In a world wide web of ninth degree scrutiny of mothering by mothers, it’s hard to tell. 

2. Why a campaign hasn’t been launched by someone somewhere to ban the hideous term Baby Led Weaning. Or a campaign to ban me from convulsing over it. Or a piss-taking swipe at it, or an earnest unpicking of it in the context of the ever expanding lexicon of parenting. Everything that pisses me off about parenting can be summed up by it. Look, I’ll settle for a poxy bumper sticker at this stage.

3. Whether I have prevented even one prospective parent from buying an Angel Care monitor. I’d like to think I’m doing my bit to support parental consumer ‘choice’. Add to that one less travel system purchase and my job here on hell is done.

4. Of any parents who came through private maternity care freely willing to admit they thought it was a waste of money. They must exist. Step forward like good people. We’ll disguise your voice. We’ll even distort your face. We won’t use your real name. We’ll get Miriam to do the gushing intro and that surly McCullough bloke to interview you with his confidence-inspiring indifference. How about a witness protection programme? A French fancy? Two French fancies? Both pink?

5.  Of any songs about parenting. That’s worrying. Parenting is on a par with vegetarianism and jogging in the song-writing department. That ought to tell us something.