This Sunday marks Father's Day across the Western, Hallmark Card-infiltrated world. Regular readers of this blog will know that I was actually raised by my ole Pa after my Mum left when I was four.
I like to think of my Dad as the love child of a garden gnome and Howard Hughes. He ranks high on the quirky scale. He doesn't like to be touched, is addicted to certain rituals in his life and he struggles to read social cues and emotions. I've often wondered if he's somewhere on the spectrum, but I'm assured that these are just signs of being a British male.
No one was more surprised than him when he found himself the full custodian of a three year old and a four year old child. Before Fathers for Justice and lots of internet forums, single dads had the same status as yetis- lots of people believed in them but no one had actually encountered one. He didn't have other single dads to talk to. He resorted to what I suspect many other working dads living in rural Wales would have reverted to in the early 80s; he took us with him to the pub during the days on Saturday, let us feed ourselves breakfast (I was genuinely baffled when I stayed at friends' houses sometimes and they didn't unwrap a chocolate Orange in the morning. I always have liked to start the day with fruit) and let us watch films like The Terminator, but with the sex scenes fast forwarded through.
There are things that drive me insane about my father. He has more conspiracy theories than David Icke. He has been paving the same square of driveway since the millennium. Growing up, he always used to tell me that any problems I had were in my head because the only thing worse, in his eyes, than dealing with feelings was dealing with the latter stages of leprosy. In fact, he probably would have found that easier. In my late adolescence, we had a couple of prolonged periods of estrangement, both of us too stubborn to say sorry to the other one.
But the good far outweighed the bad, really. Although we come from a family where views on women were being formed and cemented about the same time as the Magna Carta, my dad never made me feel less capable of greatness because of my sex- in fact, his expectations of my abilities far outstripped my own. When I decided to start writing comedy, he collected jokes for me from the Internet, perhaps not entirely realising that that's not quite how it works. He is affably and eccentrically friendly to all who cross his path. I was never more proud of him than when a family friend underwent gender realignment surgery and overnight Dad started to treat her as he does most women- by teasing them about the size of their thighs. What can I say- he's a work in progress. Who isn't?
Any single parent has it tough. Men, too, have subtle, dark and insidious forces working against them- they just present in different ways. My friend Nige Atkinson wrote a book about it. Suicide cases are far higher in men. Men are often told to 'man up' or 'grow a set' when they're displaying emotional needs. The majority of problems that arose between me and my father were essentially that he came from a time and place (he was sent to an all-boys boarding school at the age of six) when both females and strong emotion were essentially anathema, and I came straight from the pages of Just Seventeen.
I'm not saying the power balance doesn't need to shift, but I am saying that understanding any struggle requires a willingness to see both sides of that struggle.
So on Father's Day this year, I'll be saluting all the dads who, for whatever reason, find themselves alone at the parenting helm. Single dads, rare as they are, aren't saluted enough- even the ones who still think that Mad Max is a documentary about the Australian Outback.