Cole Moreton: Dad's a two-bit loser. Now if only he could be heroic, like mum...

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The Independent Online

When I was nine my father told me a story. He was riding his motorbike down a hill when it skidded and came off the road, through the front door of a bakery. Listening to that story in bed on a Sunday morning, just after playing king of the castle on his knees, I imagined Dad in blue jeans and leather jacket on a gleaming Triumph. He swerved to avoid a child, saving a life but lost control. Old ladies screamed and dropped cream puffs. Their dogs howled. The counter smashed. A glamorous bakery girl, looking not unlike my mother, gazed down at the wounded, heroic rider and fell in love.

When I was nine my father told me a story. He was riding his motorbike down a hill when it skidded and came off the road, through the front door of a bakery. Listening to that story in bed on a Sunday morning, just after playing king of the castle on his knees, I imagined Dad in blue jeans and leather jacket on a gleaming Triumph. He swerved to avoid a child, saving a life but lost control. Old ladies screamed and dropped cream puffs. Their dogs howled. The counter smashed. A glamorous bakery girl, looking not unlike my mother, gazed down at the wounded, heroic rider and fell in love.

That's how I imagined it. Then a couple of years ago we happened to be driving down the same hill. "This," said my dad, "is where I fell off my moped."

"Sorry? What were you riding?"

"A moped. What's the matter? You've gone all quiet."

He had no idea. Heroes don't ride mopeds. The king had fallen off the castle.

The story comes back to me this Father's Day as I try to work out what it is we are for, us dads. Men are confused and angry enough anyway - from the preening wannabes getting boozed up and brawling on Big Brother to Billy Bulldog and his hooligan chums serving their country out in Portugal. They confuse anger with passion, proving how much they love the flag by wiping it with the blood of Johnny Foreigner (there was not very much fighting, but hooligans, like Big Brother contestants, don't need to do much to get attention).

In the past we sent out angry young men to war. They came back with heads full of bomb-burst memories, feeling the guilt of survivors and unwilling to talk about it. So a post-war generation grew up having to imagine what their fathers did in the war. They imagined heroism they could never live up to. When Tony Blair talks about the sacrifice of his father's generation he sounds envious. Causes were clearer then.

But those sons of the warriors are not the ones on Big Brother, out in Portugal, or struggling to find a new ways of being fathers. We are the grandsons. Heroism in our world is modelled by Lara Croft and the pixellated pantheon of PlayStation or "brave" Becks. Even the real wars seem unreal (unless you are an Iraqi father or an Afghan son). None of it can be emulated. We're constantly told we're doing things wrong. We can't see a way to be better, to be big. We can't even articulate our frustration. So men get pissed and lash out.

It is pathetic, of course. We've got to find another way. Dads can do this. They can be heroes of a different kind. A clue lies in research showing boys with traditional views about the roles of men and women are less likely to do well at school. They are horrified at the thought of doing anything "sissy" - and reading, writing and thinking are considered effeminate. That's not good enough. We've got to get on our knees and play with our boys, tell them stories, get involved in games, help them think and dream, not just kick and kill.

Every child needs a hero. We each grow up thinking our father is one; then we get a little older and begin to see that he's only a two-bit stupid loser. That's when we realise the motorcycle was a moped. And there the story ends, for a lot of fathers and sons. They stop talking. But it doesn't have to be that way. We can go through to the next stage in which we get older, maybe have children of our own, and begin to become our dads, in funny little ways. Then we begin to understand his struggles because we are going through them too. If we're going to deserve the Japanese whisky and England socks we get on Father's Day then dads have got to start talking, and listening. In that sense they've got to be like another model of heroism we often neglect, who holds our lives together: mum. If we do that we may realise that our father was a tiny bit heroic, even if it was just for surviving. And we can feel a tiny bit heroic too.

'My Father Was A Hero' by Cole Moreton is published by Viking at £16.99

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