Sarah Sands: Fathers, we thank you for your many thankless tasks

Share
Related Topics

The Father's Day cards available in my local newsagent had an air of mild embarrassment. Mother's Day comes sanctified by society. Father's Day was dragged into official existence by President Nixon. Faced with illustrations of a pint of beer, a football or a set of golf clubs I chose a card in primary colours, which said: "Whatever mum thinks of you, I appreciate you."

Mother's Day is associated with the start of spring and is almost as big an occasion as Easter or Christmas. Father's Day is, oh yes, today. The modesty is part of the wonderful manliness of the day. As Bertrand Russell once said: "The place of the father in the modern suburban family is a very small one, especially if he plays golf."

Yet never underestimate his significance. The Middleton women have captivated the media, but it was Mike Middleton, walking his daughter down the aisle with a proud, uncertain smile before gratefully returning the next day to his lawnmower, who captured the nation's heart.

Fathers stand one step away from the emotional drama of the household and bear life's tremors quietly. I remember a playwright describing to me his father coming home each evening from the City. He would go to his study and shut the door, so his family could hardly hear his muffled sobs. Then he joined his children for a cheerful supper. Why should his family care if he hated every second of his job?

Mothers can be many things, but they are not expected to be role models in quite the same way as fathers. Expectations have been historically high for men as protectors and providers of their families. They may not be the sole breadwinners any more, but they still carry the same burden of responsibility. Watch those fathers at airports, as they carry the luggage, negotiate the hired car, talk to officialdom, conscious of the expectations of the family around them, aware that their frustration will have no effect on the length of the queue. These are thankless duties.

The unique strength of a father's love is felt keenly by its absence. Matthew Parris writes in The Spectator that, five years after the death of his father, he is inconsolable. Three years ago, when Barack Obama spoke with suppressed yearning about the "rock-like figure" on which we build our lives, his raised chin spoke not of hauteur but of defiant hurt at having a missing father. He cites instead his father-in-law as a role model, a man who never missed a day's work, son's game or daughter's recital.

Who better to help you chart a future? Mothers provide the heat; fathers are the light. You have only to look at the photographs of the late Rob Daley, father of the Olympic swimmer Tom Daley.

The disguised anxiety of a father is a poignant thing to watch. Mothers have the release of reciting a litany of horror scenarios whenever their daughters walk out of the door in a short skirt. Fathers have to provide reassurance and pretend to sleep soundly as the clock ticks past midnight.

If everyone survives, fathers spend the the rest of their lives in a state of dazed good fortune. If not, they are less proprietorial about tragedy than women can be. It is hard for me to be objective about fathers, for what is my own but an astonishing savant and living saint? Daughters properly make heroes of their fathers. As Jenny Agutter put it at the end of The Railway Children: "Daddy! My daddy!"



Sarah Sands is deputy editor of the London Evening Standard

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Provisioning Specialist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Provisioning Specialist is required to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Apprenticeships

£10000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an outstanding opportunity for 1...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Support Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Support Engineer is required to join a well-...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Services Administrator - Swedish Speaking

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join an awa...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Police are called to Lindt Chocolat Cafe in Sydney's Martin Place, a busy plaza in the heart of the city  

After the Sydney Siege, would Australia be safer with American-style gun laws? The answer is simple

Neil Brennan
 

My cancer diagnosis cost me my home

Deanne Wilson
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum