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On Sunday I took the five-year-old Egg to a local shopping centre for a movie – our first in a long time, thanks to lockdowns.
The parking lot was quite empty and I drove to the parking spot right in front of the door. The one with a picture of a dress-wearing person holding a toddler’s hand painted on the paving.
“No, you can’t park here,” the security guard told me and refused to remove the bright orange cone right in the middle of the parking bay. “It’s reserved for mothers with toddlers.”
“I have a toddler here next to me,” I told him and pointed to the smiling, waving Egg. How could he have missed her?
“But you’re not a mother,” he insisted. “Only mothers with toddlers may park here. Not grandfathers with toddlers.”
“I’m not a grandfather, I’m a father,” I told him. “And, according to everybody except the lovely Snapdragon, a particularly good one.”
In the end I just moved to the empty spot next to the one meant for mothers only, and we had enough time for a milkshake before the movie.
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But the episode got me thinking. The next morning, I phoned my 28-year-old son.
“What does a good father do that a bad father doesn’t?” I asked him.
He thought for a few seconds.
“I don’t know. I’ve got no experience with the things bad fathers do or don’t do. But from the outside, it looks simple. If you ignore the obvious stuff – like not punching your wife and kids and teaching the basic number skills so that they don’t have to use a calculator like an idiot to know what’s 17×7 or 12.5% of 88 – there doesn’t seem to be much to it apart from not misspelling words.
“Obviously you have to teach them to tie a decent Windsor knot for when they wear a suit and things like character and integrity and accountability, but there doesn’t seem to be much to it. You’re probably safe if you just spend time with your offspring and avoid being a total idiot. If you watch Karate Kid and act like Mr Miyagi, you’re in the pound seats. That’s really all a father is – a personal, taller Mr Miyagi.”
He’s a wise young man. But then, to misquote Mr Miyagi, you don’t get bad children. Only bad fathers.
Maybe I still need a bit more practice…