I think it often takes becoming a parent to fully appreciate your own, and the blood, sweat and tears it takes to raise a human being. It only occurred to me relatively recently that my dad Tony (a name I never really minded until Blair came along) has always been something of a feminist when it came to raising my sister and me.
The word ‘feminist’ is, of course, somewhat divisive but is summed up quite accurately by Gloria Steinem as “anyone who recognises the equality and full humanity of women and men”.
Dad has administered Calpol, braved the special hell that is soft-play, changed nappies, carried out numerous school-runs and even taught our eldest to swim
As a child of the Eighties, there was none of the “helicopter parenting” favoured today, and my siblings and I were largely left to our own devices. My mother was a fan of what she liked to call “healthy neglect” and as long as we were fed and watered, we had to entertain ourselves.
My father, like many baby-boomer men of his generation, was not especially hands-on. As a young copywriter and advertising executive, Dad enjoyed all the perks of a generous expenses account and often wasn’t home until we were in bed. He was always hugely supportive and encouraging though.
He never told us we couldn’t do anything and always believed in us. While he didn’t change many nappies or take time off to look after us then, he has more than made up for that in recent years.
My sister and I were both pony-mad and our childhood was a whirlwind of Pony Club camps, shows and riding events around Warwickshire. Dad often disappeared off to the beer tent while we were riding, but always managed to appear at the last moment (several pints down) to cheer us on.
He never doubted that I would become a writer
He never made me feel that, because I was a girl, I was less able or inferior to any of the boys I might have been competing with. He also tried (and failed) to show me how to change a tyre, explained the offside rule and never patronised me.
It never really occurred to me that I wouldn’t go to university or follow a career that I wanted to do. I may not have been a straight ‘A’ student like my sister (a lawyer), but I loved writing and words and, while I don’t remember receiving much in the way of career advice from either of my parents when I said I wanted to be a journalist, Dad was as encouraging as ever.
He dutifully subbed me so I could live in a friend’s back room (which made Harry Potter’s cupboard under the stairs look like the Taj Mahal) in the unglamorous London suburb Dollis Hill while I worked as an intern at The Mail on Sunday and More! magazine. (I didn’t tell him that the latter was famous for its ‘Position of the Fortnight’ column, and that I had to spend most of my time finding case studies with chlamydia.)
He paid for me to do a post-graduate journalism course in London but, most importantly, he never doubted that I would become the writer I so desperately wanted to be.
I worked my way up to become deputy editor of a business magazine which, sadly, folded just before I was due to get married. I had a reasonably decent redundancy payout which meant I could cover the mortgage for a few months in the interim so I made the leap into freelancing, something I had always planned to do.
I was nervous and anxious about leaving the 9-5 and a monthly salary but Dad said I had to give it a shot and that I could always go back into a full-time role if it didn’t work out. Almost a decade of freelancing later, I am grateful for that advice.
Being self-employed can be somewhat lonely, especially as I work primarily from home. I am generally quite sociable and also a bit of a praise junkie. The one person I can always turn to for positive feedback is my darling dad. I often send him my articles or save them for him to read. He always takes the time to tell me how proud he is of me (and point out any typos.) He has become, at the risk of sounding cheesy, my very own cheerleader.
But perhaps the thing that has surprised me the most if how he has really stepped up as a grandfather since my children (now 9, 6 and 4) were born.
My beloved mum, to whom I was always very close, died when I was in my twenties (suddenly and unexpectedly of heart failure). I grieved for her all over again when I became a mum myself a few years later.
My husband was, and is, great but I didn’t know how I was going to navigate the precarious world of parenting without Mum, and I felt hopelessly lost and overwhelmed at times.
While no one could ever replace Mum, Dad has been a hugely helpful, positive and influential grandparent and an invaluable support to me.
He has administered Calpol, braved the special hell that is soft-play, changed nappies, carried out numerous school-runs and even taught our eldest to swim. He regularly goes along to watch the boys’ football matches, organised my eldest son’s piano lessons and has taken him camping on several occasions. He is pretty remarkable for a man of his generation.
Things have become slightly more manageable now two out of three of the children are at school but in the early days of sleepless nights and work deadlines, Dad would often come over and take the children out to the park so that I could work. Sometimes he just came over to sit with them and watch CBeebies while I went to bed for a few hours.
He didn’t have an especially liberal or egalitarian upbringing himself
Once, he turned up to find the boys fighting and me close to tears having been up all night with a poorly toddler who I was trying (unsuccessfully) to potty-train. Dad quietly confided that he finally understood now that this is what it must have been like for my mum.
He didn’t have an especially liberal or egalitarian upbringing himself. He was sent away to board at the age of eight, while his younger sister was sent to the local grammar school. His mother was one of seven girls; she ran a pub in Somerset and stopped working when she married my grandfather, a Freemason who worked in sales.
My dad, as one of only two boys born to my grandmother and her sisters, was doted on by women from an early age, and my mother, an English teacher, and subsequently my stepmother took over that role when they married.
Even though, my parents split up when I was in my early teens and both remarried, I often wish Mum could see my father now and how he has tried to fill the void since she died. You might not know it to look at him, but he is a feminist through and through.