My parents never believed in Fathers’ or Mothers’ Day. They both dismissed the practice of sons and daughters paying homage to their parents on a prescribed day of the year as being a commercially driven affair, designed to pressure people into buying their parents presents. “You should be nice to your parents everyday not just one day a year”, my father use to say. Stoic!
Wind the clock forward a number of decades and I have a totally different outlook on Fathers’ Day. Needless to say I have encouraged the homage paid to me by my daughters on Fathers’ Day year after year. Last Sunday was no exception. Both our daughters are living locally and they prepared a delicious brunch of croissants, bacon and eggs with lashings of bucks fizz (that quintessential brunch cocktail of the 80’s, bubbles and orange juice). After brunch Sally and I basked in the sun on the first day of spring as my moko sat on my lap as we read her stories. The kids went out to attend to errands. They are hardly kids now, Chyna is 31 and Somer is 26. The line “I was a child bride”, is one I use to use in a cavalier fashion when I talked to newly acquainted people about my daughters. Chyna posted the first photo of her and I together on Facebook. We were in the neonatal ward. She was born rather prematurely at 29 Weeks. It was a big deal back then, with lots of potential complications. However she did remarkably well growing up. She is currently in fulltime study working away towards a Post Graduate Diploma in Arts Therapy. She recently wrote an essay about her upbringing which brought back memories of fatherhood at an early age. Her essay started off;
“Being born the first daughter of Jonny Wilkinson and Sally Gale meant that my childhood was marked by diversity extending across gender roles, subculture and disability.”
She then went on to describe how I was a stay at home Dad looking after her in her pre-school years.
“Then there was my dad, who was (and is) by nature creative. His significant physical disability required constant innovation and creativity, especially when I was a toddler and he was a stay at home dad. I can see now that my parents rejected the normative expectations of behaviour for a family. Traditional gender roles were rejected. My mother was the breadwinner and my father the at- home nurturer. The fact that they were a young inter-ability couple added another layer of intersectionality to our family dynamics. Being a child of a significantly disabled parent, I saw some amazing examples of innovation and creativity. For example – we would ‘walk’ the dog, but because my dad’s walking was really slow and unsteady, he would move from the car, onto the skateboard, sit me on his lap and have our positively crazy and fast dog run around Western Springs park pulling us on a leash. We were a novel sight to behold-people staring at us from all directions.”
I remember that dog well, Chyna named her Temmesee for reasons that I still don’t understand. She was part Rhodesian ridgeback and other breeds that we didn’t know which gave her a large body, short legs and a small head. She looked like she was part dodo and was incredibly disobedient. But my word: could she tow someone on a skateboard! We used to go hell for leather down Ash Street, a particularly busy main road that connected Avondale to New Lynn. Looking back it was a very high risk father/daughter activity, but one we both fondly remember with particular relish.
Indeed every day is Fathers’ Day with the range of funny, crazy times I have with my kids – and the memories I am still creating with them. But there is nothing like a full English breakfast, a well poured Buck Fizz and a pair of Superman socks to really say “Happy Fathers’ Day!” once a year. Cheers, girls!
Jonny Wilkinson is the CEO of Tiaho Trust – Disability A Matter of Perception. A Whangarei based disability advocacy organisation.